Celebration Sounds

by Teresa Jennings

We have created several pieces of music in our "sounds" series and have found them to be quite successful and popular. Since February is African-American History Month, we thought it would be a good idea to incorporate this particular approach to that subject. The beauty of it is, though, that because the subject is "celebration," you can use it in any celebratory situation!

The way this works is simple. The rhythm section, which includes all African percussion on the recording, as well as piano, guitar, bass and drums, begins the piece. The different types of African percussion are added one at a time so that the entrances are easily distinguished. For example, from the very beginning, you will hear the distinctive sounds of the udu. Four measures later, the gongue bells enter. Then the shekere, the talking drum, the udonga and some shells. (For more information on these and other percussion instruments, refer to the article "First There Was Percussion," Music K-8, Volume 3, Number 1, Sept./Oct. 1993.)

At measure 17, the vocals begin. How you perform this depends on whether you are using the recording or playing the song live. If you are using the recording, listen to it. You will hear that these eight measures are played 14 times. Each of the first six times, one of the vocal lines is added. The seventh time is percussion only. From the eighth time through the thirteenth time, the vocal parts are subtracted again. The fourteenth time is rhythm section and percussion only and they begin to diminuendo. All of the vocal parts sing "Hummm," at measure 25 and on the repeat, as well as at measure 29. They all diminuendo to the end. By the time they sing the last "Celebrate," they are almost singing in a whisper.

Still using the recording, you could vary the building and unbuilding any way you like. Even if you don't exactly end with the recording, it's okay unless you go longer and find yourselves with no accompaniment. But within the entire length of the song, you can have parts - vocal or percussive - enter, exit, build, unbuild, whatever, however.

Let your students make some suggestions for their own variations, too. Or let them write their own new vocal parts. Or have them learn and write out rhythms for the percussion.

This could truly be a multi-purpose song. You could use this to discuss African history (bringing it across the curriculum and helping out the classroom teacher - always a plus). Or you could keep it musical relating it to percussion or melodies, motifs and variations (especially if the kids write some of their own), rhythms, and even dynamics.

If you are playing it live, we have suggested some common percussion instruments, such as cowbell and shakers, in lieu of the African instruments - assuming you don't have them. (This would reduce the authenticity for African-American History Month if you were choosing to use it in that context. But you could get around that by focusing on other aspects of the celebration such as recordings of real African music, stories, artwork, or African objects.)

Text is taken from Music K-8 magazine.