Cinco de Mayo

by Ken Johnson

It is with great pleasure that we introduce Ken Johnson as one of our new writers. Ken has been on staff here at Plank Road for about a year and a half, and has a wonderful musical background from which he draws his songwriting skills. Fortunately for us, Ken is also a student of Spanish. So, when we decided to include a song about Cinco de Mayo (which many of our subscribers celebrate), he was the perfect candidate to write it.

This song is one that we highly recommend the P/A cassette be used to perform. The incredible details Ken has put into the orchestration are impossible to cover on piano alone. Something would be lost in the translation, so to speak.

The song is both rhythm section and wind section intensive and moves at a pretty good clip. The vocal part, however, is relatively simply, despite the Spanish lyrics. If you have students who speak Spanish already, your job will be a breeze teaching this song. If your students don't already speak it, it will be more challenging.

To assist you in teaching (and learning it yourself), we have provided a written pronunciation guide on the lyric sheet (page 41), as well as a spoken pronunciation guide on side 2 of the P/A cassette. Our resident language specialist, Anne Ellsworth, worked closely with Ken to ensure the correct pronunciation of each phrase. You will hear her speak each phrase slowly, two times, leaving time after each one for response. It might be most helpful to let your students follow along with the lyrics, using either the lyric sheet or photocopies of the music, as they respond to the guide. The singers on the cassette are also good references for diction, pronunciation, and style. (These children did not know Spanish when they learned the tune, but did a very respectable job of mastering it for the recording, as you will hear. Brava to Anne, also, for teaching it to them!)

As you work with the cassette, let your students listen to the instrumental tracks only. The very impressive alto and tenor saxophone lines are punctuated by the brass, giving it a truly festive feel. The rhythm section positively cooks with a latin groove, complete with merengue guiro, a metallic guiro that underscores the rhythmic current. Repinique (a kind of timbale) and conga add to the percussive flavor. Holding still during this song will be a challenge!

Near the end of the piece, there is an optional descant part 2. You can choose one or a few singers to sing this line, or you can assign it to a larger group, if you feel confident about the high E flats. It is actually a simple line musically, so it should be easy to add.

For more information on the history and celebration of Cinco de Mayo, see the next page. For the English translation of the lyrics, see the lyric sheet (page 41).

Text is taken from Music K-8 magazine.