Free dance: Aa-Shuu Dekei-Oo, by Huun-Huur-Tu
Playalong: Piya Re, Piy Re! by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
In my internet travels, I came across some more information about Bessie Jones that’s worth sharing. We’ll be doing Way Down Yonder in the Brickyard again this week.
Here is an article about Ms. Jones’ life and work. This paragraph very succinctly sums up the place and value of the type of game we are playing in class:
The games, mostly from the British Isles, had been widespread among Southern black and white populations as a way to circumvent religious prohibitions against physical movement and dancing. As adapted by African-Americans they served as an important vehicle to transmit traditional African-derived dance movement and rhythmic styles that promoted group cohesion, nurtured individual virtuosity, and, as Bessie realized, helped make the players physically and mentally stronger. The songs, games, and stories of the past were a “spiritual survival kit,” in Bessie’s case, connecting her with the beloved figures of the past. To keep their memory alive she sought out young people to teach them to.
Ms. Jones befriended Pete Seeger, the folksinger and political activist, in the early 60’s. Mr. Seeger invited Ms. Jones and the group of school children she had taught her songs to to appear on his television show Rainbow Quest in 1965. In the linked episode, Ms. Jones demonstrates a number of songs from the African-American spiritual tradition, as well as some wonderful games with children. The whole episode is worth watching, but Ms. Jones contribution begins at 13:10, and the games begin at 25:50.
Note the duration of the children’s games. In music class, we usually limit songs and activities to just a few minutes. In these activities, it is noted, that the games go on as long as there is someone to dance. A wonderful counter to our busy, scheduled lives.
Here is some information about Arirang for your education and enjoyment.
And a Korean mom in one of my classes graciously provided links to some of her favorite versions of Arirang. The captions are hers.
This song is brought to us from the Georgia Sea Islands by Bessie Jones, a great singer, teacher and popularizer of African-American culture in the 20th century. Here’s what she had to say about this song:
“My grandfather made up this song down in the brickyard out from Williamsburg, Virginia, many years ago in slavery time. They had to make bricks with their hands and roll them up and fix them up with their hands, work some kind of a hot kiln. They tell us ’bout how they used to do it. They wasn’t getting no pay for it and they just made up their mind that, they always did make up their mind that they sing song, they get the work off their mind. They got to pacify their self they would sing something and so that’s what they did. They made this up, and they said, ‘let’s go ahead and make the brick, do the work, and step it down.’ Step it down mean make yourself happy and be rejoicing anyhow. You don’t get no money for it no how, so go ahead, and be happy with it. But we do want them, when these bricks, you know they’re putting the bricks up, they’re going to build things with it, someday know that they will remember them. So that’s what it is…why it say ‘Remember me,’ after they go ‘long, right now some of them bricks and some of that stuff is still there. They can remember them, but they wasn’t gettin’ no pay for it, so they just named it ‘Step It Down.’”