Sixth Graders End Folk Music Study on a High Note

Building on what they learned throughout the year during their Hudson River Valley intensive, sixth graders sharpened their storytelling skills through songwriting.

For the culmination of their yearlong study, middle school music teacher Katie Meadows asked students to create an imagined character who lives in the Hudson Valley. Students worked together to write a folk song cycle, which included a working song, a game song, a lullaby and a ballad, that outlined the character’s story. 

Nizaabu Mukiibi ’27 spoke about her group’s character, Annemarie, a young African American Jewish girl from Germany in 1942, who immigrated to the Hudson Valley. The group’s project included a soothing lullaby that Annemarie's mother sang to her. 

Valentina Valdivia ’27, who was in the same group, described their working song, “Let’s Build a Ship!” “Each verse is about something that our main character does on a ship. She cooks, sews the sails, mops the floor, and fixes the ship,” Valdivia explained. “We also have a chorus in between each verse which is a two-line chant.”

“This experience has taught me that music has just as much to do with the melody and lyrics as it does with the collaboration,” Mukiibi shared.

Meadows was proud of how each group worked together. “The students pushed themselves to stretch and grow in ways they hadn’t before,” she said. “They were flexible, patient and resilient.”

Mukiibi echoed this sentiment, noting that “I couldn't have written all of these songs in the time I did without my teammates.” 

Valdivia said the key to successful collaboration was keeping an open mind. “At first, I wasn't that confident with the idea that we created for our whole song cycle but I decided to give it a chance and now I am completely invested in these songs about this fictional character.”

Proving that the lessons went beyond the music, Meadows explained: “They learn how to make mistakes effectively and lift one another up in moments of vulnerability. They learn how to manage their time and shift gears at a moment’s notice. They also manage to experience a lot of joy and strengthen their relationships with one another along the way. That’s a big part of the creative process!”

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