Sunday, May 15, 2011

Mulit-Cultural Fair (Babble)

First, I need to take a moment to complain that it is mid-May and here in Milwaukee it is freezing.  Like, winter coat wearing rainy grey windy wet nasty stay in the house and drink cocoa weather, which in May is becoming unacceptable.  On some level cold weather feels like jail, and I want to be free!  Free I say!

Second, I need to quickly jot down a Mona story, because if I don’t I will forget it.  When my kids and I snuggle at night before they go to bed sometimes we play “three questions,” which just means I get to ask each of them three questions, and then they get to ask me three questions.  I usually want updates on what they want to be when they grow up, etc., but tonight my last question to Mona was: “Of all the people in the world that you know about but have never met, who would you like to meet?”  I expected her to say something along the lines of the Kratt brothers from the PBS nature shows she likes, but instead she answered, “Well, there was this one time I played with these two girls at the park back when I didn’t like spiders, and now I just don’t really like spiders if they are close to me, and we were playing with this spider and we accidentally squished it so we made it a grave.”  I’m not sure how that went with my question but I was glad to have heard the tale.

Anyway, the big event this past week at my kids’ school was the annual Multi-Cultural Fair.  It’s always crowded and there is never enough time to get to all of it, but it’s fun.  Each class picks a theme to research and puts together a presentation in their room or the hallway.  Some things are always the same, like Mona’s old kindergarten teacher does a display about Alaska which includes a little area where kids can pan for “gold.”  There is another room that always seems to do Hawaii, and Ireland and Mexico always get representation.  Last year the weirdest thing was a room that did both New Orleans and India as part of the same project, which I didn’t understand, but I enjoyed the food samples they served. 

Everyone gets a program to the event that includes a passport section where you can get a stamp from each place you visit as you travel around the school, and at the end of the evening there are a few performances in the auditorium.

Quinn’s room did China.  When I asked him about it all he would say is that sometimes the map of China is on the wall, and sometimes it isn’t.  So that was China.  He didn’t really want to stick around his own room while visiting the school after hours, and Poland down the hall had some really delicious pastries so I got dragged away before China got much of a chance.  (The one room he wanted nothing to do with was Brazil.  It was a big party of confetti and drumming with upper elementary kids smiling and saying, “Come to Brazil!” and Quinn just gripped my hand and slowly backed away.)

Aden’s room did salt.  Yes, salt.  I didn’t know what that meant either the first time she said it, because salt is neither a place nor a culture, but it turned out to be very interesting.  They studied the history of salt in the ancient world and what it meant to the Roman, Celtic and Egyptian peoples.  Aden learned that the word ‘salary’ is derived from salt, and that salt was a very valuable commodity.  She was supposed to dress as an ancient Egyptian (and of course waited until we only had half an hour to tell me we had to make her costume but that’s a whole separate story of frustration).  I was amazed by how much information she was able to rattle off when I found her at her display.  The food sample at her table was some way over-salted cucumber slices.  She talked about salt being used in the preservation of mummies before Quinn dragged me away again.

We were most personally involved in the events of Mona’s room this year.  Her teacher is new and doesn’t have as many supplies or entrenched routines for navigating Fernwood Montessori’s many events as some of the other rooms.  I offered after the Christmas concert to help if they ever needed music again, and Mona’s teacher took me up on it.  (I was impressed, to tell you the truth, because it’s not always easy when you are the one in charge to admit there is something you don’t know and ask for assistance.  I don’t pretend for a minute I could do her job, but kids and music?  That I know, and I was glad to help.)

Mona’s class studied the Andean region of South America, including Peru.  I gave that some thought and decided it would be fun for the kids to make their own pan pipes.  We picked up some small PVC pipe and different colors of duct tape, and then (thank Google) I cut the pipes to the right lengths to form different chords.  I figured if each kid had a set of pipes that played a specific chord, when it was that kid’s turn to play he or she could blow on any note and it would fit.  We made sure the kids assembling the pipes were using the right color of duct tape for their chord so they would be easier to organize.  (Red for A-minor, green for C-Major, and black for F-Major.)  The kids loved making the pan pipes, they loved decorating them with stickers, they loved that they got to keep them, and some of the kids got really good at playing them.  It was fun going to Mona’s class and helping organize a little pan pipe sweatshop.

The bigger challenge was putting together the musical piece.  I need to research what other parents from Mona’s class have any musical experience for future performances because there is only so much I can do and backup is nice.  For this event we didn’t have a lot of time so I had to work with the people I know, which would be my husband and my kids.  Ian got a crash course in guitar, and Aden got an even crashier course in autoharp because I needed chords under all those pipes. 

You know what’s lovely about Aden, though?  At nine, she is already a reliable musician.  She can keep a steady beat, she could follow the music, and her phrasing instincts are very good.  I put her on autoharp the day of the performance because Ian couldn’t make the rehearsal and I needed help.  She was so good I asked if she would mind being on stage that night and she was happy to oblige.

The tune we did was El Condor Passa, which was written in Peru in the early 20th century and made famous by Simon and Garfunkle.  (Think “I’d rather be a sparrow than a snail, yes I would…”)  I played the melody on violin and the teacher conducted the kids to switch between chords on their pan pipes.  The kids wore tee-shirts in red and white to match the Peruvian flag, there was a rain stick, and a couple of people on drums.  Was it the most polished thing ever?  No.  But!  Things I have learned from being in the audience at so many school concerts that make for a successful kids’ number are:  Look coordinated (matching shirts), familiar is good (a tune people recognize), and for the love of all that is holy keep it short.  The cute factor only lasts so long when the kids on stage are not yours.  So by those measures I think it went well.  By the measure of Mona’s class enjoying themselves it was definitely a success, so I’m happy.

The Mulit-Cultural Fair is the last big school-wide event of the year, which means we are within a stone’s throw of summer vacation now.  Not that it feels remotely like summer is coming, but regardless of the weather it will be nice to switch gears for awhile.  I’m ready to not have to rush out of the house with the kids by a certain time in the mornings, or to have to check backpacks for information, or throw together costumes or bag lunches or snacks on short notice.  Summer will be nice, even if we’re still in our winter coats.

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