Connecting with Cultures through Music

Connecting with Cultures through Music

“Learning a wide range of diverse repertoire is a pillar of the N-Grade 4 music curriculum at Lab,” says Crystal Henricks, Lower School music teacher. In order to help children create authentic connections to music from a variety of cultures, many techniques are used, including partnering with culture bearers in our community. 

Working with culture bearers has countless benefits. Teachers receive help in language pronunciation and understanding songs in their proper cultural context. Adding movement or props to a performance helps solidify the context with children. “Collaboration is key when learning and preparing diverse repertoire. Sometimes teachers have the opportunity to directly work with a culture bearer. Other times, they partner with other teachers who have directly worked with culture bearers on specific songs.” 

Ms. Aref and Ms. Henricks

Noha El Sharkawy Aref and music teacher Crystal Henricks

For almost ten years Henricks has collaborated with Noha El Sharkawy Aref, former Laboratory Schools parent and faculty member on Arabic, Egyptian, and Islamic music. Aref has been instrumental in helping Henricks learn new Arabic songs as well as how to best present the songs to young children. They have also partnered with other teachers around the country who are seeking to transcribe and implement Arabic songs into their curriculum. 

In the spring of 2023, two of Henricks’ Lower School music classes partnered with Joan Litman of Jersey City, NJ on her upcoming publication of Middle Eastern children’s songs and activities, Shadows in the Moonlight. The songs in this publication will come from Syria, Egypt, Israel, Turkey, and more! “Her songs are always carefully curated through extensive work with culture bearers, providing rich cultural context,” says Henricks. You can read more about her work here

Grade 4 Music Class with Teacher Henricks and Ms. Aref

Grade 4 music class with Ms. Aref and Ms. Henricks

Two of the songs included in the book are core songs in the Lower School music program. Halu Ya Halu is an Egyptian Ramadan song. Henricks notes, “I researched and collaborated on this song with Ms. Aref. A few years ago, I created a movement activity for my students to accompany this song. The movements depict children joyfully going through the neighborhoods for treats during Ramadan.” The students are pictured with Ms. Aref and a Ramdan lantern. 

The other song, Akh Leylu Dakh Leyl is a Kurdish song. The students learn the song in both Kurdish and English. Henricks adds, “the song depicts friends meeting up at night in secret with the moon being the only light. The children act out meeting up at night on the rooftops.”  

Litman visited Lab in the spring of 2024 and shared with two fourth-grade classes the story of Akh Leylu Dakh Leyl and told of her experience first learning the song in Tehran, Iran.

Two classes of students made videos of these activities to be included in the online supplemental material to accompany Litman’s book. “The videos will spark the imagination of music teachers around the globe as they seek to highlight these beautiful cultures and make connections for children,” Henricks says.

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