The Chicago Children’s Choir brought together all of its choirs to for Paint the Town Red in Millennium Park kicking off the summer season. As the largest choral organization in the country, it was an impressive showing of 4,600 singers from in-school and after-school programs and CCC alumni singers.
The presentation felt a lot like a big profile pop concert (like Beyonce could appear at any minute.) From the videos, to the choreography, to finale with bubbles, the production value was very professional. You can even watch the whole performance, which was live recorded, on their website.
What these singers can do in their performance is equally impressive. From the clarity of their singing, to the eloquence of their speeches and the precision of their choreography, the group was able to show its talent across programs and in its top choir, the Voice of Chicago.
They really do bring people together and Paint the Town Red was a perfect example of uniting children from all cross the city in music. They tour all over the world. They shared the impact of their tour to Cuba and this summer they go on tour to Italy. Children get a chance to interact firsthand with people of different cultures. They have performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lyric Opera, and Chance the Rapper.
This really is a cultural treasure in our city and I recommend seeing one of their shows if you have not. But it got me thinking how there are even more children we can reach through the arts and it was a reminder of how powerful of an experience that can be.
With the Tony’s next Sunday, it’s one of my favorite times of the year. This year, I’ve really been digging into Dear Evan Hansen which is nominated for 9 Tony Awards. I think there is so much potential in the musical to explore with students.
The musical follows the title character, Evan Hansen, who navigates high school with social anxiety. He gets caught up in a lie and the story unfolds around themes of connecting in the age of social media and mental health. It’s timely and relevant.
Bringing Dear Evan Hansen into the classroom, the opportunity arises to meaningfully discuss mental health, bullying, and emotion.
- Analyze a text
- Use Dance Movement Therapy techniques to consider their individuality in a community
- Perform music as a group
Expand the conversation around actions we associate with these emotions. What motions do we use for disgust? Surprise? Depression? Anxiety? Brainstorm as a group different situations in which people may feel these emotions and have students act out scenarios (either in small groups or embody the emotions as a full group).
Be sure to consider Anxiety and Depression. Could thinking about mental health in connection with movement help doctors, therapists, friends better understand?
Now, introduce Dear Evan Hansen. Explain the musical and the character of Evan Hansen and his social anxiety. Watch the clip below of the song and have students respond to the emotions of the song and his body language.
Pass out the lyrics to the song and tell students you will play it twice through to have them dig deeper into the words. On the first listen, have students circle all of the verbs. On the second listen, have students underline the subjects.
What do students notice? How are sentences put together? How does the music work with these words?
Have them look particularly at the subject “I.” Evan flips back and forth between I and you as the subject of the sentence when referring to himself. Sometimes, he doesn’t even use a subject at all. What effect does this have?
Then encourage students to think about how these subjects and verbs interact with the music. Does the music give us more information than just the lyrics? Many times when he uses I, there is a pause in the music before the verb (“I – wait around for an answer to appear”).
How is what Evan is expressing consistent with social anxiety? How does he embody his feelings?
After a break or some time in the unit, return to this material. Students will create their own Identity Dances or IDs that will then be combined into a final performance.
They will brainstorm adjectives to describe themselves. They can write them or draw representations of them on a paper. They should aim to come up with 10 words. They should try to write the first words that come to mind. Then, they will narrow it down to three and then to one word.
Let students split up into their own area of the room to come up with a movement for their word. A few students can share their word, motion, or both.
Repeat the exercise together for the whole group. What motion will represent what we are as a community? The can be a combination of suggestions from students to create a dance phrase that can be repeated.
Teach the song. Depending on how much time you have and the level of the students, introduce some solos and harmony. Choreography can be simple. Try to use the group identity dance for the chorus or on the words “You Will be Found.” Have them do their individual identity dances as the final phrase into a final pose.
This is the main outline for the lesson and trust exercises, warm-ups etc. are encouraged. Singing, dancing, and celebrating bring people together. A powerful network can be formed around the arts to support individuals who struggle with mental health. The teenage years can be particularly difficult and I think that is one of the things that makes Dear Evan Hansen so special; it offers hope.