Students Create a Special Tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.
It started with a simple idea that blossomed into a breathtaking act of creativity by a group of young children.
As Martin Luther King Jr. Day approached, Lower School teacher Debbi Butler began thinking about how to mark the holiday. For years, she had organized commemorative assemblies featuring the children singing or quoting King's speeches.
This year, she approached the new vocal music teacher, Shenelle Williams, to ask if the choir would perform a song. Williams readily agreed.
What came next astonished and thrilled Mrs. Butler and everyone who witnessed the results.
"We considered all the songs that are traditionally done to honor Martin Luther King Jr. and none were exciting to the kids," said Mrs. Williams. "So I said, 'Why don't we write our own?' The kids loved that idea and we went to work."
Paying a visit to the Considine Library, Mrs. Williams checked out every book on the shelves about Martin Luther King Jr. Back in her classroom, she divided the 29 students into groups of three and four and had them research different aspects of Dr. King's life.
"One group focused on his childhood, another on the march on Washington, another on his ideals, another on his quotes," she said. Students also read the text of the "I Have a Dream" speech.
Each group was assigned to write a brief poem of at least four lines. When it came time to present their poems to their classmates, some of the children made up their own tunes and performed the verse in song.
"I took parts of their poems and compiled them into a song lyric structure," said Mrs. Williams. "Then I'd present it to the kids and they'd give me their feedback."
She used the children's words and melodies to shape the song. "We did a lot of back and forth," she said.
"Sometimes they would suggest a better rhyming word or a change to the melodic line. I followed their suggestions."
In the span of just a couple of weeks, the class crafted a song. "The lyrics are 100 percent created by the kids," said Mrs. Williams proudly. "They all contributed to it. There is something from each group."
A week before the choir was due to perform at the weekly School flag raising, the class invited Mrs. Butler to listen. She was overwhelmed.
"The first time I heard it, I cried, and I couldn't stop crying for the rest of the day," she said. "It's just beautiful."
Lower School Head Bob Gillingham was similarly thrilled. "Everything about the song, how and why it was created, and the students' complete engagement in the process was a beautiful thing," he said. "I was astounded."
Parents who attended the flag raising were similarly moved. On the heels of the performance, the choir was invited to Natural Sound Recording Studio owned by Lou Mattazaro, the grandfather of one of the children in the choir.
At the end of February, Mrs. Williams took 27 students to spend a morning in the studio laying down tracks.
As the children took their places, they could barely contain their smiles and excitement.
Against a simple piano accompaniment and two students on guitar, the children's voices rang bright and clear. They smiled as they crescendoed to the chorus: "I have a dream. We'll all be free. Our nation will rise up, and we'll let freedom ring."
I Have a Dream
Lyrics written by Grade 5 Vocal Music Students
He was born on a cold day in the South
He spent his youth looking all around
And noticed things weren't fair
So he studied and read with all his might
Looking for hope and searching for light
For injustice was too much to bear
And then one day he became a man
Dr. King thought up a plan
To help people feel love instead
The time then came for action
He used his voice with passion
And this is what he said
I have a dream
We'll all be free
Our nation will rise up
And we'll let freedom ring
Through the mountains, through the hills
And through the plains, and through the woods
We will put aside our differences and sing
Sing of peace
He prayed and led doing all he could
Finding a way to be understood
So he marched to Washington
And people came from all around
They sang together and stood their ground
Free at last, we'll work until we win
And they said
Even though we celebrate him just one day each year
His message lives forever
And we hear it loud and clear