I should start by saying that I've never done a canned musical. I have lots of reasons why I don't...and I'm really not trying to pass judgment on anyone who does. Canned musicals just don't work for me. They seem to take LOTS of time to put together, the kids need LOTS of work on memorizing lines, you have to stress LOTS about scenery and costumes, you get the idea. I'm sure there are some of you out there who don't find it stressful and have found ways to put together those types of musicals without taking away too much time for your curriculum, but I'd rather create the musical myself. I really love the creative process--figuring out the book or theme, choosing songs and dances, etc. I also love that I can choose some material that the students already know, and can also choose material that aligns with their curriculum. Yes, it still does take some time away from curriculum, but not nearly as much as it might.
I should also say that my administrator, the parents, and the staff have all been super supportive of this type of musical. I have heard other music teachers say that their community expects a certain type of musical, so you have to do what you're comfortable with. I will say, though, that there is still some kind of scenery, there are still "parts," there is still the "cute factor" (especially for the little ones!) and yet, the kids are so involved with the music-making and can be very successful.
So I based this program off the book, "On the day you were born," by Debra Frasier. This post may be easier to understand if you have the book with you as you read (as I cannot include all of the text of the book because of copyright.) But hopefully it will give you a good idea of how I put it together!
I divided all of the text in the book into one or two sentences, with 30 or so narrators reading lines and music and dances interspersed throughout. We start with the beginning line of the book. After the word "animal," the students sang "Ah Poor Bird" in unison, and then in round. You could choose to use any animal song that you want, though!
Then a few more narrators come up and read the next part of the book. After "...the sun and the moon moved in their places," I had two classes perform "Little Silver Moon" with Orff instruments. I will soon update this blog with a link to the book from which I got the song and arrangement, but you could also use any song about the sun, moon, or earth.
A few more narrators come up and read (and as they read, I project the image from that page in the book onto a screen from my computer.) After "spinning the night into light," I had one class perform "Oh, how lovely is the evening," a folk dance from Teaching Movement and Dance/ Rhythmically Moving. (If you do not have Rhythmically Moving, it is a MUST HAVE...it's like a folk dancing bible!)
A couple more narrators come up and read. After "from dawn until dusk," I have students sing "This little light of mine." I think this was one of my favorite selections...they sang so beautifully, and I just love that song! I used this picture book to teach the song to them.
One narrator comes up. After he/she reads "to your windowsill," I had students first sing "Tideo" in unison, then in round.
Two more narrators come up. After "a rising tide washed the beach clean for your footprints..." I had one class perform "Waves of Tory." I have taught a few different versions of the folk dance, but for this program, I simplified the dance seen in this video (I ran out of time to teach the dance the way it's performed here; instead I just had kids go forward 4, backwards 4, switch sides by going under. Repeat with the other side going under. Then peel the orange and repeat.)
One more narrator comes up. After reading "and rained you a welcome across Earth's green lands," one class performed "Once in a field," an Israeli dance from Rhythmically Moving, and another class performed "I love a rainy night," which is a line dance to the famous song by Eddie Rabbit. I found the dance in Sanna Longden's More Folk Dance Music for Kids and Teachers, and OH MY GOODNESS, my fifth graders LOVED this dance. It's not often you have kids coming every day begging to do this dance, but they loved it, and so did the audience!!
Two more narrators come up, and after "invisibly protecting all living things on earth," I had one class perform their arrangement of "Who has seen the wind," and then another class perform their arrangement of the same song. I will have to blog about the process of writing an arrangement for this song in another post...kids loved the ownership! For this song and for "Little Silver Moon," I also chose haiku poems that the students had written during class, using the brainstorming sheet found in this set.
Three more narrators came up, and after "a circle of people singing with voices familiar and clear," I had students sing the "Peace Round" first in unison then in round. I also had two circles singing and dancing in a round. Here is a video of second graders from another school singing; the melody I used was the same, but for the dance, we did sway x 4, step close x 2 to the right, step close x 2 to the left, then in and out.
Then I had all of the students say "Welcome to the spinning world!" and a narrator said, "The people sang..." Then all the students said, "Welcome to the green earth!" and a narrator said, "The people sang..." Another narrator said, "And as they washed..." and then all the students said "We are so glad you've come!"
After that, we all sang "Siyahamba." I had an arrangement from a book; again, I will look up the book and post a link to that arrangement soon, but you can use whichever arrangement you want.
For decorations, my art teacher created stars, an earth, and a planet with a ring with cardboard, and then he and the librarian painted them (and then the art teacher and PE teacher hung them for me...how awesome is that?!!?) As stated above, I also projected images from the book throughout the program.
Of course, you could change the songs however you want; the idea is to choose songs and dances whose lyrics and motions match what is going on in the story.
The fifth graders really seemed to enjoy this performance. They loved the music and took ownership of what they were able to create. Hopefully I've explained everything so that you could recreate it or adapt it for your own students.
Looking for other musical programs that utilize folk songs and dances from your curriculum? Try the sets here. Let me know how it goes, and have fun!