4th Grade POWER OF PROGRESS – The Immigrants

immigrants 6

Last spring the full 4th grade of the Brooklyn Children’s School presented “The Power of Progress 1840 – 1920”, a multi-media, multi-disciplinary event where different groups of children created presentations and performances on such topics as Suffragettes, Newsies, Tenement Buildings, The Great Migration, Immigrant Pastimes and Diets.

The dance teacher Sandy Stratton-Gonzales and I mentored the 4th grade Musical Players who created a mini-musical called “The Immigrants”.  Their performance began with the singing of the theme song “Power of Progress”.

Power of Progress

immigrants 1

The 4th grade musical players, a group of 13 boys and girls, composed the music for “Power of Progress” and wrote the lyrics for the chorus and part of one verse in a group effort.  The rest of the words for the verses were written one couplet at a time by the students in each section of the Power of Progress program (fondly referred to as POP).  So the Migration group wrote “Migrants fled the south to look for better jobs and freedom” and the Pastimes group wrote “Children played in empty lots and played on open roof tops”, and so on.  (The complete lyrics for “Power of Progress” are reprinted at the bottom of this article.)

immigrants 3The setting for the play “The Immigrants” is a schoolroom of children recently immigrated to America around the turn of the century.  Each child tells a short tale of their journey, informed by research the musical players did in books, the internet, or by interviewing family members with immigrant stories.

Then the children sing a hymn, based on the famous poem “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus, which is engraved on a plaque mounted on the Statue of Liberty.

Give Me Your Tired 1

Give me your tired, your poor

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore

Send these the homeless tempest-tost to me

I lift my lamp beside the golden door

Immigrants - Give Me

immigrats 7This song came about by accident.  I had brought in these most famous lines of the poem into class for an acting and voice projection exercise, and because the poem speaks to our theme.  Several children however came up with ways to sing the lines in class.  I quickly wrote down all their melodic ideas, and together they yielded both a somber and an upbeat version of the poem.  In our performance, the children sing the somber version first.

Next we see some of the immigrant children interact with another.  There is Elkme, whose name a teacher insensitively changes to Elena.  There is the shy child who needs to be coaxed from under the classroom desk.  And there are the girls, one from Russia and one from Sweden, who decide to become friends, even though their homelands are both at war at the time.

Different Countries

Different countries

Different people

Different languages hard to understand

Everybody is so different

Everybody is special and unique

 

Some kids have names that others change

Some kids are scared, and others dare

Some kids have friends and others fight

But all came for a better life

 

Different countries

Different people

Different languages hard to understand

Everybody is so different

Everybody is special and unique

Everybody is special and unique

immigrats 4This song was written by three children, inspired by the scenes all the musical players were creating together.  More scenes follow: two boys who don’t share a common language become friends over a shared piece of candy; a street brawl between two boys from different nationalities is broken up by a third boy; and a Russian girl tells her French friend about the pogroms of the Tsar against the Jews.

The whole class then sings the optimistic, bright version of “Give Me Your Tired”.

Give Me Your Tired 2

That is followed by the whole fourth grade joining the musical players for an encore of “Power of Progress”:

People coming from another country

Came for the power of progress

People in the history of our country

Lived in the power of progress

 

People coming from another country

Came for the power of progress

People in the history of our country

Lived in the power of progress

 

People from the eighteen nineties

to the nineteen twenties

People came through immigration

Came from other nations

People lived in tenement buildings

And worked in the factories

People brought food to this country

Recipes and memories

 

People coming from another country

Came for the power of progress

People in the history of our country

Lived in the power of progress

 

Migrants fled the south to look for

better jobs and freedom

Women fought and they protested

But they got arrested

Newsies, we are homeless orphans

We’ll sell you the papers

Children played in empty lots

And played on open roof tops

 

People coming from another country

Came for the power of progress

People in the history of our country

Lived in the power of progress

 

Lived in the power of progress

 

immigrants 8

To read about the operas and musical created by the first graders and kindergartners at the Children’s school, check out other articles under The Teaching Artist category.

 

About dannyashkenasi

I'm a composer with over 30 years experience creating music theater. I'm also an actor, writer, director, producer, teacher and general enthusiast for the arts.
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2 Responses to 4th Grade POWER OF PROGRESS – The Immigrants

  1. earlhilton@aol.com says:

    Sounds great! Love, Mim

    Liked by 1 person

  2. howlevmuso says:

    Irving Berlin wrote a beautifully aspirational setting of those Lazarus words:

    Liked by 1 person

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