A Revolutionary idea

Musical skit brings history to life for fifth-graders
Mar. 28, 2013 @ 08:00 AM

When  Keith Smith spoke, his giant baritone voice captured the attention of the roomfull of fifth-graders as he bellowed out his instructions for their performance.

“Big, slow and clear,” he commanded with a smile at a recent rehearsal after the lunch period. “Tell the story. Draw the audience in. Make eye contact with a person in the audience.”

A musical number by composer Edvard Grieg started blaring from a boom box. Sydney Propst, 10, cleared her throat, and in the best British accent she could muster she began: “It is morning, the dawn of our nation. Sit back and see and hear how our country hatched.” At this point, a student dressed as an eagle popped out of a giant egg.

The students in Cindy Blanton and Marianne Lore's classes from Granite Falls Elementary are living history through acting. But even if no Oscars are awarded, the children are learning about the American Revolution through a skit as part of the Caldwell Men’s Chorus Spring Concert of American Patriotic Music.

“The kids are usually confused about the facts,” Blanton said. “They will remember more than from just hitting the books. They are intrigued and enthusiastic.”

The 15-minute skit, “An American Rap-sody,” was written by Smith, the Caldwell Men’s Chorus director. The skit merges music, acting and history as part of the students’ study unit on the American Revolution.

The project was born from a recent class field trip to see a play about Amelia Earhart, the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. The play, written by Smith and his production company, Wind and Woods Productions, was part of a series of plays geared for children. Blanton, who there with her students, was looking for a unique way to teach history, and approached Smith afterward.

“We spoke of coming up with an idea regarding some sort of artistic project to tie in with their unit of study on the American Revolutionary War,” Smith said. “So I wrote a skit that encompasses that period of history through poetry, narrative, drama and music. The goal was to make the history come to life in an exciting way, to get past the rhetoric of dates and facts alone. I had no idea that the students would respond so positively, so enthusiastically.”

The students have been rehearsing twice a week in Blanton’s classroom.

There will be several more rehearsals before the big event. The lines need polishing here and there. Costumes must be purchased and fitted. The skit will be presented at Granite Falls Elementary first. The free concert will be Saturday, April 27, at 7:30 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church in Lenoir.

Meanwhile, history is being learned.

“These people went through a lot of hard times for what we have today,” Sydney said. "This gets kids’ attention.”

“I learned new legends, and I'm learning about the Revolutionary War,” said Ashlyn Smith, 11. “I read lots of books when I was little, but this is fun.”

Smith loves working with the kids. He thinks his hands-on approach seems to work well, and he feels the students are learning not only their lines, but also their classwork.

“These kids have stepped out of their comfort zone. It’s good they’re engaged in this,” he said.