Bridging Adolescence: A River Flows Through Us
At Marshwood Middle School, of Eliot and South Berwick, Maine, my seventy-six Grade Seven and Eight Chorus students embraced our sense of place by creating a learning service project to adopt a local landmark and create awareness, give financial support, and discover our local history by embedding our project in our music curriculum and creating an original chorus composition, “The River Sings Its Song”, that was shared with our entire community in our 2018 Spring Concert. Our project, “BRIDGING ADOLESCENCE: A RIVER FLOWS THROUGH US”, allowed our students the opportunity to stretch our classroom walls and go out into our community to explore what this area provides both literally and metaphorically. The young musicians reflected upon their own paths from childhood to adolescence, to adulthood and found that the elements of nature, history, and a sense of belonging are important to the human spirit.
The Great Works River Bridge structure had been condemned for vehicular and pedestrian travel for ten years and destined for removal by the state one year after our work began. Because the bridge had been closed for several years many of my students and their families did not know the structure was in peril, let alone that it existed. In creating our thoughts and written words about this once town landmark, the students were sensitive to capturing the many stages and changes that this area has experienced. The students wanted to express both the state of the decaying bridge and the ever-moving river as the driving force that keeps flowing no matter what the season or changes might bring.
We created our composition with the help of local historians who shared the history of our town and the river’s importance to help our town flourish from its early beginnings in 1630 to present day; we wrote a grant to work with a poet-in-residence to help the students dig deeply and gather their thoughts into one complete lyric; we travelled to the site of the bridge and river to be able to experience and be influenced by the natural beauty; we held a Talent Show fundraiser at the school featuring our chorus students and many members of our entire school population and donated $350.00 to the bridge fund; we worked as a collaborative group to compose melodies, harmonies, and accompaniments and then revised and studied this creation in depth and performed it for an audience of dignitaries (the grant committee, the local historians, the school board, our artist in residence), families, and friends.
The abandoned bridge is being removed this fall and through our students’ efforts, a new footbridge is being constructed in the near future. Our students are proud of their project and the year of work that they were able to reflect in word and in music how important their community truly is.
Overview of planning and execution process for this project
- August 2017: meet with Poet-in-residence, Brian Evans-Jones to plan lessons, Kris’ vision of project
- August 2017: compose grant writing for Marshwood Education Foundation to explain project, funds needed
- September 1, 2017: MEF grant approved
- September 5, 2017: share the project objective of “River” with my chorus students, begin generating student ideas for the construction of an original piece.
- September 12, 2017: Mr. Evans-Jones introduced to both chorus classes, writing prompt
- September 18, 2017: meet with local resident and Old Berwick Historical Society representative (Linda Becker) to share historical and current information about the site
- September 19, 2017: field trip experience to Great Works River and Bridge, six stages of writing and reflecting
- September 27: engage science teacher, South Berwick resident, and local historian, Mrs. Maureen Martin to share scientific and historical evidence of area
- September 26, October 10, 17, November 14: Mr. Evans-Jones workshop days. One day per week the students will dedicate their classwork to composing. Ongoing capturing of ideas and learning via photos and video
- January 2018: student lyrics and construction of the form of the piece will be fleshed out. Written worksheet of lyric thoughts, video, music clips.
- Feb/March: melodies, harmonies, and accompaniment will be near-complete as students continue to refine, revisit, create, and explore the many possibilities their piece could take.
- March: Kris present project and learning stages at Oxford Hills Mega-Conference [3.23.18]
- March / April: revisit and revise music melodies, harmonies, accompaniment and fitting lyrics properly
- May: present all learning at the annual Maine Music Educators Association All-State Conference at UMaine, Orono.[5.17.18]
- June 5, 2018: perform the PREMIERE “The River Sings Its Song” with the program notes, program video, live and recorded narration of their learning experience, giant check to present to Great Works Bridge Brigade.
- June 22, 2018: share learning at Maine Arts Leadership Initiative Teaching Artist training/workshop, Augusta, Maine. [6.22.18]
- August 2, 2018: share learning at MALI Phase 8 in-service conference, University of Southern Maine, Portland, ME
- September 28, 2018: share collaboration and student service learning project at Maine International Conference on the Arts, USM, Portland, ME
October 2018: share learning at area Education Association workshops and in-service conferences [10/18/18: MAMLE], [10/20/18: Maine Educators Association fall workshop]
Sponsors/charities/volunteers/ other groups involved in the project and the benefits to each.
The Marshwood Middle School Talent Show is an annual evening talent event that takes donations that help support the Performing Arts programs at school. $350.00 was donated to the Great Works Bridge Brigade to help the cost to construct a new timber frame footbridge. Through our chorus composition project we helped to shed light upon this new grass-roots effort and bring in more donations at our Spring Concert.
What I believe made the greatest impact on our community is that since the bridge has been closed and condemned for ten years, many of the students’ families did not know the importance of the Great Works River and Bridge until students shared conversations with them regarding our field trip experience, ongoing lyric and music construction, or ultimately, at our concert premiere. It was evident at our concert, when the students presented their powerpoint presentation documenting their learning experience through photos and videos, personal thoughts, and ultimately, their original performance, the audience of family, friends and community members was very moved at the depth of learning our students experienced and how our youth can make a powerful impact on their community.
Specific Budget Breakdown
- $1,000.00: fee for hiring our poet-in-residence, Mr. Brian Evans-Jones
- $120.00: fee for bus travel to Great Works River and Bridge
- $1,000.00 was awarded from the Marshwood Education Foundation grant that I applied for.
- $120.00 was provided from student fundraising efforts of the Marshwood Middle School Band and Chorus account.
New or recurring project?New Project
Measurement of the success/effectiveness of this project?
Another element of success would be the educational aspect we shared with our school community, families, friends, and audience. At the end of our concert those gathered shared an additional $150.00 that was donated to the Great Works River Bridge Brigade. All of our audience members left our concert with new knowledge about our mission and our chorus continues to educate those in our community still.
Advice for someone looking to replicate this project in their own community?
I know that there is something special in each town and city that makes it unique. Find what that is and embrace it.