Pupils learn about cultural diversity


June 06, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

Eldersburg Elementary students broke down language barriers Wednesday and gave voice to the songs of their ancestors.

Although many words were foreign to their ears, they listened and imitated a guest performer who led them through syllables in European, African and Asian dialects.

"Taste all languages; try out the sounds like you were tasting food," said Sheila McKenzie. "Never be too shy to try."

In a colorful peasant dress bejeweled with beads from many nations, Ms. McKenzie introduced the children to folk melodies from around the world.

Her appearance coincided with the school's "World Week," three days of activities planned to develop the children's awareness of cultural diversities, while celebrating their own roots and promoting world friendship, said guidance teacher Carol Arbaugh.

Classrooms and hallways were decorated in articles with foreign flavor. Exchange students from South Carroll and Liberty high schools visited to share experiences with the younger children.

"Did you know there are 6,000 languages on Earth?" Ms. McKenzie asked her audience. "I have been in schools where 60 different languages were spoken."

The singer slipped easily from one language to another as she took her listeners through an international song fest and a melodic history, beginning with Native Americans who welcomed the first settlers to their world.

"We will dip into long ago music and find songs common to everyone," she said as she pounded a tom-tom beat on her guitar. "We look at the past to understand the future. Let's go back 300 years to the oldest living song in America."

"Alouette, Gentil Alouette" might be old, but the children laughed in instant recognition. "Now you know French," said their voice instructor.

Ms. McKenzie, of Mount Airy, strummed her guitar lightly and softly crooned lyrics, as she explained who carried the songs to America.

"Listen. These words are from a Far Eastern country where there are no sounds too difficult for an English speaker," she said.

The children caught the gentle rhythm and mouthed strange words along with her. Mid-song, she asked, "Anyone here from Korea?"

One smiling boy shot up instantly and shouted loudly, "I am!"

Matthew Cole, 10, said he didn't recognize the words from the country of his birth because "I am adopted." He grinned widely and rejoined the sing-along.

Matthew is part of the great mix that makes up the United States, Ms. McKenzie told the children as she performed "Songs & Dances of Ethnic America," an hourlong, energetic celebration of the languages, songs and dances of America's people.

A few children said they had heard the songs from faraway lands. Faisal Morsi, 10, smiled as the singer began a tune in Arabic.

L "I recognize it a little," he said. "My family is Egyptian."

As Ms. McKenzie continued the tuneful trip around the world, she taught children catchwords, such as "amore, the best word in any language." Along the way, she also taught a few dance steps.

"The Russian dance was the hardest," said Kira Evans, 11, one of 10 children selected to learn folk steps in the half-hour before the show.

Faisal agreed. "It hurt to go all the way down to the floor and jump back up right away."

L "Yes, you are constantly bouncing," said Jessica Farley, 10.

The practiced dancers helped Ms. McKenzie demonstrate the steps as she pulled other children onto the stage.

Joe Cairns, 11, liked dancing the jig: "I am Irish and have seen this all my life."

After he switched steps to a polka and took on a girl partner, he said, "It was embarrassing but fun."

Teachers and several children held hands in a huge circle -- "a symbol of community" -- as they danced around the audience to an ancient Hebrew melody.

"Sing shalom," Ms. McKenzie said. "It means peace and happiness for everybody."

For a grand finale, everyone joined in the chorus of "This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land."

"Clap and sing for your school, for your family and for the future of America," she said.

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