Teacher Q&A: Megan Fitzharris Harlow, Carlisle Middle School
Megan Fitzharris Harlow teaches music at Carlisle Middle School. After studying about and traveling to West Africa with Primary Source, she now teaches her students about West African culture through music, dancing, and drumming.
Primary Source: What do fifth-graders at Carlisle Middle School learn in your music class?
Megan Fitzharris Harlow: The 5th graders learn basic geographic and socio-economic information about Ghana, including looking at and deriving information from pictures from that country. They learn a few basic courtesies in Twi (Asante), a main language in Ghana. The students also discover that "music" to the Ewe people means dancing, drumming, and singing at one time. They learn to play the djembe, dondo (talking drum), axatse (shaker), and gankoqui (double bell). They learn the Bobobo dance, originally used for recreation and now done also in cultural performances. They learn to sing the song, 'Mano Efe Dusime,' in which the three elements of dancing, drumming, and singing are combined as different groups perform simultaneously.
Students also hear and see examples of Akan honor poems played on talking drums. Then, they compose their own honor poem about one of their ancestors and learn to play it using a talking drum and vocal inflection
We also play two different children's games: 'Bantoma Kro Kra,' a stick tapping game and song AND 'Afokpavuvutola,' a rock passing game and song. Finally, students learn about Ghanaian xylophones, called gyils. They are based on a Do, Re, Mi, So, La repeated note pattern and the students use this pattern to compose and improvise music, similar to the way gyils are played in the Northern region of Ghana.
PS: Why do you teach your students about West African music, drumming, and dance? What made you decide to bring this topic into your music curriculum?
Megan: I teach students about West African music because I feel it gives them a hands-on experience of an African culture. If they connect with the music, they are given a direct link to thinking about Africa and hopefully are inspired to learn more about African countries, regions, resources, and people.
PS: How has your study and travel with Primary Source changed your classroom?
Megan: In addition to giving me the knowledge and materials needed to teach about West Africa, Primary Source has impassioned my teaching and personal desire to learn and share more with my students. I deeply believe that students need to gain an accurate and empathetic view of Africa, its countries, peoples, problems, and successes. As the general media coverage of Africa is limited either to negative information, such as famines, rape, war, etc., or to pictures of the savanna and large animals, it is important that I share my knowledge, pictures, and experiences with the students, so that they can critically consider all the aspects of the continent of Africa.
PS: In your opinion, what role does music education play in shaping your students' understanding of the world?
Megan: As it is said all over the world, music is the universal language. There has never been a people in human history that did not have some form of music. For students to gain an understanding of the world outside of their school and community, they need to be able to see, hear, feel, taste, and think about other cultures. Music gives them an immediate connection with other areas and cultures of the world. It is my hope that my students, through music and the knowledge they gain while learning about and experiencing it, will be open to seeing the world as a vast, diverse, and fascinating topic; one that they will want to continue to explore.