Harmonicas give Timnath students the blues

Harmonicas give Timnath students the blues
October 22, 2009
By Marcy Miranda

Students at Timnath Elementary got a dual lesson in music and history on Wednesday when they spent an hour singing the blues.

"If you see my baby, send her on home to me," the students sang, their arms raised and swaying above their heads.

Led by Billy Branch, a harmonica player and blues musician from Chicago, Timnath is one of 18 schools in the district getting the chance to learn about the blues this week thanks to the Colorado Blues Society and its "Blues in the Schools" program. The program, in its fifth year at area schools, brings blues musicians to schools throughout the country to teach children about the musical style and its history.

"BB King, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters are some of the kings of blues," Branch said. "Even Elvis Presley played his own version of the blues."

During the school assembly, Branch taught students about the origins of blues, taking children back to the days of slavery. Reminding them of the long hours and harsh working conditions slaves had to endure, he used two student volunteers to show the children how the blues originated as slaves sang sorrowful tunes back and forth across plantation grounds.

"Out of that terrible thing evolved the beautiful music we call the blues," Branch said.

Branch also taught the students what the blues were, but he didn't describe it as a specific genre of music. Instead, he said the blues are the shared experiences of people.

"Blues are the facts of life," he said, later noting that the blues is one of the most universal types of music because "everyone has the blues."

Each student received their own harmonica during the assembly, and Branch taught the students the basics of the harmonica, from holding the instrument and cleaning it to blowing in and out of the holes to making different pitches and how to "jam out" with it.

"You got to improvise if you want to really impress your

parents," Branch said.

For Emma Stolte, getting a harmonica and being able to play it right away was the best part of the assembly.

"I already knew how to play a little," the fifth-grader said. She was already familiar with the blues and the Blues Society because of previous times they have played at her school.

A fan of hip-hop and rock music, Jonathan Hagar said he learned the blues were the originators of both musical genres.

"It is so cool that blues started that," he said. Although he already takes piano lessons, he said the assembly made him want to learn how to play the blues.

Hoping to spark an interest in music is one of the reasons why Karen Nuttall, Timnath's music teacher, said she enjoys the assemblies so much.

Bringing in an artist "makes it more interesting, and it sparks an interest in them to research the music," Nuttall said. "It makes it more approachable than a CD."
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