Teach the Beat!

Bringing the distinctive D.C. sound of go-go into the classroom.

Teaching for Change is honored to work with D.C.  area schools and the authors of The Beat! Go-Go Music from Washington, D.C. to develop lessons and share teaching ideas for infusing the history and music of go-go in middle and high school social studies, language arts, math, music, and/or D.C. history classes, and to bring renowned go-go performers into D.C. classrooms.

"Go-go has stayed true to time-honored cultural scripts such as live call-and-response, live instrumentation, as well as its locally rooted fashions, slang, dance, distribution and economic systems. Simply put: Go-Go never sold out. There is a grit and texture to the music that gives voice to the communities where it was created." –Natalie Hopkinson

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In The Classroom

What an experience to see renowned go-go musicians coaching and mentoring students in D.C. classrooms. Students perform with expert guidance, ask questions, and wear out the performers with requests for photos and autographs before they leave.  Meanwhile, the go-go performers share their talents with the younger generation and gain new-found respect for the dedication and hard work of classroom teachers.

The visits began in June 2015 and continue as part of a special initiative called “Teach the Beat: Go-Go Goes to School: Artists and Scholars in the Classroom” designed to to infuse D.C.’s rich and unique tradition of go-go into the curriculum. The initiative is coordinated by Teaching for Change, in partnership with DC Public Schools. The DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities (DCCAH) funded the pilot program of the classroom-based effort and individual donors are making more visits possible . Go-go performers and scholars provide in-school coaching to D.C. public and public charter school teachers and students in music, social studies, and language arts classrooms. This is part of Teaching for Change’s Teach the Beat project.

Below are the first several visits. We will continue to post updates on other visits here.

JUNE 16: SWEET CHERIE AT SCHOOL WITHIN SCHOOL

Cherie “Sweet Cherie” Mitchell-Agurs visited the kindergarten classroom of elementary school teacher James Castaneda at School Within School. The students sat patiently on the floor as their teacher introduced Sweet Cherie. Cherie gave the students an overview of what go-go is by playing a few songs as examples. The students were immediately engaged. When their teacher asked if they wanted to play music with Cherie, they all yelled “Yes!” and began to line up for their instruments.

Once students were given their own instruments, the music began. Cherie separated the young musicians into groups based on which instrument they had.  After they were given specific instructions, the students were ready to play.

After having students join in with go-go classics such as “Sardines,” Cherie asked students if they had any songs that they would like to sing. The room became full of melodies from Bruno Mars and Frozen,all with a go-go beat. When the class came to an end, the students asked their teacher if they could continue to play, calling out popular songs to perform. When Cherie asked what they would tell their parents they learned today, students called out that they would tell them that they learned about go-go. One student shouted, “Sardines and Pork and Beans.”

June 11: Sugar Bear at Roosevelt

Gregory “Sugar Bear” Elliott visited the classroom of music teacher Dr. Kenneth Dickerson at Roosevelt Senior High School (DCPS). The class began with Dickerson explaining the importance of go-go to Washington, DC and his experiences listening to go-go growing up in the city. Dickerson explained the connection of go-go to west African rhythms before introducing Sugar Bear to the class.

Sugar Bear began by explaining how he started playing go-go at Ballou High School. Dickerson then played a video for the song Da Butt. As students watched they commented at each close up of Sugar Bear. Once the video ended, Sugar Bear answered a few questions about the video and E.U. After that it was time to play.

Sugar Bear started by playing a few classic R&B songs that students were familiar with. He was accompanied by three students playing the trumpet, trombone, and saxophone with Dickerson on drums As the music shifted to go-go, Sugar Bear requested that students come up and dance or rap. One student came up to the front of the room and, after some prompting, began to dance. With each step the classroom began to move at their desks along with her. More students joined in once a students took over on drums and began playing bounce beat, a recent version of go-go. Here are pictures and video from the visit.

June 8: Sweet Cherie at Stuart Hobson

Cherie “Sweet Cherie” Mitchell-Agurs visited the classroom of music teacher James Edwards at Stuart Hobson Middle School (DCPS). The class was composed of students familiar with a variety of instrumental from the tuba to the violin. The class started with Cherie explaining the history of go-go and how she started playing. She explained that her stage name was given to her by the godfather of go-go, Chuck Brown.

Once Cherie took the podium, she asked the drummers to began playing a beat to begin. As they began, she explained that a drummer is the heartbeat and they must always play with emotion and confidence. The students responded with strong, deliberate sounds emerging from their drum sets.

Some students were not sure if they could play of go-go with their instruments, such as the clarinets and violin. Cherie quickly picked up on their hesitation and motioned what and how to play. Once the students realized they had a role in the music that was being made, they wanted to play non-stop. At one point, Cherie began to play popular songs and the students sang along. As the end of class approached, students asked their teacher if Cherie could stay all day. Here are pictures and video from the visit.

June 3: Ju Ju at E.L. Haynes

William “Ju Ju” House visited the classroom of music teacher Ashton Conklin at E.L. Haynes Public Charter School. Ju Ju started off talking about the history of go-go and how he got involved with the music.

After a brief drumming demonstration, Ju Ju had students grab instruments and begin playing. He explained the difference between a “break beat” and “bounce beat.” While playing, Ju Ju instructed the students when to switch between the two in order to change the rhythm of the song.

Students were then separated into three person groups. Each group had to play a short selection in order to focus on the instrument they were assigned. Ju Ju went around to each student and gave them individual instruction on what and how to play.

Near the end of class, there there was time for Q&A. A student asked Ju Ju how he became to be such an amazing drummer. He explained the importance of practice in order to improve on ones craft. He said as a kid he was drumming constantly and on everything. The lessons he shared could be applied to music and life. Take a look at pictures and video from the visit.

Ashton Conklin was very pleased with the experience. He commented,

Ju Ju connected with our students in so many powerful ways during his visit. Most of all, it was his ability to connect with the students through the music that made the workshop an exhilarating and unforgettable experience for everyone in the room. His energy, talent, knowledge and ability to get them all engaged in playing go-go beats together for over an hour was simply amazing. Ju Ju spoke with the students about go-go styles and his own experience as a performer, but used most of the time allowing them to experience playing pocket and bounce beats together. I couldn’t imagine a better experience with a visiting artist in my classroom and my students have been talking about the workshop ever since.

Innovate Grant Announcement

On May 22, 2015, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the DC Commission on the Arts Innovate grant at Canal Park. Teaching for Change was one of the three grant recipients invited to showcase our project at the press conference. Our project is called Teach the Beat: Go Go Goes to School. Musicians Sweet Cherie, JuJu House, and Mighty Moe performed. They are among the team of performers who are coaching teachers and students in music and social studies classrooms thanks to the grant. Take a look at pictures and video pictures and video from the event.

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Website developed by Teaching for Change with support from
the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

Image credits: Thomas Sayers Ellis