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Lower School Students Learn about Call and Response

Head of Lower School Libbie Zimmer recently shared: “Sanford parent and Associate Director of Admissions Tanya Graham led a dynamic, informative, and interactive presentation for our students and teachers to help us with our celebration of Black History Month.
Through history-rich slides and music, our students were on the edge of their seats listening, contributing, and even on their feet dancing!”

Graham created a presentation that helped the students to understand how important the concept of “call and response” has been to the Black community. Call and response is when one person says something (the call) and the rest of the group answers back (the response). She tapped into the students’ prior knowledge of this concept by showing that activities that they already do, such as clapping to a pattern, telling a knock-knock joke, or singing “Old McDonald Had a Farm,” are all examples of call and response.

The students tapped into their sense of empathy by doing a Think-Pair-Share about what emotions slaves might have felt. First, students brainstormed ideas about feelings that slaves might have had to deal with (think); next they exchanged ideas with a partner (pair); and finally volunteers told their ideas to the whole group (share). Graham explained that call and response songs helped slaves handle difficult emotions by giving them the chance to sing together and feel connected to the people around them. She sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” to the students, and the group discussed why this song could have been encouraging to the men and women in slavery.

Graham then shifted the focus to more contemporary times. She shared with students that call and response is still used today in many different arenas, including various types of music, including gospel, R&B, jazz, and blues. She introduced students to Motown, both Berry Gordy’s record-breaking company and the style of music which combined soul and pop. Graham shared that while Motown music was primarily created by Black artists, people of all races came together to sing and dance to Motown’s catchy lyrics and rhythms. The students experienced the Motown-sound when they identified call and response that they heard in a video of the Isley Brothers’ performance of “Shout.” Next, Graham played the song “Build Me Up, Buttercup” for the students and explained that the song was written by a British group called The Foundations who loved the Motown-style so much that they wanted to bring it to England. The students then showed off their skills with call and response—singing and dancing—when they learned the lyrics to “Build Me Up, Buttercup” and ended the presentation with a full-group performance of the song.

"I love talking about call and response because it is something that is woven into the fabric of Black culture from long ago all the way up until today. The response from the students was fantastic. I appreciated their enthusiastic participation!" said Graham.

If you would like to see a portion of the program, check out our featured video.

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