|Photos by Chris Gray|
Class has begun, school is in session and all the pupils are attentively waiting to hear what the teacher has in store. But there are no desks, tests or No. 2 pencils anywhere in sight. These H.I.S.D. students are seated at a special assembly to receive a lesson of great importance: Music appreciation, specifically the blues.
Uprooted from a typical school day, Friday morning these Houston-area kids left their traditional schools behind and enrolled in what House of Blues likes to call the "School of Blues," a program begun by HOB founder Isaac Tigrett to teach a kid-friendly version of the music's origins and history. After sitting through the program, it's easy to see the reason for SOB's formation was to bring children closer to a culture they might not be exposed to on a daily basis, and raise awareness among teachers and parents about how necessary music appreciation still is in a child's life.
At its core, this is a simple idea, but a very detailed presentation. When the half-hour show (including several musical interludes) began, the saying "You can't know where you're going, unless you know where you've been" came to mind. Essentially, this is what the lesson is all about, teaching kids how the music they love today gets its roots and soul from the music of the past.
Glossing over the blues' more adult elements - no killing floors or mojo hands here - the narrators act as tour guides through the genre's history, including the contributions of Houston-area blues legends like Leadbelly. Honestly, after sitting through just the preview version, there were a lot of things Rocks Off learned ourselves.
The best part of this workshop was the detailed definitions of each genre and the styles they utilize, which were given throughout the entire program. From explaining that blues itself come from work songs sung by slaves as a means of communication to defining its structural "AAB" form, there wasn't a concept that went over these kids' heads.
The lesson was at times very reminiscent of an actual classroom. However, rather than letting the students try and grasp these concepts on their own, they were provided with examples from the artists who popularized the genre, and even encouraged to sing along to the "Schoolhouse Blues Band" at times, who illustrated the lesson in song with selections such as "This Little Light of Mine" for gospel and even Mary J.Blige's "I'm Fine."
The interaction and dependency on audience participation definitely raises HOB's program above a typical school-day presentation. From the initial demonstration of African call-and-response music to simply asking audience members to sing along if they know the words to one of the songs, it made an engaging and enlightening program for children of all ages.