You First Must Know Who You Are

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“Knowledge is like the baobab tree; no one person’s hand can encircle it alone.”  The Ewe proverb is the motto of the Nunya Music Academy in Dzodze, Ghana. It was also the guiding principle of the 3rd Biennial Orff Afrique Master Class that was hosted by Dr. J.S. Kofi Gbolonyo and the Nunya Academy in Dzodze.  

For two weeks I learned how to play traditional Ewe drumming pieces and learned how to dance traditional Ewe dances. I also learned to play the gyil and the atenteben. All of these sessions were taught by master teachers from Ghana.  I played traditional games with the students of Nunya Academy and was so fortunate to be able to see them perform. Each night there was a different group performing traditional Ewe music, and always there was an invitation to join in and dance with them.  Culture, history, politics were topics of conversations throughout the course. Not just from Kofi, but from his family, from the people who worked at the hotel, from the many performers I saw, from the renowned choral composer, Water Blege, from the Chief of Dzodze, from the people of Dzodze,  and from everyone that we met along the way. All of them coming together and encircling us with their knowledge of Ghana and Ewe culture.

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It is that community learning that I want to bring back to my students and to my school.  Knowledge comes from all of us working together, listening, and sharing ideas. These experiences also give us a deeper understanding of ourselves and each other.  

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So much time is spent in our schools preparing for the next assessment.  Our students are always being asked to show what they know, in a sense, perform.  In Dzodze, many of the groups that I saw perform, weren’t there to perform for the audience.  They were there because they love to sing, play, dance and perform with each other. If the audience enjoys the performance, then that is an added bonus. I would like my students to have more opportunities to sing, dance and play with each other because it is fun.  My hope is that these opportunities won’t just be in the music room, but also in the classrooms, at recess, anywhere.  

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Thank you, AOSA, SF Off and Kofi Gbolonyo for giving me the opportunity attend Orff Afrique Master Class in Dzodze, Ghana.  It was a powerful experience and I am so blessed to have been able attend this course.

Stacey Johnson teaches K-5 music education at Verda James School in Casper, WY, USA. She received her Orff-Schulwerk certification from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN, USA.