advertisement

Nothing sad about the blues at West Boulevard Elementary with T.J. Wheeler

Wednesday, September 22, 2010 | 7:10 p.m. CDT; updated 10:35 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 22, 2010

COLUMBIA — Sound and energy bounced off the walls in the music trailer at West Boulevard Elementary School. Singing and playing his guitar or banjo, blues musician T.J. Wheeler led the children. But they were freestyling for sure — on egg shakers, washboards, tambourines and a single wash-bucket bass.

Wheeler is in his fourth annual residency in Columbia Public Schools, timed to coincide with the Roots 'N' Blues 'N' BBQ Festival. In the past, he had worked with students at Grant Elementary School, but this this year the blues residency was expanded to include West Boulevard.

MoreStory


Related Media

The theme at West Boulevard is "The River Runs with the Blues."

“A river is never the same river twice. Every time you step into a river, you are stepping into a new river. It is always changing,” Wheeler said after class. “It’s the same with this music. It’s always heading somewhere. It’s always got a purpose.”

Rachel Blomquist, music teacher at West Boulevard, said some classes are collaborating to embrace the rivers theme. A mural is being created on large sheets of plywood and will be taken to the festival; its inspiration is a stream that flows through an outdoor classroom at the school. Fifth-graders are writing poetry about rivers and the blues.

In addition to working with classes, Wheeler is preparing students from both schools to perform as part of the blues festival Oct. 1 to 2. The Blues Corps groups will perform at 11 a.m. Oct. 2 at Flat Branch Park.

On Friday morning, Wheeler will meet with elementary school music and art teachers from throughout the district. The goal is to further expand his blues residency. At schools across the country, Wheeler has championed integrating the blues into other facets of education, such as art and social studies, and wants to show teachers the importance of the blues.

“Without the advantage of the kids being there, I am going to try to engage the teachers and get them on some of the instruments,” Wheeler said. “Try to bring out the kid in some of them, and show them the importance of using music.”

When Wheeler worked with the kids, he encouraged involvement. "Who wants to freestyle?" he asked, calling on students to come to the microphone and solo. After every song, participants and listeners applauded.

“One thing we don’t condone in the classes is somebody putting one student down for trying something new, for being brave enough.” Wheeler said. “All of our classes are safe places.”

Blomquist saw a different side of some of her students. “It’s been fun to watch some of the kids get to be a star that don’t necessarily always get to be,” she said.

Wheeler spent most of the class time singing and making music with the kids. Between songs, he sometimes talked about connections between the blues and African-American history.

"I use the analogy of the musical tree," he said after class. "The blues is kind of like the trunk of the tree, with roots that go even deeper into the work and field songs and eventually all the way back to Africa."

At Grant the theme is "Hope, Heroes and the Blues," Wheeler's signature program.

He credited Grant for the inclusion of West Boulevard this year: "I wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for Grant and their caring about me being able to reach the most diversified amount of students that I possibly could.”


Like what you see here? Become a member.


Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


Comments

Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.

advertisements