Roots 'n 'Blues 'n BBQ reaches elementary students

Friday, August 31, 2007 | 2:33 p.m. CDT; updated 8:21 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — A famous bluesman will spend part of next week sharing his music and experiences with students at Grant Elementary School.

Guitarist T.J. Wheeler will be an artist in residence in connection with the Roots ‘n Blues ‘n BBQ Festival Sept. 7-8.

“We’ve begun some preparation for his arrival in that we have been listening to some blues music and we have been learning about blues and about Muddy Waters and about B.B. King,” said Pam Sisson, who teaches music at Grant. “We are going to do a little bit of poetry writing about something we might have had the blues about and hope that Mr. Wheeler may help us put the poems to music.”

Wheeler has played guitar since age 12, when he was inspired by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. He co-founded the Blues Bank Collective in 1985 and has since worked with students all over the world.

Besides presenting at two assemblies and stopping in on classes starting Tuesday , Wheeler will work with a core group of students every day. That will culminate in an ensemble concert at 11 a.m. Sept. 8 in Flat Branch Park, said Beverly Borduin, Grant’s principal.

Wheeler’s residency has not yet begun but his influence is already being felt at the school. Sisson’s classes, for example, have been learning a bit of blues history: that the blues rose out of a practice known as the “field holler” in which slaves on plantations would follow a call-and-response pattern of singing about religion, suffering and, more veiled, escaping.

Sisson said that because she is a traveling teacher without a room of her own, she lacks a piano and relies on a similar technique. “We echo-learn our songs all the time,” she said, “so we learn our songs much like the blues developed.”

“Grant teachers are excited about this opportunity and are talking about blues in their classrooms,” Borduin said.

Wheeler’s appearance is being sponsored by the Boone County National Bank, which has a partnership with Grant Elementary. Lisa Richardson, who leads the bank’s Partners in Education committee, said bank employees are excited about the educational aspect of the festival and that the school is “using the blues as a backdrop for learning history and lessons in diversity.”

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