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by Laurie Ornstein


Musician (and EFL teacher, of course!) Laurie Ornstein's column will share tips on using music in the classroom. In this issue:

Songwriting: A special start-the-year activity in light of the war

It's hard to write a column on "music in the EFL classroom" without relating to this summer's war. My original intention was to suggest a light-hearted and fun start-of-the-year songwriting activity. For many, however, this activity may also touch on the latest current events and also be therapeutic.

Songwriting may sound daunting but do not write it off so quickly. Even if you have never penned lyrics, your pupils will surprise you with their creativity. Although I am a folksinger, I am going to diverge from my usual fare and propose writing rap this time. This will allow us to focus mainly on words and rhythm, as the "beat" is the musical accompaniment to the chant. According to the dictionary it's interesting to note that rap chants are often semi-autobiographic tales.

Task: How to write and perform rap chants in class
This task is suitable for intermediate and advanced level pupils.

The length of the chant and assignment depends on the level of your pupils and the time you choose to allot to the task. I did this songwriting activity with a 10th grade 5 point class over 2 double lessons.

Lead in -
  1. Ask the class how they spent their summer vacation. You may take notes on the board for further reference.
  2. Tell the class they will now relate their summer experiences in rap form.
    --You may first ask them to define rap in their own words and give some examples of familiar rappers and chants they know.
    --In addition, you can bring an appropriate rap chant to class for pupils to listen to and discuss. Relate to both rap form and subject of chant.
Procedure -
  1. Divide the class into small groups.
    Each group brainstorms ideas for their own rap chant.
    One pupil should be the "scribe" and take notes.

  2. Next, pupils review their ideas and choose a focus for the rap.

  3. Pupils now start "songwriting", keeping in mind rhyme and beat.
    From experience, I can easily say that you will be amazed at the interesting rhymes and twists your pupils will create to make it "work".

  4. Pupils practice their rap and decide on how to perform it before the class.
    The group can be a band and perform the entire chant together or they can divide lines/verses among themselves.
    If the performance is postponed to the next lesson, they can bring costumes to class. Rappers have their own dress code.
    Each pupil should have a copy of the lyrics.

  5. Pupils perform their rap chants to class.

  6. Teacher/pupil evaluation of the rap chants with a rubric is optional.
    To facilitate teacher evaluation, pupils should hand in lyrics.
My pupils thoroughly enjoyed this activity and I did, too. As they were working, I sat in for a short time with each group and helped them when help was needed. Furthermore, the success of this activity led me to trying the
Lyrics Project by Jack Pillemer with my class.

The Music of Healing, a special song and event, and more ...
Returning to my opening thoughts about the therapeutic attributes of music, I'd like to share with you a few words about The Music of Healing (see lyrics below) on Sarajevo to Belfast, Appleseed Records by Tommy Sands (N. Ireland) who wrote the music; the lyrics are co-written by Tommy Sands and Pete Seeger (USA). See also

The Music of Healing is also an event inspired by this song and is a highlight of Fiddler's Green Festival which takes place every summer in Rostrevor, Co. Down, N. Ireland. Amidst "the troubles" of that northern land, Tommy invites political and controversial personalities to discuss conflicts in a neighborly atmosphere created by local and visiting musicians.

As some of you may know, Tommy Sands was recently on tour in Israel and featured at Jacob's Ladder Folk Festival. He was deeply impressed by our "situation" here and decided to change the focus of this year's festival event to the Middle East. I was honored to be a part of this special program and sang, Twelve Gates to the City, a traditional spiritual about Jerusalem, to which I added my own verses in Hebrew and Arabic; and Eli, Eli by Hannah Senesh, which I sang it in the original Hebrew and as well as in English and Arabic translation. Tommy interviewed me on stage between songs and I was also asked to respond to questions from the audience. With war drums rolling at home, this was not an easy task. I was the sole Israeli representative at the festival. See below for lyrics to these songs

The "headliner" for the evening was Brian Keenan, the Irish journalist who'd been held captive by the Hezbullah for 5 years in Lebanon. He was released in 1990 along with 4 other foreign prisoners.

Brian has captured his 5 years in his book, The Evil Cradling.

He spoke of his experiences and more importantly, of his feelings and ideas. I was fortunate to have met him personally prior to stage time and then speak with him face to face afterwards.

I'm still working through meeting with him and this whole impressionable evening. I've got his book lying on my table awaiting reading...a hard one, I'm sure.

The song could be used as a springboard for discussion in the classroom.

You may decide to hold an event at your school, or in your class, in the spirit of "The Music of Healing". This activity could either stand on its own (double lesson) or be a part of an English Day program. The atmosphere can be set by pupil musicians playing and singing songs, and/or reciting a theme-related poem. You can, of course, include discussion among students, or guest speakers.

May you and your pupils enjoy and learn from the "music of healing" in the coming year.

Song Lyrics:

The Music of Healing

Don't beat the drum that frightens the children
Don't sing the songs about winning and losing
Sit down beside me, the green fields are bleeding
Sing me the music of healing.
Sing me a song of a lover returning
The darker the night, the nearer the morning
Bring me the news of a new day that's dawning
Sing me the music of healing.

Ah, ah, the heart's a wonder
Stronger than the guns of thunder
Even though we're torn asunder
Love will come again.

Sometimes the truth's like a hare in the cornfield
You know that it's there but you can't put your arms 'round it
All you can hope is to follow its footprints
Sing me the music of healing
Who would have thought I could feel so contented
To know I was wrong after all of my rambles
I've learned to be hard and I've learned how to tremble
Sing me the music of healing


Somehow the cycle of vengeance keeps turning
Till each others sorrows and songs we start learning
Peace is the prize for those who are daring
Sing me the music of healing
Time is your friend, it cures all your sorrow
But how can I wait for another tomorrow
One step today and thousand will follow
Sing me the music of healing.


Twelve Gates to the City (traditional gospel song) with selected new lyrics by Erik Darling, Ronnie Gilbert, Lee Hays and Fred Hellerman.
I've also includes my own original verses in English Hebrew and Arabic (transliteration)

Three gates to the north, and three in the south,
There's three in the east, and three in the west.
There's twelve gates to the city, Hallelujah.

Oh, what a beautiful city,
Oh, what a beautiful city
Oh, what a beautiful city
Twelve gates to the city, hallelujah.

Well, there are so many ways to get to the city
So many ways to get to the city
There are so many ways to get to the city
Twelve gates to the city, hallelujah.

And you can walk right in and you'll be welcome in the city
Walk right in and you'll be welcome in the city
You can walk right in and you'll be welcome in the city
Twelve gates to the city, hallelujah.

And you can come from the north, come to the city
Come from the south, come to the city
And we'll all meet together in the middle of the city
Twelve gates to the city, hallelujah.

(Hebrew transliteration)
Bruchim haba'im , shalom aleichem
Bruchim haba'im, shalom aleichem
Bruchim hava'im, shalom aleichem
Welcome to the city, hallelujah

(Arabic transliteration)
Marchaba, salaam aleikum
Marchaba, salaam aleikum
Marchaba, salaam aleikum
Welcome to the city, hallelujah.

We'll pray for peace, peace in the city
Pray for peace, peace in the city
We'll pray for peace, peace in the city
Twelve gates to the city, hallelujah.

Eli, Eli (Halicha L'Kesaryia)
Words by Hannah Senesh, Music by David Zahavi (I'm not certain who wrote the English and Arabic translations. Note the Hebrew and Arabic are in transliteration.)

(Hebrew transliteration)
Eli, Eli, shelo yigamer l'olam
Hachol v'hayam, rishrush shel hamayim,
B'rak hashamayim, t'filat haadam (repeat last 2 lines)

Oh Lord, my God, these things that I pray never end
The sand and the sea, the rush of the waters
The crash of the heavens, the spirit of man (repeat last 2 lines)

(Arabic transliteration)
Ilahi, Ilahi, ala yazul liladad
Aramlu, walbahru hadiru'l miyahi
Wabarku sam'I salatu'l insane (repeat last 2 lines)
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