Arts Foundations: Creating an Anthem for Gann

January 6, 2017
Next week, Gann’s ninth grade Music Foundations class will step into the spotlight and up to the microphones to perform for an audience of peers and faculty in the Black Box Theater.
They will be singing original Gann anthems—“Gannthems”.  This is the culmination of a semester-long, project-based learning curriculum in which students explored the question, “What makes an anthem for the ages?”

Over the past several months, students have analyzed dozens of anthems—ranging from Hatikva to “We Will Rock You” to “Charlie on the MTA”—to distill exactly what makes them memorable and compelling.  Leading up to the final project, students used digital notation software to notate rhythmic motifs, and they all composed original melodies and raps.   But this was just the beginning.
In groups of three, students then embarked on their final project—creating an anthem for the Gann community.  That entailed thinking deeply about what Gann is in order to create both the lyrics and the music of their Gannthems.  Some students interviewed upperclassmen; others did online research; and together the class interviewed Rabbi Baker on Gann’s history, mission, and core values.

 “Rabbi Baker sharing his vision for the school was really inspiring for all of us.  He took time out of his day to come and meet with us, which showed how important this was,” said Ari Sapers-Sydney. The echoes of Rabbi Baker’s words can be heard in the final compositions.  “We create a unique community, a vibrant future for everyone, Gann inspires us all.”  “We are the students of Gann, proud and supportive of friends, uplifting our spirits in song, for many years to come.” One anthem even quoted liturgy, encapsulating Gann’s approach to Jewish education, “lilmod u'lelamed. . .talmud torahtecha b’ahava (to learn and to teach. . .the words of your Torah with love)”.  One theme emerging consistently is that of Gann as an accepting community that cares deeply about learning, about leading, and about each other.

The Gannthems project and the Music Foundations course are part of Gann’s new Arts curriculum, in which each incoming freshman takes a full year of foundational courses—one semester of visual and one of performing. Courses include Video, Photography and Design, Studio Arts, Music, Dance, and Theater.  Teachers encourage students to explore and deepen their own self-conceptions as artists.  Lisa Jacobs, Chair of the Arts Department, explains, “The Arts faculty is committed to providing students with opportunities to step outside their comfort zones and take risks, to experience the world through diverse lenses, and to develop empathy through self-reflection and encountering the other.“

Indeed, the final projects of the freshman artists vary widely and embody the essence of risk-taking.  Students in the Design Foundation classes have prepared PSA posters for the Mothers Out Front organization to use in their campaign for environmental protection. Students in the Video Foundations classes are showing final cuts of their original music videos, and students in the Dance Foundations classes are performing their own, self-choreographed pieces. After freshman year, students can follow up these courses with additional electives, ranging from pottery and graphic design to electronic music and animation.  

For now, though, our aspiring anthem-writers are excited about their debuts next week.   Freshman Amital Shapiro says that her group’s Gannthem intends to evoke a feeling of pride.  “To create, to strive, to care, and to connect—these are our values that make us proud to be a part of this school.”
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