Ghana, Laura and Sheridan: Connected Forever

Laura García de Mendoza has always been passionate about traditional African music and culture. Last summer, she attended an Orff-Afrique Master Class Summer Course in Dzodze, Ghana. The Sheridan community was privileged to witness the fruits of that work in the 2016 Holiday Concert. Below are some of her reflections on her experience in Ghana.

The Orff-Afrique Master Class truly lined up with Sheridan’s mission “to take joy in learning…embrace new experiences and ideas, and continually seek a deeper and fuller understanding of the world.” The course offered teachers a singular opportunity to learn and experience the music in its natural setting, in the village of Dzodze, Ghana. I was thrilled to immerse myself in a truly hands-on, engaging, and authentic learning experience.

Multiculturalism lies at the core of my curriculum. In every grade I teach, I always include a unit about music from around the world. I found a profound connection between how we implement Orff-Schulwerk’s approach to musical instruction at Sheridan and the West African way of teaching music. Witnessing the base of Ghanaian music, its complexity, the cultural context and the similar, yet distinct methods of teaching in traditional cultures was eye opening. I watched children bring music to life using their voices and their bodies to create different types of sounds and rhythms, and to express themselves. They sang, putting their whole hearts into each performance. The most touching thing for me was the connection between the performers and the audience. There were no barriers; we were expected to perform along with them. With each new dance, the performers took my hand and insisted that I participate, which I did happily. They taught us how to move, how to play a drum or a shekere, and when I felt comfortable and knew how to do it, they just gave me the biggest smile. We all had a great time!

That’s also how children learn at Sheridan: by doing.

It was deeply heartwarming to watch how everyone was included in the celebrations, even children just beginning to walk, and the eldest who are celebrated and respected in Ghanaian culture. Age doesn’t matter. Everyone comes to dance, to sing, and to join in! I felt a powerful sense of community, It was open, inclusive, and respectful to all. They all exhibited extraordinary qualities, among them dedication, discipline, perseverance, and enormous humbleness. I have so many great warm memories from Dzodze. Music is alive. It is in their feet, their hearts, and now in me. And Sheridan children love it, too!

I brought back with me experiences, music, dance, and personal stories that I know will spark a love for music and influence my students’ lives forever. Attending this course in Dzodze inspired me even further to continue my work with and awareness of the tenets of SEED and Social Justice. By living in a community that is very different from the one I am used to, I broadened my view and understanding of the world. My experiences in Dzodze and Dagbamete are forever embedded in my heart, in my thoughts, and in my way of approaching every new day.