Reply To: Songs for MLK Jr. Program

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I have some ideas for you. My concerts are all standards based focused on content and performance skills (I typically do not do any themes)–but that doesn’t mean you cannot integrate a theme into the standards. Before you start reading, the concerts my students put on are not “stand and sing” performances–but they are really fun to perform and the parents love seeing the variety of learned skills. Not sure if you’ll find anything useful, but hopefully you will. 🙂 I will start each idea with the learned skill both in music and (as appropriate) Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) skill and Common Core State Standard (CCSS) skill.

1. Singing in Two Languages/Phrases/Melodic Direction–The best piece I have personally used with my Kinder and 1st grade classes is “Sing About Martin.” I integrate the sign language (as per the Share the Music Series) and teach the students about melodic direction and phrases in music. We also discuss the historical connection, never ignoring how rich music can be with our beautiful culture in the USA. You can find the song at this link

The sign language is what really makes the piece beautiful for a performance.

2. Partner Dancing/Phrases/Singing (literacy and the meaning of lyrics)–While I don’t know any other specific pieces to MLK, there are some other ideas I came up with–Teaching the idea of acceptance of all people. You could take a song like the one from the Share the Music Series called “Just Like Me” where it talks about how everyone wakes up in the morning, everyone eats breakfast, everyone rushes off to school, regardless of color of skin we are the same… could be presented in this piece–which is how I present this to my K-students. We do a little acting with it and we find friends to partner with and I have movements to go with the phrases. This way you are still demonstrating content and the theme is woven throughout the concert. Students switch partners and sing the song again–it doesn’t matter who they partner with…as we can all have fun together when we accept our differences as wonderful color to the world.

3. Fast/Slow, AB Section, the beauty of our many colors, telling a story without words (symphonic poem of sorts)–Have the students listen to a piece that is fast/slow. Give them scarves…start off with just a few students dancing around with one color (blue, for example). They demonstrate tempo as appropriate. Do the same activity and add one more color–then one more…until it is a rainbow of colors. If you have a few students observe and then after have comment on what they observed, typically students will realize the beauty in the many different colors–and that is what we have in our world, beautiful people with different colors inside and out. My students have performed AB dances with just colored scarves (no singing) and it turns out beautiful on stage.

4. Beat/SEL–Social and Emotional Learning = Something about me–in this activity, I have the students pat the beat and someone walks around the circle on the beat while the students sing a song (you can pick whatever song that works for you). The student on the last beat stands up–faces the “walking student” and the walking student says, “I would love to know something special about you…What would you like to share?” The student then shares something special about themselves. It works really well for acceptance of others, students get to share and they are working on beat and singing. If you did this in a concert (I’ve done this in a concert as well)–I have a microphone ready for the students to use…they demonstrate the learned skill and sing and the parents love seeing the songs in action just like they did when they were on the playground/in elementary school. The whole MLK theme and SEL theme to this activity is that there is richness in everyone, regardless of the color of our skin.

These are just a few ideas. As stated earlier, my students do not perform traditional “stand and sing” concerts–we do lots of movement, dancing, instruments, with singing–but everything centers around content and performance standards. Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) strategies are woven throughout along with Common Core State Standards (CCSS)–we address literacy skills, analyzation skills, mathematic skills, etc. As you can tell from the above mentioned ideas, it is just how my program works.

Good luck with your performance.


Bridget James
Western Division Representative
Council for General Music Education
National Foundation for Music Education