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West Valley City Journal

Kennedy Center resident artist brings world music to Kearns sixth graders

Nov 03, 2017 02:42PM ● By Jennifer Gardiner

Imani Gonzalez speaks with students at Beehive Elementary about the culture of Ghana. (Jennifer Gardiner/City Journals)

By Jennifer Gardiner | [email protected]

It was a music class like none other and an opportunity most sixth graders never experience when an artist with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts visited Beehive Elementary in Kearns during September.

Imani Gonzalez, known for her contributions to world music and percussion, brought her expertise in multiple cultures to a sixth-grade music class during her visit to Salt Lake City. 

Gonzalez said this is all part of a workshop called “Exploring World Cultures through Music” and she chose to focus on the culture of Ghana. 

“I am going to share some salutations and facts and show some artifacts to show them about the people that are there so they can see the similarities and the differences between their culture here and the culture there,” Gonzalez said. “Then I will teach them a song and a dance.” 

Gonzalez said she believes children learn more when they are taught through music. 

“Movement and music, I want to teach them a dance because that is how they embody it,” Gonzalez said. “They have more of an understanding because they get to experience it and enjoy it more.”

During the 45-minute session, Gonzalez walked the children through the many traditions of the people of Ghana. Students were surprised to hear the primary language of Ghana is English. 

The students were perplexed about the fact that in Ghana culture parents used to name their children based on the day of the week they were born. All girls and boys born on specific days of the week were given the same preselected name. When students asked about confusion in deciphering who you were talking to in a group, or with multiple children in the home, Gonzalez seized the opportunity to show them exactly why eye to eye contact when speaking to others is so important. 

The kids also learned the culture believes that a girl is born to serve her mother throughout her adolescence and a boy is born to serve his father. The children of Ghana are taught lessons about respect at a young age. 

The kids were able to learn a quick lullaby that mothers sing frequently to their babies. 

Gonzalez was born in South Carolina and has been singing since she was five. She attended the University of South Carolina where she began to perform professionally in musical theater and landing a gig in a local hot spot, Bogie’s Café. 

After graduating with a bachelor of arts in journalism, Gonzalez moved to Boston to pursue a career in music. She took voice training at the New England Conservatory of Music and the Berkeley School of Music, where she met and was inspired by Pat Metheny. 

She continued her training at Howard University under Dr. Napoleon Reed where she became interested in world music and hand percussion. She is the first and only American to perform and tour with the traditional Ghanaian ensemble, Yacub Addy and Odadaa. 

Later during the day, Gonzalez presented a workshop at Westminster College for educators associated with the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program.

This program puts specialists trained in one of four art disciplines (visual art, dance, music and theatre) in elementary schools to work alongside classroom teachers and develop lesson plans that incorporate art into the curriculum. The program has placed arts specialists in more than 380 elementary schools throughout Utah in 31 districts (including over 30 charter schools) and is serving approximately 202,800 students.

The Utah State Board of Education oversees the program and collaborates with several universities to provide professional development for the arts specialists and classroom teachers.