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Home » Subject Areas, Teaching and Learning

Singing the Grade School Blues

Submitted by on April 19, 2017 – 9:33 am 2 Comments | 913 views
Lutes

Rob Lutes singing the Blues.

When I was about twelve years old I was flipping through my parent’s record collection and came across B.B. King ‎– Live In Cook County Jail, an album cover faded and textured like prison denim.

From the moment I put the needle to the record I was transported by the sounds of inmates laughing and booing in response to introductions of the prison director and chief justice of the criminal court.   Then comes the introduction of B.B. King who immediately kicks off with “Every day I have the blues”. It was at that moment that I understood how the blues easily communicates loneliness, sadness and hardships of life to an audience.

As B.B. King says “Blues don’t necessarily have to be sung by a person that came from Mississippi as I did, because there are people having problems all over the world”.

There is power in playing blues music to a group of people that seemed to have lots to be blue about. There is power in teaching students how to express their emotions through lyrics and music.

This post is not meant to be a total downer, but rather a chance to introduce Rob Lutes, an accomplished singer songwriter who has been providing a blues songwriting workshops for students in Quebec, across Canada and in Europe. What he does is work with students to learn about the intersections of history and music. The workshop shows how the blues was a vehicle to comment on important societal issues, personal feelings and emotions.

Rob starts his workshops with the story of the blues as rooted in the history of slavery in North America and extending through the African-American experience of racism, segregation and discrimination. Reflecting on the history of music in North America, he quotes the Willie Dixon line “the blues as the roots, the rest is the fruits” crediting the blues as the basis for much of the modern music that we enjoy today.

The second part of the workshop is where the real fun and learning begins. Students engage in writing and performing a blues song in 20 minutes. Rob works with students to brainstorm subjects, vote on a single topic and then facilitates the writing of a collective song using the Delta Blues style following the traditional AAB rhyme scheme. This style and the songwriting portion of the workshop as a whole is successful because “creativity flourishes within constraints”.

Some might say it’s impossible to write a song that fast!  Let me try one real quick.

Writer’s Block Blues

I don’t know what to write

I don’t know what to write

I’m begging please, don’t let it take all night

During my conversation with Rob, he tells me that he is pleasantly surprised to see students typically disengaged throw out lines that get the whole class enthused, building off each other. Encouraging students in this way has potential to provide valuable opportunity for student voice. Opening a space for students to write about issues in society or realities in their community.

Last year Rob brought his workshop to three schools in the Gaspe. Talking about important community realities (or at least the reality of 16 year-olds), the secondary 5 students collectively came up with a song called the “The Lifted Truck Blues”.

Last summer, grade 4 students at Clearpoint Elementary School wrote The Bad Dream Blues as part of the Montreal Folk Festival’s inaugural Artists in the Schools program. You can hear their song here.

The Bad Dream Blues

I went to sleep, I saw a shadow in my room

I went to sleep, I saw a shadow in my room

The shadow had eight arms, it was flying on a broom

I thought it was a ghost, so I called the ghostbusters

I thought it was a ghost, so I called the ghostbusters

They showed up right away with a big duster

Something woke me up saying you got to follow the rules

Something woke me up saying you got to follow the rules

It was my Mom saying it’s time to go to school

I got The Bad Dream Blues 

If you are interested in organizing a workshop or talking about education and the blues you can contact Rob at roblutes33@yahoo.ca

Rob Lutes Blues Playlist
Diddie Wa Diddie – Blind Blake
No Love Today– Chris Smither
It’s Tight Like That – Tampa Red and Georgia Tom
Fishin’ Blues – Taj Mahal
Tight Money – Bobby Rush

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2 Comments »

  • Don says:

    Last year as mentioned, students from Belle Anse school wrote “the dynamite blues” while students from Gaspe elementary wrote the prophetic “I got the Donald trump blues” reflecting a common angst that was happening at the time (still?) in the media. Great job on the blog Ben!