Celebrating Lunar New Year

One of the challenges of the pandemic is adapting community traditions to together on Zoom. Every February, the students and staff gather in the Big Room to celebrate Lunar New Year. Traditionally the 3rd graders share a music and dance performance culminating in the lions leading a parade through the school to chase away evil spirits and cleanse the building in preparation for the year to come. Here is a video compilation from 2012 of our traditional celebration.

This year we knew our celebration would be different. Over winter break, I connected with Synergy Art teacher Pam Heyda to brainstorm ideas for how visual art could help bring this holiday to life on Zoom. We settled on the idea of students creating puppets and paper fans they could use to re-envision the performance that unfolds in a typical school year in the Big Room. Pam created prototypes of the puppets for her lessons with students, and the moment I saw them, I was inspired to select music to complement the compelling visuals students would create in Art Class.

In my fourteen years of teaching, this year was my first time facilitating a Lunar New Year celebration. I gathered source material before choosing a repertoire to explore with the students. I began in late January by sharing with students that we would be studying the holiday, and I asked my students if they knew families who celebrate or if they celebrate themselves with their own families. Through those conversations, I connected with Synergy parent Faye Chao who shared some song sources for me to check out, and with Synergy parent Crystal Moy who shared her family traditions for Lunar New Year.

Eventually, I selected a few songs to share with students. The downstairs students learned Gong Xi Gong Xi which is a popular Mandarin song and new year standard. Carnegie Hall’s Musical Explorers produced this teaching video which the students and I watched together a couple of times to learn the melody and text pronunciation. We also learned Fengyang Flower Drum which is a traditional Chinese folk song that many students knew from their preschool years and The Lantern Song which was composed by Melanie Kang, a friend and colleague who teaches in the Bay Area. The 5th graders each have a xylophone at home as part of our instrument loan program this year, so they re-learned Caiqui Wu which is the melody they played in 3rd grade when they had their turn to lead the Lunar New Year celebration. We have several 5th graders who have joined our community in the last two years, and I was impressed by their ability to learn this unfamiliar melody and participate in our performance project from home.

As these plans with Pam and with music classes were developing, I connected with Synergy librarian Susanne DeRisi who had adjacent plans to bring author Grace Lin for a visit to our Community Read Aloud as a culminating event to the chapter book we have been reading together with TK-5 students week after week during the fall semester. Read more about that event on this ParentSquare post. If you are not yet following the Diversity and Inclusion group on that platform, now is a great time to subscribe.

The big day finally came on February 24 when we invited the entire school community to come join our Community Sing Zoom. Many of us wore red and yellow for good luck! We heard student voices from some who volunteered to echo sing with me and some who volunteered to tell jokes about cows as a nod to this being the Year of the Ox. Music teacher Sam Heminger shared the story of the monkey, Buddha, and lion. Pam shared about the artistic process students engaged in to create their puppets and fans. Finally, we shared the video of our performance projects which combined all of the puppets, fans, and xylophone work that students had prepared ahead of time. After a break, we reconvened for our visit with author Grace Lin. It was a festive morning and the next best thing to being physically together in the Big Room. Many thanks to all of the teachers, students, and parents who worked together to help our community celebrate this tradition in a new way!

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