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Fourth grade students participate in residency program about the Oregon Trail
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Fourth grade students participate in residency program about the Oregon Trail

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Stoddard and Paddock Lane fourth grade students will have something more immersive than a computer game to teach them about the Oregon Trail this week.

Thanks to grants from the Nebraska Arts Council and the Hevelone Foundation, music teacher Donna Gunn is meeting with students to teach them about the trail “through the eyes who first experienced it” as part of a greater, week-long music residency program called “Music on the Trail.”

During their music class on Monday, Paddock Lane students sang along with Gunn to several verses of “Skip to my Lou” before making their own lyrics about other obstacles faced on the trail.

Answers ranged from mosquitos to prairie dogs, thunder and lightning, long walks and snakes- “rattlesnakes, ay ay ay, skip to the lou my darling.”

Gunn explained that the simple notes are a compositional device called a sequence.

“People like Beethoven used that device, and Haydn and all of these classical performers,” Gunn said. “Folk songs are full of sequences. That’s what makes them easy to sing.”

She also illustrated another compositional tool, variation, by playing the song on the piano and changing the octave and speed and adding notes.

Then they sang “Froggie Went a Courtin'”, and Gunn chose several students to act as the various animals, which caused several laughs.

“Boys and girls, this is what they did on the Oregon Trail… You would have specific chores, but you would also have a lot of time to yourself. So a group of kids would go off, and as long as they could see their wagon train, they would do games and all sorts of things,” Gunn said.

Gunn said she’s been teaching the “Music on the Trail” program across the country to all different grade levels for over a decade. Throughout the rest of the week, students will also learn about different games, dances and hardships people had while walking on the trail.

Gunn ended the class Monday by asking students why someone would sell most of their belongings and take a six month trek across the county. Answers ranged from families wanting to live somewhere warmer or not making enough money where they currently live.

“The government promised people if they could get there, stake a claim and stay on that land, that they would own the land,” Gunn said. “Plus, some people just like adventure…Throughout this week, pay attention to how much adventure and chances those people in the 1850s were willing to take, and ask yourself ‘where have I been adventurous? Where can I work hard and learn a lot and try something I never thought I’d do.’”

The students will get to show off what they’ve learned to their schools on Friday. Gunn will also have a performance open to the public on Jan. 17 at Community Players at 7:30p.m.

Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for student, with discounts available for those with 2019-2020 season tickets, and can be reserved at the box office, located at 412 Ella St., online at www.beatricecommunityplayers.com or by calling 402-228-1801.

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