American Studies


"Studying about a country or a time long ago can be very boring. Music, dance, and art can help me get more involved and interested in it. But it does more than get me interested. It helps me find out more about that country or time. It helps me learn the feelings of the people and what they thought. I think Symphony Space has done a great job in providing the amount of education we need in learning these things about American history."
— 7th Grader at IS 235

Leaving Europe behind and declaring independence from England in 1776, colonial Americans kept strong ties to European traditions through music. Accompanied by instruments such as the hammered dulcimer, the mountain dulcimer, and the fiddle, our teaching artists provide hands-on demonstrations of these musical traditions. The artists illustrate how American music reflects not only its European roots and continuing influence, but fundamental aspects of life, like communication, personal expression, spiritual life and heritage. Participants and audience members will sing, write songs, make homemade instruments and enjoy the sounds of traditional folk music.
Artists: Linda Russell or Abby Newton (see Artist Bios)
After the introduction of slavery to America, African music became and continues to be a major influence on American culture. Our teaching artists give students an exciting interactive experience as they explain the origin of the African musical elements that drive today’s American music: call and response; polyrhythms; and the heritage of the griot or praise singer, the forerunner of today’s rappers. From spirituals to rap, the artists embark on a journey exploring African-American life through music from the 17th century to the present.
Artists: Juanita Faulkner, Vickie Tanner or Marsha Perry Starkes (see Artist Bios)
Square dancing had its origins in Europe and was brought to America by the early colonial settlers. Professional dancers draw on their wealth of historical knowledge, illustrating how social dance reflects the manners and mores of a time period, as well as connecting past social dances with current square dance forms. Dance artists skillfully engages students in pattern formations, memorization, steps, rhythms and peer interaction, all part of the legacy of square dance in America.
Artists: Barbara Barr and Regina Larkin (see Artist Bios)
Several major American dance visionaries -- Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and Lester Horton -- introduced ground-breaking concepts into the budding modern dance movement in America. The teaching artist explores this tradition with students, freeing and focusing the body and mind to experience the full joy of motion. Her workshops culminate in students creating their own original dances. At the same time, through movement, archival photos, and discussion, participants gain a deep understanding of the development of modern dance and its role in American society over the past century.
Artist: Regina Larkin (see Artist Bios)
The process of writing, staging and acting out a scene is introduced in this workshop. The group is divided into pairs to develop a short scene based on real or fictional characters set in a historic period or current event. The teaching artists coach students during the playwriting session. Once the scenes are written, the students take on the roles of casting agents and directors directing the professional actors in the scenes they have just written. A series of two to four workshops is recommended, preferably with double periods for each session.
Artists: Ivy Austin, Bill Cwikowski, Khris Lewin, Laurine Towler, Kevin Craig West, Yusef Miller (see Artist Bios)
In this workshop, students learn how to be detectives when observing American art with the goal of discovering as much as possible about the people, the place, the time and any other aspects of life. Students identify and describe elements within each painting or artifact, comparing and contrasting them to contemporary life. Depending upon the time available, the teaching artist will include an art project. An artist-led museum trip to see authentic works of American art can be arranged.
Artists: Barbara Barry, Nicole Haroutunian, Christopher Lea, Misha McGlown, Lance Paladino or Rose Pearlman (see Artist Bios)
Whether capturing a mosaic of places and people or exploring familiar objects from unfamiliar angles, photography presents unique perspectives of the world. In this workshop participants learn how to compose a photograph as a direct tool of self-expression, as a way of looking at the world, a way to experience other cultures, and a gateway to the experience of art. A workshop series is recommended for the most satisfying results. Digital cameras and computer hardware/software required.
Artists: Chris Lea, Rose Pearlman (see Artist Bios)
For more information about Global Arts contact Regina Larkin, Manager of Education Programs, at regina.larkin@symphonyspace.org, (212) 864-1414 ext. 212.