With partner songs and rounds, you can do a mix-it-up. A partner song is made up of two or more songs that are sung at the same time. UU song leader Dr. Ysaye Barnwell of Sweet Honey in the Rock, for example, combines the chorus of "Wade in the Water" with "I Wanna Die Easy When I Die" and some other spirituals. (See her collection, Singing in the African American Tradition, from Homespun Tapes.) You can also combine "Wade in the Water" with the children's round, "Shalom Chaverim," and the Hey Yanna section of the contemporary Native American song, "The Earth Is Our Mother" (on the Nick Page Songbook CD from www.cdfreedom.com).
Have the class stand in a circle and assign each member a song from the ones you chose for the activity. Tell the children they will repeat their assigned song many times, and when the leader gives the signal they will mix it up: they will simply keep singing their songs as they walk in free patterns around the room, greeting each other with a handshake or hug. Add a hand drum or shaker to keep the beat and bring out the strong feeling of pulse.
The challenge for each child is to keep singing his/her own part while walking around the room greeting others who are singing different parts. This activity can create a tremendous sense of community, but it can also turn into chaos. If things get chaotic, use the experience as a life lesson, and do the activity again. This time instruct the children to concentrate on listening to each other while they sing, as opposed to singing their own parts at the tops of their lungs without listening to the music they are collectively creating. They learn that true community means letting their voices be part of the collective voice, and it can be a humbling experience for them.
Keep trying this activity—don't give up—and when you have successfully mixed it up, sit the children down, quiet them, and ask the group what the mix-it-up felt like. What did they learn? For some the experience will be deeply spiritual, and for others it will be frustrating and a great challenge, but it will be stimulating for all. They will all benefit from doing the activity again some other time, and again after that, until it becomes a ritual.
For music, you can use a two- or three-part partner song or a round that has two or more parts, like "Make New Friends." You can also do some simple improvisational things such as creating simple vocal drum parts (called vocal grooves). These can simply be repeated percussive syllables like Ch-Dv or repeated words from a song, either sung or spoken—such as "This little light, This little light"—while the rest of the group sings a song over these patterns. Keep the music simple and in sync; have everyone keep the beat.
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