Bringing Ghana to the midwest- one drum at a time.

I knew as an eleven year old that I would be a music teacher.  I loved the challenge of music – I loved expressing myself through music – I loved the teamwork involved in music.  To me there are few things as wonderful as making music with people you care about.  To this end, I adore my job teaching music to elementary school students.

I discovered Ghanaian music while I was attending a World Music Drumming workshop in the summer of 2001.  It was instant love– love of the music, love of the teaching style, and love for the teacher, Sowah Mensah.  My relationship with this music can best be shared by including the afterward I wrote for Sowah’s most recent publication.

In addition to the sheer joy that this music brings into my students’ lives, it also teaches them teamwork and cultivates a sense of community.  They watch each others’ hands, figuratively leaning on each other, as they         pull together to weave their often seemingly simple patterns into something far bigger and far more complex than they themselves are alone.  Seeing their sense of awe and accomplishment as they hear and feel the parts         coming together are the moments teachers dream of.

The music Sowah has taught me speaks to me like no other music has… and it has touched my students’ lives as well.  I have witnessed students that did not get along AT ALL work together, watching each others’ hands playing.  Such is the magic of this music.  To hear some, visit  I teach my students “Gourds Galore”.  I’ve taught former students in other schools “Bawa”– but I don’t have xylophones in this school, so my current students don’t have the opportunity to play it.

Why Milton Pope School?  In all honesty, I don’t want to be teaching full time right now- I have a young daughter, and I’ve treasured by time at home with her before she headed to kindergarten this fall.  This 2/5 teaching job is perfect for me right now.

Why this grant for Milton Pope School?  Marseilles is a very blue collar community.  Nearly half of my students are on the free/reduced lunch program.  99.1% of them are Caucasian.  Let me repeat that:  99.1% are Caucasian.  They NEED diversity in the worst way.  I guarantee that several of my students hear overtly racist things at home, so bringing in a strong, positive African-American role model could be life-changing for some of my students.  In my mind, the commissioned piece and the instruments we could get would be icing on the cake.  The life lessons my students would take from Sowah are the most important to me.  Music is just the vehicle to get the lessons to them.

Heather Francis

Milton Pope School

  • Milton Pope School :: Commission a piece by an African-American composer for my students. :: Text 102804 to 73774

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