“Ronnie. Cesar. Luiiiis.” ... The names became a song—and a way for a renowned hip-hop voodoo violinist to teach budding composers in Fair Haven how to frame the music in the world around them.
The lesson came from Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR), who has been spending time teaching, conducting and performing in town as part of a residency with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra.
As part of his 20-day residency, Roumain spent time this week teaching at Fair Haven and Davis Street schools.
On Monday, his first day in Dan Kinsman’s music classroom at Fair Haven School, he took on a tall task: Teach 6th-grade students in a general music class, with little formal training in music, what it means to be a composer. Roumain drew on the tools around him—a clock, a flag, a buzzing light bulb—to lead students in a quick primer.
The culmination of their week’s work debuts at 6 p.m. Friday at a concert at Fair Haven School at 164 Grand Ave. Roumain will perform alongside Fair Haven music students, dancers from Mnikesa Whitaker’s Ballet Haven program, and the New Haven Symphony Orchestra. The concert is free and open to the public.
Roumain’s challenge to the students began with a name. As he often does in appearances with schoolkids, Roumain began by calling out his name.
“Daniel!” he screamed before the semi-circle of kids, inviting them to join in.
He was making a point: “Every time you say your name, you tell me something,” Roumain said. “By just saying your name, you teach me something.”
Your name “could be music,” he said, plucking his violin as he spoke.
Thus began his first composition by pointing to a shy boy at the end of the row.
“Ronnie,” said the boy.
“Ronnie!” repeated Roumain. He set the syllables to music, tapping his wedding ring on the neck of the violin to set a beat.
“Cesar!” he continued.
“Luiiiiis!” he cried.
(Click on the play arrow at the top of the story to watch.)
Soon enough, the class joined in: “Pedro, Pedro, Pedro.”
Declaring the class “old” and “wise” enough to handle more sophistication, Roumain took the idea to the next level. Looking around, he began to play the room as though it were a musical score. At the clock, he plucked strings softly. At the light, he played a soft B natural with his bow. Before the world map, he let loose a cacophony of notes.
“A composer is someone who frames ideas,” Roumain said, returning to a favorite theme of the week.
Ditching the formality of notes and a staff, he taught composition by writing three words on the board: “yellow red blue.” As he pointed to the words, students sang them as they saw fit.
Then they started scribbling. Roumain gave them one minute to write their own composition in markers on a large white piece of paper.
“Believe yourself because you are beautiful,” began Janine Irokoze, a star drummer and dancer in the school. Roumain set the song to a steady plucking beat and sang it for the group.
Roumain said the day aimed to introduce students to the idea of composition, and to their new teacher for the week.
“Hopefully, somewhere in the introduction, you inspire them,” he said.
Roumain planned to spend the rest of the week working with these and other young musicians to put together a performance.