Building Community with Music

Bruce Henry set up a simple powerpoint in front of a group of sixth-graders who were a bit restless and chatty. When he was ready, he introduced himself to the students and began to sing. His voice filled the room and the students looked at each other with shy smiles and amazement.

Many adults can agree, it’s not easy to get a group of sixth-graders to want to learn something and participate in activities. This was not a problem for Bruce Henry on November 9 at Hermantown Middle School. Henry was given 50 minutes to teach and inspire the Hermantown Middle School sixth-graders about the evolution of African American music.

Bruce Henry is a Chicago based, vocalist, performer, and educator. Henry’s voice holds a three-octave range which is not easy to replicate. He has performed all over the world and has recorded for Disney, HBO, and much more. Henry’s ability to effortlessly sing songs from any era gave him the perfect advantage to engage with the large group of sixth graders.

When Bruce finished the song he was on a roll with the students. He got right into what was important to him and to African American music. He brought students to the front of the class to help explain concepts and eventually had all the kids performing along with him to create an ensemble of foot stomps and hand claps.

“The music was about building community,” Henry said, “you want the audience to respond, you want the audience to be a part of it.”

This was one of the main points he focused on, creating a community with music. Henry shared the details of how his and many other’s ancestors used music to just get through the day and how that evolved into the music we have today.

Bruce Henry was entertaining and thoughtful. His passion seemed to resonate with the students and many left with cheerful faces. Bruce Henry was brought to Hermantown Middle School and other surrounding schools from the Oldenburg House’s concert series, Cookin’ at the O with funding from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council.