MSA students rap Chaucer classic

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Many school students have been required to memorize the prologueto the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer as a part of theiracademic curriculum, and it’s probably safe to say very few havebeen excited about it.

But some Mississippi School of the Arts students have turned theexperience around and made it their own by setting the verses to abeat.

Shiwan Saddler and Imhotep “Rah” Ishakarah took what most highschool students consider lemons and made lemonade, but it startedoff as a way to simply commit the verses to memory. On Monday, theyended up putting on a performance for Brookhaven Elementary Schoolstudents with the rest of their class, complete with funny costumesand rap music.

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“How it started out was that everyone had to recite theirprologue in front of the class, and I found it easier to memorizeit by singing it,” said Saddler, a senior vocal student fromQuitman. “Since Rah rapped his and I sung mine, they thought weshould put it together and perform for the fourth-graders.”

Ishakarah, a senior visual student from Jackson, said theprocess was easy once he had learned the strange old English thatmakes up the verses.

“I figured out the only way I could actually learn it is to putit to music because I love music so much,” he said. “So I listenedto it and just kept listening to it. It took me a few days to learnthe words.”

Ishakarah said after he learned the words, the beat just camenaturally. And Saddler agreed that it was a case of being able touse their natural talents to translate the prose into somethingfun.

“When I was trying to memorize it, just reciting was kind ofdifficult,” he said. “Since I’m musically inclined and loved music,it was a much better flow for me to sing it than to speak it.”

So 12 students from their class, under the direction of Englishteacher Christie Elkins, donned costumes representing theirfavorite characters and took the show on the road Monday morning toBES.

“The kids were so nervous and excited, it was fun to watch,”said MSA Principal Jana Perry. “Even though it was mainlyfourth-graders they were performing in front of, they were nervous.When I pointed out that they perform all the time, in front of allkinds of people, they said, ‘Yeah, but they’re kids.'”

Perry attributed part of the students’ creative efforts toElkins’ giving them the freedom to express themselves in theirlearning.

“She’s really embracing the kids individual talents, she findsthose niches and really explores them,” Perry said. “She makeseverything relevant to the kids, so they get to bring themselvesinto it, and they’ll remember it. They’re going to remember theexperience forever.”

And, Perry said, hopefully the MSA students won’t be the onlyones who remember the experience.

“I hope the younger children will remember the performance(Monday) so when they get there in high school, it’s not totallyunfamiliar territory,” she said.