Springboard teaching partners Mark Pagano and Mike Brandenstein incorporate “MusicMaker” program with Shakespeare curriculum.

Young love. Lost love. Enemies. Tragedies.

Shakespeare had a way of weaving deeply human themes into his works, connecting with his audience’s emotions. Romeo & Juliet was no exception, delving into tragic consequences befalling star-crossed lovers. High school English teachers still explore Shakespeare’s works because his themes transcend generations. The trick, however, is connecting students to difficult-to-decipher, centuries-old prose. Enter Springboard, stage right.

Springboard’s MusicMaker program – created in concert with local musician Mark Pagano – develops literacy skills through music creation and songwriting. During the multi-week program, students learn the basic components of music while constructing themed lyrics. As a finale to showcase their creations, students produce their own recorded songs. Although MusicMaker¬†was originally designed for grades 3-8, Springboard seized an opportunity to enhance high school Shakespeare curriculum in Saint Louis Public Schools, and Ms. Warma’s English classes at Sumner High School provided the petri dish for the experiment. Enter Mark Pagano and Mike Brandenstein, stage left.

Pagano and Brandenstein – Springboard teaching partners trained in deliveringMusicMaker – dedicated eight weeks to Ms. Warma’s classes, each responsible for three blocks, or classes. Students began by learning about basic components of songs and songwriting, such as the verse and chorus, song hook and repetition. Beat and rhythm were explored with the teaching partners using instruments and iPad applications to demonstrate different styles. Then came the fun part – writing lyrics. Enter Romeo & Juliet, center stage.

To help students connect further with themes in Romeo & Juliet, it was decided that song lyrics would focus on a primary topic in the play – unrequited love. After learning about rhyme schemes and lyric-writing, students formed groups of three- to six-member songwriting teams. Despite the typical challenges that accompany a group of teenagers “working” together, lyrics developed. Group leaders emerged, guiding teammates in contributing. Songs entitled “Epic” and “I Hate Love”, among others, use rap-style rhymes to convey their message. With the help of teachers Pagano and Brandenstein, Ms. Warma’s students chose their accompaniment, beats and arrangement. A quick rehearsal preceded final digital recordings. Curtain closes.