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“Listen Up!”: How About Something Different?

Written on: June 28th, 2016 in Events Museums News

Updated: April 11, 2017
Program took place between April 16, 2016 and April 8, 2017

Performers in the March 11, 2017 “Listen Up!” program at The Old State House.

Performers in the March 11, 2017 “Listen Up!” program at The Old State House.

When former staff member Eleanor Vernice Siyon first joined the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs in 2013 as a special-program coordinator, she was looking for new and creative ways to connect young people with Delaware history.

Eleanor Vernice Siyon

Eleanor Vernice Siyon

Siyon knows a thing or two about educational creativity. Her distinguished career includes service as an English teacher and as an independent contractor developing an alternative-education program for the Delaware Department of Education. She is also an accomplished poet; author of two children’s books; and writer of the children’s musical “On Golden Wings,” and the historical play “Courage in Black and White: The Untold Stories” which explores the history of the Underground Railroad in Delaware.

In 2014, Siyon worked with the Delaware Division of the Arts in developing a series of National Poetry Month presentations including a program spotlighting the First State’s spoken-word artists. Spoken word is an oral art-form that focuses on the aesthetics of word play, intonation and voice inflection. It includes any kind of poetry recited aloud including hip-hop, jazz poetry, poetry slams and traditional poetry readings, and can include comedy routines and prose monologues.

During a performance of a work by the Delaware Poets Laureate, the Twin Poets on the noted Delaware abolitionist Samuel D. Burris, Siyon became convinced that spoken-word would be a great vehicle for teaching Delaware history and as a way to build connections between young people and the five museums operated by the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs.

With the enthusiastic support and assistance of Nena Todd, site supervisor of The Old State House, and division Deputy Director Suzanne Savery, Siyon was given the green light to run with the project. Working through a partnership that included the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, the Delaware Division of the Arts, Acorn Books and local community organizations, Siyon was the leading voice in the creation of “Listen Up!,” a program in which participating Delaware youth (ages 10 to 18) researched and developed their own spoken-word performances based on events in Delaware history. “Listen Up!” activities began in April 2016 and culminated during National Poetry Month with a grand finale performance on April 8, 2017. (Go to the following to view the “Listen Up!” Facebook page.)

"Listen Up!" instructors and participants at the grand finale performance on April 8, 2017.

“Listen Up!” instructors and participants at the grand finale performance on April 8, 2017.

Historical topics explored by “Listen Up!” participants included the state’s role in the 13 Colonies’ fight for independence from Great Britain; Native Americans who have lived, and continue to live, in the place now known as Delaware; the art of sound including sampling of historic 78-rpm Victor recordings; the Underground Railroad; and women’s history. As part of their preparation for the program, the young people received instruction and guidance throughout the year from seasoned spoken-word artists including James Alexander, Brock Kalim, Marquette Shaw and the Twin Poets.

"Listen Up! instructors. (From left, standing) Marquette Shaw; James Alexander; the Twin Poets--Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Albert Mills; and (seated) Brock Kalim.

“Listen Up! instructors. (From left, standing) Marquette Shaw; James Alexander; the Twin Poets–Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Albert Mills; and (seated) Brock Kalim.

The goals of the “Listen Up!” program were as follows:

  1. Provide opportunities for youth to learn, research, create and present various aspects of Delaware and Kent County history, and to learn how to compose prose and poetry in a manner that is comfortable and fun
  2. Familiarize youth with the museums of the State of Delaware and the historical knowledge that the museums offer residents and visitors
  3. Create strong and positive collaborations among Delaware organizations that will enhance their presence in the community and encourage positive connections with youth in Kent County and the state of Delaware

Commenting on the program, Siyon noted, “Listen Up!” took advantage of spoken word, an art form that is very popular with young people, to teach Delaware history in a way that is interactive, engaging and fun.” And, she added, “The more children know about history, the better choices they will make as adults.”

The development of “Listen Up!” paralleled the enormous rise in popularity of the Tony-Award-winning musical “Hamilton” which utilizes spoken-word, music and theater to explore the life of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. The play has inspired history teachers from across the country to use rap and hip-hop to excite students about history. Commenting wryly on the use of these popular art forms to reach young people, Siyon noted, “We were developing this project before “Hamilton” hit it big. Now everyone’s using spoken word to teach American history!”

Following is a listing of the workshops and events that took place in the “Listen Up!” series:

Saturday, April 16, 2016
“Marquette Shaw: A Delaware Poet for All Seasons.” Poet, singer, dancer and actor, Marquette Shaw will entertain audiences with his unique rendition of all things Delaware. Opening performance of the “Listen Up!” series. The Old State House, 25 The Green, Dover. Program 1 p.m. Museum open 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Free admission but, due to space restrictions, reservations are required by calling 302-744-5054.

Saturday, May 21, 2016
Youth workshop on the topic of Independence Day. 10 a.m.–3 p.m. Not open to the public. Press and students interested in attending should call Eleanor Vernice Siyon at 302-299-3576.

Saturday, June 25, 2016
Rehearsal for July 4 performance. 1–3 p.m. Not open to the public. Press and students interested in attending should call Eleanor Vernice Siyon at 302-299-3576.

Monday, July 4, 2016
“Independence Day.” Performance at 1 p.m. by youth participating in the “Listen Up!” spoken-word program on Delaware’s role in the 13 Colonies’ fight for independence from England. At 2 and 4 p.m., the bell of The Old State House will ring in celebration of the nation’s birthday, followed immediately by site interpreters, dressed in period clothing, who will recite the Declaration of Independence aloud from the spot where the document was first read to the citizens of Dover in 1776. The Old State House, 25 The Green, Dover. Museum open 9 a.m.–6 p.m. Free and open to the public.

Saturday, July 16, 2016
Youth workshop on the topic of Delaware Native Americans. 10 a.m.–3 p.m. Not open to the public. Press and students interested in attending should call Eleanor Vernice Siyon at 302-299-3576.

Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016
Rehearsal for Sept. 3 performance. 1–3 p.m. Not open to the public. Press and students interested in attending should call Eleanor Vernice Siyon at 302-299-3576.

Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016
Spoken-word performances on Delaware’s Native Americans. Delaware youth utilize poetry, theater, dance and song to create compositions that celebrate Delaware’s Native-American people. The Old State House, 25 The Green, Dover. Performances at Noon and 2:30 p.m. Museum open 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Free admission.

Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016
Youth workshop on sampling historic recordings in spoken-word compositions. 10 a.m.–3 p.m. Not open to the public. Press and students interested in attending should call Eleanor Vernice Siyon at 302-299-3576.

Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016
Rehearsal for Dec. 3 performance. 1–3 p.m. Not open to the public. Press and students interested in attending should call Eleanor Vernice Siyon at 302-299-3576.

Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016
“Listen Up! The Art of Sound.” Local youth working with Delaware spoken-word artists James Alexander, Brock Kalim and the Twin Poets, perform their own spoken-word compositions that sample historic 78-rpm Victor recordings. Johnson Victrola Museum, 375 S. New St., Dover. Performance at 1 p.m. Museum open 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Free admission.

Saturday, March 11, 2017
“Listen Up! African American and Women’s History.” Local youth working with noted Delaware spoken-word artists perform their own spoken-word compositions that bring to light the history of Delaware’s African-Americans and women with special tributes to Underground Railroad conductors Samuel D. Burris and Harriet Tubman. The Old State House, 25 The Green, Dover. Performance at 1 p.m. Museum open 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Free admission.

Saturday, April 8, 2017
“Listen Up! The Finale.” Concluding segment featuring all of the youth poets who participated in the Listen Up!” series. The Old State House, 25 The Green, Dover. Performance at 1 p.m. Museum open 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Free admission.

For press coverage of the “Listen Up!” program, go to the following:

Listen Up Delaware
The Delaware Way, KJWP TV, Wilmington, Del.—Aug. 8, 2016

Listen Up! helps kids learn Delaware history
Delaware State News, Dover, Del.—May 17, 2016

 

 


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