Education Guide

Unit 2Sense of Wonder

Sense of Wonder

I came from a family of performers, and I just followed them. The first song I learned was opera. Many of the songs are about the suffering of women, young women, and how they get blamed, and how the virtuous overcome the suffering. The songs come from a wild history, the personal history of the Chinese.

Qi Shu Fang
New York, New York

The sense of wonder that the Heritage Fellows express in their artistry and life stories conveys their passion for their traditions, their gratitude to previous generations and their gifts of talent and perseverance that led to their mastery. All of us are tradition bearers who experience our daily lives often unaware of how deeply folklore and traditional culture underpin our worldview, occupations, recreation, families and communities, yet few of us are masters of deeply held traditional art forms. The National Heritage Fellows are true masters of tradition, and their lives and artistry illuminate for young people not only a wealth of music, dance, craft and stories, but also how masters have learned, performed, preserved, innovated, served their cultural communities and passed on their knowledge. Their mastery defines who they are, and that mastery has been fed by years of passion, curiosity, persistence, practice and performance. Some Heritage Fellows have been able to make a living as traditional artists, and some are even famous internationally, but most have had to make a living through other occupations. Some have returned to traditions they learned in childhood, and others have practiced their art forms since childhood. In fact, important childhood experiences run throughout Fellows’ stories. Many discovered the wonder of their crafts as children, and some return to art forms they learned as a child but are only able to master as an adult or in retirement.

This unit opens worlds of wonderful art forms to students and beckons them to identify and honor the wonder of tradition, music, craft, dance and stories in their own lives. Again, a handful of artists model possible ways of accessing the Masters of Traditional Arts website resources, so adapt this lesson in ways that best serve your curriculum and your students. Experiment with the 26 artists and art forms in this guide to inspire students’ interest in how the artists have become masters and in their diverse genres and cultural communities. Students will also explore where wonder and mastery fall in their own lives and in the lives of family and community members.

Indigenous Teachers

I do it the way my daddy and them used to do it, and my daddy do it the way he seen it when he was a boy. It’s creating … I thank him every night for giving me the knowledge and understanding to know that I could do so much. Not only with Indian suits, I can design and create just about anything with my own ideas.”

Allison “Tootie” Montana
New Orleans, Louisiana

Folklorist Barbara Kirschenblatt-Gimblett refers to the people we learn from in everyday life as “indigenous teachers” and asks us to contemplate whom we learn from and what we teach outside school and within our various cultural groups. The Heritage Fellows share stories of what inspired their passion for learning, those who taught them and those they teach. Following are some exercises for students to use as they search for the sense of wonder that fueled these artists’ learning, teaching and practicing of their art forms.

Exercises — Indigenous Teachers

Ask students to compare three stories of learning and wonder. For example, Chinese Opera performer Qi Shu Fang fell in love with the spectacle of Peking Opera at age four and gained access to training in singing, dancing and martial arts thanks to a family member (see Extraordinary Ordinary People: Five American Masters of Traditional Arts in suggested student readings). She studied from childhood through young adulthood in highly specialized schools. This kind of formal, structured training contrasts with the informal training of traditional musicians. In China, this genre is a classical art form, but in this country it is often considered a folk or traditional genre because it falls outside Western European classical music. Antonio De La Rosa accidentally discovered accordion music on the radio, fell in love with it and went on to develop a unique Mexican American conjunto music style. Clyde “Kindy” Sproat honors his Hawaiian ancestors by passing on all he learned from them ― music and stories, as well as deep regard for the environment and respect for other people. Konstantinos Pilarinos was apprenticed to a master wood carver at age thirteen in Greece, and Bettye Kimbrell learned from her grandmother to make quilts from scraps to keep her family warm in rural Alabama. By reading artists’ profiles listening to their audio profiles, studying their photographs and viewing their video segments, students will be able to answer some of the following questions. Not all questions will pertain to each artist. Learning is unique to individuals. Students should discuss their answers in teams or as a class.

  1. When did the artist learn the tradition or art form?
  2. Who were the teachers? (Remember, some people teach themselves.)
  3. What inspired the artist to continue the tradition?
  4. How and to whom is the artist passing on the tradition?
  5. Briefly describe an interesting story about an artist’s learning or teaching. What appeals to you about this story?
  6. What else would you like to ask about how the artist learned or is teaching the art form?

Ask students to look for deeper levels of meaning in artists’ words, music, crafts and images. What symbols do artists describe? What other symbols do students hear or see? What values besides the skill itself does an artist honor: family, ancestors, history, language, persistence, curiosity, humor, or religious belief?

Who are the “indigenous teachers” in students’ lives? Whom are the students themselves teaching? Share a story about how you learned to make or do something outside school ― for example, tying your shoes or learning a popular dance. Tell a story about how you taught someone else something. Brainstorm with students about things that they have learned and taught outside school. Often these things that we’ve learned by observation and imitation in informal settings carry a personal meaning or value that contributes to our worldview. Students might report that they have learned patience, for example, or the importance of telling the truth. Assign them to interview someone about an “indigenous teacher.” They might choose a classmate for starters and then expand their fieldwork to family and community (see Unit 3 Sense of Discovery for interview tools). Students can share their findings in class discussions and then write a short essay or poem about an “indigenous teacher.”

Share with students something that you feel you have mastered ― a hobby or an old or a new skill ― for example, something that inspires a sense of wonder in your life. Then ask students to demonstrate to classmates something that they learned to make or do outside school. Ask them to compare the experience with teaching and learning in school. Assign them to write or draw about something that gives them a sense of wonder in their own lives. Older students can produce a short in-class performance or a video of some classmates’ skills learned outside school from “indigenous teachers” such as friends or family members, or they can focus on skills that they have taught as “indigenous teachers” themselves. For a bigger production, they can use the format of the annual concert honoring the Heritage Fellows in Washington, D.C., choosing an emcee, sound engineer, video crew, director, script writers and so on. They can view several video segments to see how different productions have showcased musicians and craftspeople. Often a local TV cable company will volunteer to help with such school projects.


When we came into the polka scene, a lot of the bands in Chicago were just playing basically a Polish style. They were doing very little of crossing music from other fields. When we came in we kind of innovated, and we took some Cajun sounds, we took some rock ’n’ roll tunes, we took country Western, and we turned these tunes into polkas.”

Eddie Blazonczyk
Bridgeview, Illinois

A genre, or type, of traditional cultural expression does not remain static but changes with each maker and, often, with each performance or creation. Here, students can explore a wide array of folk genres, some familiar and many unfamiliar. Invite them to expect ways of talking, creating music and making things that may be new to them. And invite them to consider where such genres exist in their own regional culture. They may not hear loud music like Simon Shaheen’s at a wedding, but they hear some type of music. Czech bobbin lace making like Sonia Domsch’s is not common in the U.S., but quilting and other needlework genres are found everywhere. This guide organizes the artistry of 26 Heritage Fellows into two large categories:

  • Music and Dance
  • Craft and Material Culture

Students can compare and contrast an artist from each of these categories or artists from the same category. Despite the differences among genres, students will find many commonalities among the various artists. They can choose to study a specific genre, such as African American gospel or Mexican American conjunto music, basket making or boat building. They can become curators for an artist, researching the artist’s life, cultural group, community and art form and preparing classroom exhibits, audio podcasts or oral presentations. That way, the whole class can learn about each artist and model different ways of organizing research and presentations. They can explore where wonder and mastery fall in their own lives and in the lives of family and community members.

Music and Dance

Sometimes, music … it’s not like language, where you have to understand the words in order to be moved. Sometimes a certain sound, whether you understand it or not, can influence a listener. You know, it’s infinite. You can do anything in music.”

Simon Shaheen
Brooklyn, New York

Name Ethnicity State Tradition
Etta Baker African American NC Musician
Eddie Blazonczyk Polish American IL Polka Musician
Liz Carroll Irish American IL Fiddler
Jim “Texas Shorty” Chancellor Anglo American TX Fiddler
Sidiki Conde Guinean American NY Musician and Dancer
Antonio De La Rosa Mexican American TX Conjunto Musician
Qi Shu Fang Chinese American NY Peking Opera Performer
Five Blind Boys African American GA Gospel Musicians
Norma Miller African American NY Tap Dancer
Buck Ramsey Anglo American TX Cowboy Singer and Poet
Simon Shaheen Arab American NY Oud Musician
Sophiline Cheam Shapiro Cambodian American CA Cambodian Classical Dancer
Clyde “Kindy” Sproat Hawaiian Native HI Hawaiian Musician
Elaine Hoffman Watts Jewish American PA Klezmer Musician

Music may be sacred or secular or, sometimes, both. For example, many tunes for Protestant Christian hymns came from traditional secular music of the British Isles; a sacred song might be adapted for a secular celebration such as Juneteenth, which marks the day, June 19, 1865, when slaves in Texas finally learned that the Emancipation Proclamation had freed them more than two years earlier.

A lot of traditional music is meant for dancing and community events, and a lot is meant for celebrations and religious purposes. The Masters of Traditional Arts website allows students to hear authentic traditional music, not music filtered through mass media, although they will find influences of popular culture in some of the music they hear. Likewise, pop music has its roots in traditional music, and Western classical music also borrows from traditional music.

Studying traditional music and dance incorporates history, reading, writing, geography and math in addition to music. Consider how you might use music to embellish your curriculum: immigration and migration patterns, lyrics as poetry, the relationship of math to rhythm and timing, patterns in music and dance, how music and dance change over time, what music and dance relate to various historical eras and so on.

Begin by asking students to describe their favorite musical genres. Ask what they like and why. What kinds of music do they experience at home, at school and in the community? Do they dance? Where and with whom? Do they listen to music and watch dance on TV and the Internet? What do music and dance mean to them?

Below find suggestions for integrating music and dance into various subjects.

Exercises — Music and Dance

The interactions of people from different Anglo, European and African cultures in the United States produced distinctly American traditional music genres such as bluegrass and blues, rock ’n’ roll and jazz. Compare the music of recent immigrants (for example, Guinean musician and dancer Sidiki Conde or Cambodian dancer Sophiline Cheam Shapiro) with that of longtime cultural groups such as Anglo or African Americans (cowboy singer and poet Buck Ramsey or African American gospel singers Clarence Fountain and the Five Blind Boys). Students can contemplate how new immigrants’ music might change over the years in the United States and, vice versa, how new immigrants’ music might influence existing American musical traditions. For example, the rising popularity of various types of Latino music and pop recording artists parallels the growth in Latino population and speaks to the power of various types of media. Older students can make a timeline of traditional and popular music trends across several decades. Or they can embark on an ambitious study of the traditional roots of any popular music or dance form, now or in the past, their favorite forms or their parents’ favorites. They can take changes in technology into account: availability of instruments through mail-order catalogs, affordable sheet music, the early recording industry and its relationship with traditional music and musicians, radio, movies, electric instruments, microphones, reel-to-reel tape recorders and TV, on up to the Internet and digital recording. They can debate the downloading of music from the Internet, investigating legal, ethical, technical and economic issues for traditional musicians as well as pop musicians.

Younger students may especially want to know how instruments are made and played and how they sound. Borrow some instruments from the school music specialist and ask parents if they have instruments to lend the class. If possible, find some instruments that students can hear in recordings of the Heritage Fellows: drums, acoustic and electric guitars, ukuleles, fiddles, accordions, ouds and other instruments. Students can research what instruments can be found in Eddie Blazonczyk’s Chicago polka band (accordion, drums, guitar) or drummer Elaine Hoffman Watts’ klezmer group (clarinet, drums, trumpet).

Find some instruments that students can handle and play, such as a triangle, blocks, drumsticks or a tin whistle, and ask them to research these instruments, explain how they are played and give a short demonstration to the class. Other students may give similar presentations with instruments that they play in band, private lessons, at weekend ethnic schools or with friends. Talk with students about the care that instruments require and invite a musician to demonstrate the care and playing of an instrument. Invite students to interview musicians, such as your school music specialist, about how they chose an instrument and learned to play it and about their personal experiences with music (see Unit 3 Sense of Discovery for interview tools).

The voice is also an instrument. Ask students what genres, or types, of songs they know how to sing. Compare two singers such as Clyde “Kindy” Sproat of Hawaii and Buck Ramsey of Texas. The students should consider how broad each singer’s repertoire, or body of songs, is, how they learned and from whom, what music they heard and sang as children, how their voices differ, what stories their songs tell, how the songs relay a sense of place. They can use a Venn diagram to compare the singers and then summarize their findings in a short essay or oral report. Which singer do they prefer and why?

African American tap dancer Norma Miller makes music with her feet. Ask students what kinds of dances they know. Where do people dance in their community? Norma Miller loved watching people at her mother’s house parties, which helped pay the rent. She says that dancing was part of everything she and her family and friends did as she grew up during the Jazz Age in Harlem. Identify students who can demonstrate dances that they know, whether traditional, popular or classical. Invite someone such as school staff members or a person from a different state or country for students to interview about dances they know. Ask students where young people and adults dance and perform music in their community and ask them to include dance in their fieldwork. They could draw a community map indicating these places. Include religious music, clubs, recreation centers, homes and festivals. They can also study the history of tap dancing and compare it with traditional Irish step dancing for a class presentation. Traditional Irish dancing is a source of tap dancing, which is also rooted in African American polyrhythmic traditions.

Students can research the origin and development of instruments such as the fiddle, guitar or accordion, which traditional musicians of many genres play, and explore why they have been so popular. (For example, they are portable, became affordable and available through mail-order catalogs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, can be played solo or in a band or with vocals and accommodate many musical styles.) Students can compare the accordions in Antonio De La Rosa’s Texas conjunto group and Eddie Blazonczyk’s Chicago polka band and research how German polka found its way into Mexican music. They can study Wayne Henderson’s passion for making guitars and how Liz Carroll came to play the fiddle. They can listen to Etta Baker’s Piedmont style of guitar playing, then research Mississippi Delta and urban blues styles to compare with the softer Piedmont sound. They should create Sense of Wonder essays, poems or podcasts to share their investigations.

Students can compare various types of drums. Sidiki Conde plays a variety of African drums and demonstrates different styles of drumming in his music samples. Elaine Hoffman Watts plays a drum set used by many types of bands, including Eddie Blazonczyk’s polka band and rock bands. Students can research drums around the world and across cultural groups. They can make several types of drums as well. Even musical groups that don’t feature drums often have a rhythm instrument such as a bass guitar or a bass fiddle to emphasize the beat, which is especially important for dance music. Ask students to listen for the rhythm of Antonio De La Rosa’s L’s conjunto group and of Jim “Texas Shorty” Chancellor’s ensemble. Ask students about young musicians in their community. Invite a local drummer to class for students to interview (see Unit 3 Sense of Discovery for interview tools). Perhaps a student is a drummer. A classroom demonstration for other classes could be a culminating project, or students could share their interviews on a podcast for the school Website.

Special terms and vivid language pepper the language of the Heritage Fellows. Ask students to identify and research the terms of a musician. For example, the young fiddler Liz Carroll uses these terms: fiddle, hornpipe, button accordion, grace note, fancy bowing, reel, set dance, march and jig. In Liz’s audio profile, her mother uses dry Irish humor. She did not want Liz to become conceited about how well she played, and her colorful language illustrates some of the family’s values. Song selection also says a lot about a musician. In their audio profiles, Clarence Fountain sings an old Protestant hymn, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” and Buck Ramsey sings another old hymn, “Precious Memories.” Both men suffered physical disabilities that they said contributed to their musical ability, and they talk easily about being blind or using a wheelchair. Ask students to listen to their audio profiles and view the video segments, then write a short paragraph about how each man’s musical choices reflect his values and beliefs.

Assign students to listen to Palestinian musician Simon Shaheen’s audio profile to learn why he says, “You can do anything in music.” Ask them to debate, using arguments for or against this position, employing examples from his story and their own musical experiences.

The arts influence society and are often an inspiration for and a bellwether of change. In Stompin’ at the Savoy: The Story of Norma Miller (see Suggested Student Reading), the dancer describes how traveling to Paris from Harlem in 1935 influenced her. “I realized that anti-Semitism in Europe was just as bad as racism in America. Jews in Europe were being persecuted like blacks in the South. But in spite of all that was going on around me, I began to believe that dancing could overpower the politics. It allowed me, a young black woman, to go to the forefront. Dancing did more for politics than all the politicians in the world. The Lindy Hop was the most profound dance to come out of America.” In a class discussion ask how music today expresses political and social views. How do music and dance move young people to the forefront? Brainstorm social issues that concern your students and in groups or individually ask students to write lyrics for a song to address an issue. Students may borrow a tune from a song or compose their own. Older students may debate the paradoxes of representation in rap and hip-hop and research Mexican corridos, which are ballads that tell stories about current events.

Crafts and Material Culture

It was a good feeling to build a work boat because a man was using that boat and making a living with it. It would benefit the whole economy. It was real, you know. The boat was out there working in all kinds of weather. It had to be built good. You put a lot of effort into making it solid and seaworthy. Building a boat is a challenge and you like the challenge, and you like the feeling of accomplishing something. A lot of work to it, but you’re creating something. Every boat has a character of its own; it almost seems that it’s alive.

Ralph W. Stanley
Southwest Harbor, Maine

Name Ethnicity State Tradition
Earl Barthé African American Creole LA Building Artisan
Mozell Benson African American AL Quilter
Lila Greengrass Blackdeer Native American WI Basketmaker
Laverne Brackens African American TX Quilter
Gladys LeBlanc Clark Cajun LA Weaver
Sonia Domsch Czech American KS Bobbin Lacemaker
Wayne Henderson Anglo American VA Instrument Maker
Bettye Kimbrell Anglo American AL Quilter
Jeronimo E. Lozano Peruvian American UT Retablo Maker
Allison “Tootie” Montana African American LA Mardi Gras Indian Chief and Costume Maker
Konstantinos Pilarinos Greek American NY Wood Carver
Ralph W. Stanley Anglo American ME Boat Builder

Folklorists study crafts and other “material culture.” This very broad term covers a range of activities and artifacts from cooking to wood carving, household decoration to making instruments. The process of making things by hand, the way things are used within a home or community, the stories about things and the traditionally made things themselves are all part of the wonder of traditions passing from generation to generation.

Exercises — Crafts and Material Culture

Find some traditionally made things to bring to school: for example, quilts and other needlework such as crocheting or knitting, instruments, model boats, baskets, masks, homemade costumes, weaving. Ask students to bring in things as well. Let students examine an array of objects as they listen to the audio profiles of some Heritage Fellows who are craftspeople. You may print the Artifact Analysis worksheet or students may use notebook paper to take notes about the artifacts they handle as well as those that the Heritage Fellows make. A student might be learning a traditional craft and could share the experience with classmates. Students should document the process by taking notes, making photos or recording to share photos or podcasts with family members or on the school Website.

Not everyone thinks of men as expert needle workers, despite the venerable profession of tailoring. Allison “Tootie” Montana not only made elaborate costumes, every year he designed a new set of regalia for his Mardi Gras Indian tribe, the Yellow Pocahontas, choosing a different theme each time. He used fabric, sequins, beads, feathers and other materials. Likewise, Lila Greengrass Blackdeer of Wisconsin makes traditional clothing of the Hocak (pronounced Ho-chak) people that includes intricate beadwork. Some of the symbols that she uses are sacred to her Native American clan. Making art that is sacred to cultural groups is not always appropriate, so ask younger students to look at photographs of her beadwork and of Allison “Tootie” Montana’s, then make a Mardi Gras mask that incorporates some of their own personal symbols and favorite colors. They may start with a plain mask and sew on beads or glue on feathers. They may also make the masks more elaborate by building extensions of pipe cleaners and covering them with fabric on which they sew or glue pictures, sequins and feathers. Older students can research and sketch a detailed design of authentic regalia for a Native American man or woman. They will have to research the group they choose to make sure the design is authentic and appropriate for the group’s beliefs.

Some Heritage Fellows participate only in sacred or secular music or traditions, while others may participate in both. For example, although Mardi Gras originated as a religious holiday, today it is celebrated for both sacred and secular reasons. Jeronimo E. Lozano has adapted the ancient art of retablos, wooden altars that hold plaster statues of Christian saints, to hold his sculpted figures depicting daily life, drama and political statements. Ask students to compare sacred and secular traditions, such as Christmas, Passover, Ramadan, Thanksgiving, July 4, a wedding and a graduation ceremony. A Venn diagram would be a helpful means to discuss differences and similarities. Older students can expand their comparisons of several Heritage Fellows in oral or written reports and include examples from their own lives as well.

Special terms abound in making crafts. By identifying and defining terms that artists use, students learn a great deal about their crafts. For example, Wayne Henderson is a luthier, someone who makes guitars and other stringed instruments by hand. Earl Barthé of New Orleans made masterful works in plaster such as decorative corbels and ceiling medallions. Maine boat builder Ralph W. Stanley uses the following terms that would teach students a lot about commercial versus recreational watermen and boats as well as New England boat building: apprentice, lobster boat, hull, Friendship sloop (see Extraordinary Ordinary People: Five American Masters of Traditional Arts in suggested student readings). Students could delve into Native American culture by studying terms that Lila Greengrass Blackdeer of Wisconsin uses: finger weaving, appliqué, ribbon work, clan, thunderbird, beadwork. Students could use the Vocabulary worksheet to list new words and special terms from the artist profiles and audio stories and categorize them on graphs in groups such as tools, materials and techniques. They can also define the words and make a glossary to add to a class or individual portfolio.

How do we know when we’ve done something well? Ralph W. Stanley of Maine says that he’s never made a perfect boat. Wayne Henderson of Virginia doesn’t believe that one of his guitars comes to life until he puts strings on it and plays it for the first time. The sense of wonder that we feel when we accomplish a task or create something sparks our lives, feeds our souls. Share something that you have learned outside school, then ask your students to do the same. After students have shared their stories and studied how one of the artists learned his or her art form, ask them to demonstrate or teach something that they have learned. They may do this work in small groups or as a class. Invite another class to a demonstration of things that your students can make or do.

The process of learning to make something by hand, play an instrument, sing, dance and, indeed, tell a story well illustrates concretely to students how all learning is a process, achieved in steps, measured in fits and starts at times, revealing new capabilities and inspiring students to learn more. None of the Heritage Fellows makes learning seem either easy or simple, although they learned their artistry outside school. Their learning might not have been visible to the artists’ schoolteachers; nonetheless, they were mastering important lessons. In studying the artist bios, audio profiles, interview excerpts, music samples, video segments and photographs, the complexity of artists’ skills emerges. This kind of learning can intersect with formal, in-school instruction to benefit the student and the community. Certainly, math skills are essential to the craftspeople in this guide. Science is important to retablo maker Jeronimo E. Lozano, luthier Wayne Henderson and boat builder Ralph W. Stanley. Have students connect math or science with the work of other Heritage Fellows or with their own learned skills in a short essay or a graphic organizer.

Plan for students to make something such as a model boat or a quilt square. Seek the help of the school art specialist, a traditional craftsperson from the community or a parent. The school visual art specialist can help with an appropriate craft for students to make. Through fieldwork, students will find expert bakers, carpenters, needle workers and other craftspeople in their community who can present a demonstration to the class and perhaps teach students to make something by hand. It may also be possible to plan a field trip to a local artisan’s workspace or a museum. Share students’ work in a classroom exhibit.

Millions of people in the United States are avid quilters, and a number of Heritage Fellows are master quilters. Quilts convey clues to regional, cultural and personal identity. Ask students to compare the quilt styles and stories of Mozell Benson, Laverne Brackens and Bettye Kimbrell. Both Benson and Kimbrell are from Alabama. Both Benson and Brackens are African American. Students can use Venn diagrams or the Artifact Analysis worksheet to analyze commonalities and differences among these three quilters or between two of them. In addition to aesthetics, students should consider the monetary and personal value quilters place on their work, for whom they quilt and how they learned. Older students can expand the comparisons by interviewing a local quilter.

Studying local crafts could provide a jumping-off point for studying the occupations in your region. How do people learn their jobs? What types of jobs are possible in your region? Involve a career counselor and the staff of the shop department in a local middle or high school in investigating local occupations and crafts. Fieldwork research of occupations yields rich examples of “indigenous teaching,” tricks of the trade, use of humor on the job, best and worst scenarios, special terms and so on. As practice, start by sharing some of your occupational stories or modeling interviewing with another teacher and ask students to participate and critique (see Unit 3 Sense of Discovery for interview tools). Older students can investigate the occupations of the people who produced Masters of Traditional Arts: folklorist, oral historian, photographer, filmmaker, record producer, media designer. Or they can explore the occupational folklore related to careers that interest them. All professions have some kind of folklore associated with them. Students may share their investigations in classroom presentations or podcasts.