By Dr Keith Mason
The 16 Habits of Mind can impact education in numerous subjects. This article focuses on Habit of Mind Number 1: Persisting, and how it is ever present in musicals. Themes, characters and songs in musicals can beautifully illustrate persisting, while students explore the persisting habit through musicals. The process of creating stage and film musicals also involves persisting. The ideas outlined here can also be used with literary themes and characters.
Habit of Mind Number 1: Persisting
Habit Number 1: Persisting is defined as sticking to a task and not giving up. Based on several books by renowned authors Karen Tui Boyes, Graham Watts, Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick, one can see how the habits of mind intertwine with musicals. We can truly embrace the persisting habit by exploring the process of creating a stage, film or TV musical. The creativity, skill and persistence involved are worth our consideration. The actors, composers, lyricists, librettists, choreographers, musicians, artists and technicians collectively bring musicals to life in a miraculous way.
For eight years, I integrated school musicals at a high school in New Jersey, U.S.A. Musicals included Carousel, Hello, Dolly! and Into the Woods. The process from start to finish entailed the persisting habit. Because I balanced these musical integrations with my regular teaching, I had to plan carefully and with much persistence. From research and study guide creation to project and art design, students and I created tangible projects and art displays from concepts in the earliest stage of planning, all through persisting.
Hundreds of interesting characters are found in musicals that can be easily used with students to see how the persisting habit is used in context. Consider these suggested characters as a start as you look into how they persisted in their own rights.
- Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: Caractacus Potts
- Cinderella: Cinderella, The Prince
- Hamilton: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson
- Hello, Dolly!: Dolly Levi, Horace Vandergelder, Cornelius Hackl, Barnaby Tucker, Irene Molloy, Minnie Fay
- The King and I: The King, Anna Leonowens
- My Fair Lady: Professor Henry Higgins, Eliza Doolittle
- Oklahoma!: Curly, Laurey
- Singin’ in the Rain: Don Lockwood, Kathy Seldon, Cosmo Brown, Lina Lamont
- The Sound of Music: Maria, the Captain, the children
- South Pacific: Emile Debecque, Nellie Forbush
- The Unsinkable Molly Brown: Molly Brown
Because musicals are a powerful form of storytelling, they contain many themes. Some of these themes include pursuit of dreams, following through on a plan, sticking to a task at hand and the resolution of various components of the plot. Consider the following musicals for their themes of persisting:
- Mary Poppins Returns: How Mary Poppins helps the Banks family during difficult times.
- The Music Man: How Professor Harold Hill actually transforms an Iowa town through music.
- The Sound of Music: How a novice nun perseveres through life outside of the convent and helps enliven the lives of a naval Captain and his children.
- The Wizard of Oz: How Dorothy and her new friends persist in order to see the Wizard of Oz to seek his assistance for returning home and getting a brain, a heart and courage.
Learning Scenarios: Climb Ev’ry Mountain
The inspirational song, “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” from The Sound of Music, encourages people to persist and move forward, thus fulfilling their dreams. For suggested songs to utilise with students, see the appendix. Consider activities that encourage the persisting habit as outlined in the following learning scenarios. These can work in general elementary classes, language arts, music, performing arts and other subjects. Scenarios can be completed alone, in groups or as a class.
Character Analysis Working with one or more musical characters, students explain in detail how characters exhibit the persisting habit. This can be presented as an essay, oral presentation or collage. A role play activity could involve the entire class whereby students can be interviewed in character and focus on persisting.
Song and Character Students choose one character song, including an “I am” song and explain how the song lyrics illustrate the persisting habit.
Scene Summary Students choose one scene from a musical that shows persisting in one or more characters and indicate dialog and actions that support the persisting habit.
Musical Expert Students each choose one musical and become an expert on that musical, especially focusing on persisting throughout the storyline.
Creative Expression Choose one book or story in which a character exhibits the persisting habit. Students create a song that character’s ability to persist.
Creating a Musical Students learn all aspects of staging or filming a musical using the STEAM umbrella as a guide.
The Arts Connection Students create an artistic artifact such as a mural, painting, drawing or display that illustrates persisting in one or more musicals.
The habit of persisting can enhance life and learning by its integration in the curriculum. The premise of using musicals is one that offers dozens of possibilities for teachers and their students to explore themes, characters and songs to understand persisting.
Appendix: Songs to Explore Persisting
Consider the following songs for lyrics that support the persisting habit:
“Climb Ev’ry Mountain” (The Sound of Music)
“Corner of the Sky” (Pippin)
“I Have Confidence” (The Sound of Music)
“I Hope I Get It” (A Chorus Line)
“I Whistle a Happy Tune” (The King and I)
“I’m Flying” (Peter Pan)
“The Impossible Dream” (Man of La Mancha)
“Is Anybody There?” (1776)
“Let It Go” (Frozen)
“No Way to Stop It” (The Sound of Music)
“Optimistic Voices” (The Wizard of Oz)
“Putting It Together” (Sunday in the Park with George)
“The Roses of Success” (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang)
“Seize the Day” (Newsies)
“This Is the Moment” (Jekyll and Hyde)
“You’ll Never Walk Alone” (Carousel)
Keith Mason has been a world language educator and linguistics specialist for 37 years. He is based in New Jersey, U.S.A. Keith’s teaching and research areas include musicals in the curriculum, foreign language pedagogy, Romance linguistics and curriculum. He received eight Rising Star Awards from the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, U.S.A., for integrating musicals in the high school curriculum. He is currently writing a book, Musicals across the Curriculum.