Mpls. students emerge from pandemic with rousing new anthems | #students | #parents


Over the past year, Katy Linne grew accustomed to getting midnight e-mails from her band students at Anthony Middle School.

The students weren’t reaching out about an assignment or an upcoming test. They were just too eager to wait until class to share their latest idea for a melody or a bass line to include in the new school anthem — one that originated with band and choir students and then was arranged with the help of a local musician.

“The kids have just been all in from the beginning,” Linne said. “They really put their hearts into it.”

The new Anthony Middle School song, untitled so far, grew out of a lesson about musical motifs and anthem music just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit home. A student piped up and asked why the school didn’t have its own anthem. That curiosity launched a project that would carry Linne and her students through an especially challenging year. And it’s just one example of Minneapolis students using music to share messages of hope amid a school year in turmoil.

The Anthony students quickly decided they wanted the anthem to include many different musical styles to represent the diversity of voices in the school. But then, as 2020 brought a global pandemic and Minneapolis became the epicenter of a racial reckoning over police violence, the conversation grew deeper.

Students started asking Linne if it was appropriate to create an uplifting anthem during such a dark time. Together, they decided that was exactly what was needed, and the lyrics were penned with a clear message of hope and unity. Those words were then laid over a funky, New Orleans-style beat that is easy to clap along with.

The composition includes lines like “The world needs to unite” and “We all need to fight to do what is right.” One verse reminds students that “In darkness, you can be the light.”

Linne still tears up when she reads the words aloud. Middle schoolers are often told what to do and how to do it, she said. But this project allowed them to work together to compose and express their own message.

“It is awesome to see students who want their voices heard through music,” said Omar Abdulkarim, the professional trumpet player who arranged the piece. He worked to incorporate the students’ many ideas and ensure that each part was within the range and ability of middle school musicians.

Across the city, another music teacher is also working on a school anthem “remix” with his students. David Billingsley, the band director at North High School, has had his students working on an anthem project for about six months. They, too, have been sharing recordings with one another and working on lyrics that convey a message of hope and action.

Students have led conversations about police brutality and racial inequity over the past year and are now focused on expressing ideas for solutions, Billingsley said.

“What’s impressive is that they are making music that isn’t just heavy,” he said. “They want music that inspires, challenges and offers some answers.”

Documenting a tough year

As a separate project, Billingsley said one North High student has led an effort to create a sort of anthem for this school year. Clifton Holmes recently wrote a song he’s calling “Polar Way” that includes lyrics like “Black community forever can’t wait ’till things get better” and “We not in this alone so we gotta stick together.”

The lyrics for the school fight song remix are still in the works, but Billingsley said they will also reflect the lived experiences of students who have undergone a lot of difficult emotions over the past year. The song will still be one to play at football games and events, but it will likely go beyond “Rah! Rah! So follow that ball North Side High.”

“It’s important for us to listen to these students,” Billings­ley said. “This gives them a voice, a choice and an opportunity to dream up the message they want for their four years in high school.”

After months of working on the project through video calls during distance learning, Anthony Middle School students have only recently gotten their parts and been able to practice together at school, hauling music stands and instruments outside and remaining socially distanced. Because the school is operating on a hybrid model, only half the students are there at a time.

“This project had its challenges,” said Brianna Dykoski, a seventh-grade flutist. She said working on the anthem through the pandemic required resilience, and the lyrics are even more meaningful because of the context in which they were written.

A group of band and choir students gathered on a grassy patch outside the building on a recent afternoon to practice the piece and officially present the score to Principal Mai Chang Vue. Some played louder than others and the choir was hard to hear over the piano and the blowing wind. Still, the students’ enthusiasm was evident.

Live performance

Linne is looking forward to having the students perform the piece at the start of the school year next fall and plans to invite graduated eighth-graders back to play their own composition.

Right now, her students are focused on learning their parts. But as Linne looks back on the year, she said the work helped her keep students engaged and creative, despite the difficulty of band class over a computer screen.

“I’d never done a composition project with students before, but these students were just an exceptional group,” she said. “It turned out to be a really powerful experience with valuable lessons.”

Mara Klecker • 612-673-4440

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