Listen Up! helps kids learn Delaware history

DOVER — Delaware history is about to become a lot more fun for kids across the state through a new program called Listen Up!

Listen Up! is the brainchild of Eleanor Siyon and Nena Todd of the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs.

The series has been a long time in the making. Ms. Siyon and Ms. Todd started talking about the Listen Up! series in 2014 and began drawing up plans last year.

“Along with First State Heritage Park, we do events the first Saturday of every month and April is National Poetry Month, so we integrated spoken word into our April 2015 program,” Ms. Todd said.

Spoken word is a performance technique used mostly by poets. It places an emphasis on word play and the use of different tones and

James Alexander is one of the spoken word artists who will be teaching and assisting kids in Saturday’s Listen Up! session at the Old State House. (Submitted photo/Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs)

James Alexander is one of the spoken word artists who will be teaching and assisting kids in Saturday’s Listen Up! session at the Old State House. (Submitted photo/Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs)

inflections during recitation.

After coordinating with the Delaware Division of the Arts last April, a group of well-respected spoken-word artists came to Dover to perform.

“We saw how powerful the performance was and just knew we had to take our idea and finally do something with it,” Ms. Todd said.

“We started sitting down and meeting more and more and now meet once a month,” she said of the 12-member Listen Up! committee.

For the Listen Up! series, kids between the ages of 10 and 18 and in groups of 10 to 20 will learn about Delaware history with the help of “historical interpreters” and spoken-word artists.

The next Listen Up! session is from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Old State House with Thursday being the deadline to register.

“It’s a great way for children in the community to learn about history while creating art with spoken word and performing that art,” Ms. Siyon said. “On the children’s part this is going to involve research and creativity.”

“We will help them, but it’s up to the kids to create the presentation and make it their own,” Ms. Todd said. “The whole idea was to share (Delaware) history with our young people and for them to take Delaware history and turn it into something extraordinary that’s their own.”

Each session will culminate with a spoken-word performance complete with period costumes and sets, giving off a ‘Hamilton” vibe.

“Hamilton” is a non-traditional Broadway musical depicting the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton using modern dialogue where the words are recited like spoken word and the songs are sung like rap.

“Believe it or not, we had our idea before we even heard about ‘Hamilton,’” Ms. Siyon said. “But since ‘Hamilton’s’ gone on to be so successful, it must be a pretty good idea to have.”

“Although it’s a similar concept, we will, of course, focus exclusively on Delaware history and will incorporate some ways that Delaware impacted the nation,” Ms. Todd said.

Each Listen Up! session will focus on a specific topic like Independence Day, the local Native American tribes and music.

“There are a lot of things that people don’t realize about Delaware, like Johnson Victrola. Before him, recorded music didn’t exist,” Ms. Todd said. “The only time people heard music was live and now his invention is the model for the Grammy award.”

Each session will be full of little-known facts about the First State so the kids and viewers of their performances alike will learn something they didn’t know before.

“The more you know about the past, the better decisions you can make in the future,” Ms. Todd said. “It gives you the tools to improve your decision-making skills and I think it will be especially important to the kids.”

The Listen Up! committee hopes to host a concert in April 2017 where each session’s students perform their show and the spoken-word artists perform as well.

To sign up your child for one of the Listen Up sessions, call 744-5054. For up-to-date information, search Listen Up on Facebook.

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