Where dreams are promises | VailDaily.com

Where dreams are promises

Wren Wertin

“Harlem” is based on the poem of the same name by Walter Dean Myers. It’s the story about the New York City neighborhood, and the people who moved there in hopes of finding a better life. It captures the Harlem Renaissance.

After the Civil War, African Americans were freed from slavery but were denied the same rights as white citizens. Segregation laws separated the two groups on buses, in schools, at restaurants – everywhere. And so many took to the road, journeying from the South up to Harlem. Myers wrote:

“Harlem was a promise

Of a better life, of a place

where a man didn’t

Have to know his place

Simply because he was


And thus the Harlem Renaissance was fueled. Poets like Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen spun poems out of the despair and joy of their lives. African American artists, musicians and writers created music, literature and dances that honored their traditions while they explored a new world. And in the middle of it all were the children, playing in the streets, dreaming big dreams:

“A carnival of children

People the daytime streets

Ring-a-levio warriors

Stickball heroes

Hide-and-seek knights and ladies

Waiting to sing their own sweet songs

Living out their own slam-dunk dreams


For the coming of the blues.”

“Harlem” is performed with storytelling, poetry and – perhaps most important – music. A four-piece jazz band will accompany the other players – sometimes as the main focus, sometimes as the background.

“For hundreds of years African Americans have created new kind of music by combining parts of African music with parts of music from Europe and around the world,” explains the educational brochure that accompanies the performance.

Call-and-response is one type of African music, wherein a singer calls to the group, and they respond by singing a few lines back. Eventually, this tradition evolved into jazz. One instrument would call to another, and it would answer back. The on-the-spot improvisation of instruments talking to each other eventually became jazz, which also will be explored during the performance.

The Imagination Celebration Tour is a 10-years-strong tradition of the Kennedy Center. The tour targets kids, who are able to watch protagonists on stage who represent the diversity within American culture.

“Through the varied experiences of these characters,” writes the Kennedy Center’s Vice President of Education, Derek Gordon, “young theater-goers are encouraged to ask important questions about their own lives and the lives of others.”

For more information on the program, or to purchase tickets, call the Vilar Center Box Office at 845-TIXS or visit their Web site at http://www.VilarCenter.org.

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at wrenw@vaildaily.com or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.

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