Song Blue

Song spins are fun for English learner classes. So Monday, right after Scott Walker had just died, when I was reminded of the only hit of his I knew (remember, my tastes are relentlessly mainstream), the lyrics suggested a lesson.

“OK, listen up. Listen to this song once through.” While they listened, I printed out the lyrics, although I’m not sure that’s any better than putting them on the board. Huh. Next time.

“Take a look at the lyrics, now.”

Loneliness is the cloak you wear
A deep shade of blue is always there

Chorus:
The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore
The moon ain’t gonna rise in the sky
The tears are always clouding your eyes
When you’re without love, baby

Emptiness is the place you’re in
There’s nothing to lose but no more to win

Chorus:
The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore
The moon ain’t gonna rise in the sky
The tears are always clouding your eyes
When you’re without love

Lonely, without you, baby
Girl, I need you
I can’t go on

Chorus

Hooriyah can’t write an intelligible sentence and her reading skills are shaky, but what English she has is always ready.

“Loneliness is like being alone?”

“What is a cloak?” Matias puzzled.

Pro-tip: Pictures are far more useful than words to give definitions. The kids instantly make the connection without additional words to confuse them. I google “cloak”, click on “Images” and eight kids go “ahhha”.

“But how can clothes be alone?” Hooriyah asked.

I wrote “metaphor”.

“When you listen to songs, read poetry, read literature, you will see different ways that the artists use to communicate feelings. One of them is a metaphor, which is a way of comparing.”

“So…wearing lonely?” Vanessa squinched her face doubtfully.

“Yes. Imagine being so lonely, so without people, that you are surrounded in it.”

“Like a coat! And a coat is a cloak!” Matias again.

“Yes, a cloak is even more of a coat. You know, look at the picture. It covers even more of your body. So everywhere around your body, is loneliness. It’s not just in your head, in your heart. The song saying the loneliness is so painful, it’s like a real thing. The next line uses the color blue.

Taio frowned. “Chorus?”

“It’s a ‘k’ sound, not ch like cheese. Korus. What do you notice about the chorus?”

“Again and again.” Taio has, hands down, the best grammar and best vocabulary of my eight students. Vanessa is next. Both of them simply hate to talk.

I enjoy this activity so much because it carries itself along. Hooriyah was already mulling over the chorus. “So if the sun does not shine, then it’s night time.”

“But the moon isn’t rising,” I observed.

“Then it is not night…and not day?”

“Can it be day without the sun?”

“Yes, but it’s…what’s the word? Clawdy?”

“Cloudy! Good. What is a day like when it’s cloudy?”

Silence, so I google me up some cloudy days for clarification.

Vanessa snapped her fingers. “That’s gray!”

“Yes. No sun and no moon turns the world gray.”

Curiousity finally spurred Taio to venture a query. “The sky is blue when sun shines. But blue means sad, when sun isn’t shining.”

Huh. “That’s a great point, Taio, and I never really” I remember waving my hands shaping my thoughts, “I never had to explain the difference before. We talk about feeling blue, a cloak of blue, singing the blues. But yeah, you’re right. The color blue isn’t really sad. Just the….feeling.”

“Oh,” said Taio, still confused. “Like…song blue?”

“Hey, yeah. It’s a blue for songs. For poems. For words, in English. But now, think about someone you love very much. Your mother, father, grandma, sister, brother–family. Think how you would feel if they died.” I paused for a second to google translate to the newest students, Geovany and Jorge. This lesson was mainly for the more fluent kids; I was just keeping the new boys in the loop.

“Can you think how sad, how horrible you’d feel? What color would you call that?”

“Black,” Matias said, with no hesitation. Vanessa nodded.

Hooriyah, “I would feel very, very, terrible. So black, yes, that makes sense.”

Now Taio was really confused. “White is for death.”

“Oh, that’s right, Chinese wear white for funerals. Arggh.” I tap my chest with my palm. “Black is about feeling. Feeling death. Not what you wear. How you feel.” Taio nodded, getting it.

“Now I get to complicate it more. Bad grief, bad sadness, is black. But the world, when you feel so sad, well,…”

“THE SUN DOESN’T SHINE!” Hooriyah clapped her hands! “I GET IT!”

“And the moon…..” I prompted.

“Doesn’t rise!” Vanessa shouted.

“So blue is feeling sad and black is horrible loss, and the pain means you feel like the sun doesn’t shine and the moon doesn’t rise. And so we have a third color–or lack of color, which is….?”

“Gray!”

“Yes! Now look at the next verse. What does “empty” mean?”

“Nothing inside.” Taio held up his water bottle, turning it upside down.

“So being sad and black and gray is like being in an empty place,” Sanjana spoke up for the first time. She’d been watching carefully, but although she’s been in America twice as long as any of the others, speaking English comes very slowly.

“Think about the next part: nothing to lose and…”

Matias frowned. “But if you can’t lose and you can’t win then what happens?”

“Nothing!” Hooriyah again.

“Sanjana, what do you think? How is having nothing to win and nothing to lose part of the song?”

“I don’t know.”

“Oh, come on. Play along. See, Geovany and Jorge are waiting for your answer.” Silence.

“So you know why you’re not speaking?”

She grinned. “I don’t know the answer!”

“So are you worried you’re going to lose? Lose what?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing to lose!” Vanessa jumped in.

“In English, ‘nothing to lose’ can sometimes be a good thing because it means taking risks, taking a chance, has no bad side, no down side. So if you want to reach for something, try to get something…”

“…but the song says you can’t win.” Taio pointed out.

“Yes! Exactly. You have nothing good in your life, nothing that you can lose. But there’s no way to win.”

“It’s just like the sun and the moon.” put in Sanjana.

“There you go. The two verses are saying the same thing. They are reinforcing. Reinforcing…to make stronger. To make the meaning stronger. Even the tears. What do tears normally do? Jorge? When you cry, what happens?”

Jorge read the Google translate and looks at me like I’m crazy. “Lagrimas?” He mimed tears falling on his cheeks.

“YES! Perfect! The song doesn’t say tears falling from your eyes, but clouding your eyes. And clouds are….”

“GRAY!”

“More reinforcement, see? When artists use words to build a picture in your minds and hearts, that’s what creates…poetry. Songs. And part of knowing English, of knowing any language, is understanding the deep meanings of words. Of knowing not just blue, but song blue.”

And with that, I put on a second song, one I’ve played each year of my ELD class:

Song sung blue
Everybody knows one
Song sung blue
Every garden grows one
Me and you are subject to the blues now and then
But when you take the blues and make a song
You sing them out again
Sing them out again
Song sung blue
Weeping like a willow
Song sung blue
Sleeping on my pillow
Funny thing, but you can sing it with a cry in your voice
And before you know, it get to feeling good
You simply got no choice
Me and you are subject to the blues now and then
But when you take the blues and make a song
You sing them out again

Song sung blue

We go through the lyrics every year, but while they always love the song (even little Geovany tentatively sang along), this year I had the fun of seeing them realize that “Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” was a case of a Song Sung Blue, and take joy in their knowledge.

With fifteen minutes left, I introduced them to “Here Comes the Sun” and watched them grok the symbolism all on their own.

I swear, sometimes I’d do this for free.

 

About educationrealist


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