Integrate literature into the music class with these lesson plans for Build a House by Rhiannon Giddens and illustrated by Monica Mikai. This book is based on the song of the same name and is the story of what happened to enslaved Africans after the Emancipation Proclamation.
Official Video of the Book and Song
NPR Book Interview with Rhiannon Giddens
This is a WONDERFUL interview and gives so many talking points for a teacher to bring to a lesson.
Rhiannon Giddens & Yo-Yo Ma Play “Build A House”
I can’t find sheet music anywhere! Hopefully, it will become available soon. The song is in C minor and has a pentatonic melody. You could transpose it to Dm and play the melody, but my best thought is to play along with the videos and use a drone-C and G. There is a feel of going to a V or V7 in places, but I don’t get the sense that it is necessary.
Because of the lovely flow of the melody and the beautiful repetition in the lyrics, children will quickly pick up the song to sing along.
- Grades 4-6
- Sing the book to the class
- Discuss the historical parts that you want to discuss. Options are slavery, Emancipation Proclamation, Juneteenth, house burning, red-lining, song appropriation.
- Discuss “The well will not run dry” and “I will not be moved.”
- Sing the book again and add body percussion for the repetition. You can do a pat, clap, snap to every verse or create something different. There are NINE verses. You could divide students into 8 groups to represent each verse (except the last verse) with body percussion on the repeats. EVERYONE could come together on the last verse. It would be a very powerful, visual statement.
The repetitions include: Build your house, house and land, build my house, wrote my song, far and wide, lowered it down, etc.
- Play along to the video with a C-G drone on barred instruments.
- You could learn the song and play in Dm using that one chord on ukulele. If you wanted to add the V7, A7 is super easy on uke.
- Further explore the last line of the book “I will not be moved” by singing the song and learning about its history and why Giddens may have decided to use it to end her book. (below)
Buy the Book
I Will Not Be Moved
The reference in the book is taken from the old hymn turned social protest song also known as We Shall Not Be Moved. It is a statement of resolve and resiliency and such a strong way to end “Build a House.”
Experience this song with a presentation in both Google Slides and PPT versions, a simple Orff arrangement, and optional ukulele and recorder parts. Hear and see previews on TPT.
Links for “I Will Not Be Moved”
- Oodles Blog Post with teachable history information.
- We Shall Not Be Moved book by David Spener
- History by Ballad of America
- Wikipedia Info
- Sheet Music with Social Action Verses
- Octavo with voicings for unison and more
The Whitewashing of African American Roots Music
A BBC Radio 3-part series as Rhiannon uncovers
Part I: History and influence of North Carolina black fiddlers – Joe Thompson and Frank Johnson
Part II: History and influence of Kentucky banjo player Arnold Shultz.
Part III: History and influence of African American ‘Harmonica Wizard’ DeFord Bailey, one of the biggest stars of the early country era.