What it's all about
If you were looking for an effective way to get 200 primary children talking about the civil rights movement, staging a jazz opera might not be the first thing that would spring to mind. Yet this aim is at the core of the opera Shadowball, written by UK jazz artist Julian Joseph. It tells the story of the "negro" baseball leagues in the US in the run-up to Jackie Robinson breaking the "colour line" in 1947, becoming the first black Major League Baseball player of the modern era.
The project is part of the work of the Hackney Music Development Trust (HMDT), an organisation that uses music as an avenue to other forms of learning.
Each of HMDT's seven musical projects comes with an education programme that can be used in different ways. At Gayhurst Primary in Hackney, east London, children recently took their production to the stage, and baseball was introduced into PE.
Teachers at Gayhurst say that the project has encouraged pupils to think about their own roots. "There have been huge improvements in confidence and behaviour, too," says teacher Annie Molloy.
In English classes, pupils tried their hand at journalism. The result is a wall of detailed feature stories on the heroes of the "negro" leagues. In music, alongside rehearsals for the opera itself, there were jazz composition classes. The project even found its way into maths lessons, where tasks included calculating pitch perimeters and negotiating the baseball scoring systems. For more information, visit
Emphasise the important role of music in history with the Holocaust music site from World ORT. Or explore the civil rights movement in more detail with sparklycrayon's lesson.