The following questions are suggestions for discussions at eighth-grade level. Teachers can adapt these for individual classes or for other grade levels and can use them to help students form their own questions.
A SINGING STREAM offers a way to "personalize" American history by exploring social and cultural changes in the lives of a musical African American family in the North Carolina piedmont. Filmed the early 1980s in their homes, church, and local community, family members tell their own stories of hard times and tenant farming, of becoming some of the first African Americans to own land in Granville County, of getting an education, voting, getting jobs, leaving the South in the 1940s and coming home in the 1980s. Family and archival photographs enrich the film's historical perspective. Musical performances and comments on singing offer insight into one of the South's strong musical traditions and the role music has played in unifying and inspiring this family and the local community.
In what ways does the Landis family seem similar to other families you know? In what ways different?
What values did Mr. and Mrs. Landis try to teach their children? How did they do it? How would you describe the relationship between Mrs. Landis and her children and grandchildren?
How does the presentation of the Landis family in this film compare with the way other African American families are pictured in books, films, and on television?
How did the family cope with hard times and poverty? With racial discrimination? With new opportunities? What would you have done in similar circumstances?
African American History and Culture
Why did some of the Landis children want to leave home and the South in the 1940s?
Why were they willing to come back in the 1980s?
In the film, Mrs. Landis said, "Everybody wants their rights, if they know what their rights are." What do you think she meant?
Clothes seem to be important in this film. In what ways? Why?
Why do you think they included so much from the Rock Springs Baptist Church? How is that church service (the singing, the preaching, the participation of the congregation) like, or different from, church services you have attended? In what ways has the church been important to African Americans?
Black Gospel Music
How does knowing more about the Landis family strengthen your understanding of the music in the film? What role does music play in the family? In the church? In the
Many of the songs the Landises and the Golden Echoes sing are 25 to 100 or more years old. But Mrs. Landis says these old songs always sound new. Why do you think the singers and their audiences do not tire of their songs? What keeps these songs alive?
The Golden Echoes performed somewhere every week although members held other full-time jobs. How did their performances differ from those of professionals? How are their lives different? Their audiences? Are there similarities in their lives and performances and those of professional musicians?
Do black gospel groups sing in your town? Where do they sing? How would you find out about them?
Film As a Social and Historical Document
Almost all of the people involved in making this film were white southerners. All of the film subjects were African American. What can we learn about black/white relations from the film, and from the fact that the film was made?
Sometimes the filmmakers caught on film things that were going on when they visited the Landis home or church. Sometimes they asked a question and filmed the answer. Other times they made an effort to capture on film some activity or places the Landises talked about. Which scenes do you think were filmed in each of these ways?
The filmmakers did not work from a script. What the Landises do and say is their own statement. But the order in which the filmmakers put these things when they edit the film says what the filmmakers think is the meaning of the material. Why do you think they opened and closed the film the way they did? Why do you think did they include so much singing?
Documentary filmmakers often use a narrator to interpret and connect the scenes in their films. Does the absence of a narrator in this film work to its advantage or disadvantage? In what ways?