Brett Hanson, a 9-year-old fourth-grader at Coles Elementary School, already knew the basics about George Washington when school started this year: the father of our country, the wooden teeth, the Revolutionary War hero stuff.
But in the past 2 1/2 months, Brett has become George Washington, in the role of the first president as written in a musical by Coles music teacher Danielle Schneider.
"He was a captain in the Revolutionary War, and all he wanted to be was a farmer in Mount Vernon," Brett said.
Turning the icon of George Washington into a human figure was Schneider's goal when she wrote the 30-minute, seven-song musical. The musical premiered at Coles yesterday, the 200th anniversary of Washington's death. [Related story, Page B1.] The entire fourth-grade class, about 90 children, was involved in the production.
Schneider, a resident of Fredericksburg for the past year, said she found herself becoming more interested in the first president because Ferry Farm, just outside the city, is Washington's childhood home.
This summer, she decided to teach a unit on music popular during Washington's lifetime, then switched gears to write original music that would trace his life from childhood to death.
"I have a much greater sense of his reluctance to assume these burdens," said Schneider, who also teaches music at Penn Elementary School. "But with his sense of duty, he believed that when the country required it of him he had no other choice but to step up and do it."
Schneider said her dream is to stage the show at Mount Vernon. Sally McDonough, Mount Vernon spokesman, hasn't heard the music, but said the work of the Coles students and other community groups has been "wonderful."
"I'd have to say the community and grass-roots effort has been great," McDonough said. More than 900 communities across the country have signed up to be "bicentennial communities," running programs to commemorate Washington's life and death. The project has been part of Mount Vernon's mission to encourage more people to learn about Washington's life, McDonough said.
Learning the catchy music also has been a lot of fun, the Coles students said.
"I like singing all the songs with the fourth-graders, because they're songs that are educational and sound good," said Farah Ahmad, 10, one of the narrators.
Aaron Ledbetter, 10, another narrator, said, "It's not like a boring social studies class."
CAPTION: Above, Aaron Ledbetter, one of the play's seven narrators, tells part of the story of George Washington's life. Chorus member Marissa Gonzalez, below, mourns the president's death during the musical number "December 14, 1799"--the day Washington died.
CAPTION: Brett Hanson adjusts his wig during a break from his role as George Washington.