MARQUETTE- When thinking of William Shakespeare, the first things to come to mind might be iambic pentameter and antique language - probably not rap and hip hop.
But Devon Glover, known as The Sonnet Man, has transposed Shakespearean sonnets into hip hop songs, giving students a way to connect with a complicated language. Glover's songs begin with him rapping a Shakespeare sonnet and then explaining the poem in his own words through a rap song. The melodies of the songs are based on the theme of the sonnet. Glover said he uses hip hop music because he loves it, students connect to it and Shakespeare's writing connects with it better than any other genre.
"Coming from Brooklyn I know 8- year-olds that can recite over 100 rap songs," he said. "So I use this more as a mnemonic device to give them something good that they'll want to hear again and then they'll suddenly learn it without even knowing."
Devon Glover performs at Northern Michigan University Wednesday. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
Marquette Alternative High School students got to see Glover perform at Northern Michigan University this week. During his show, Glover told the students he struggled with Shakespeare when he was their age. When he went off to college he studied math to avoid it.
"Unfortunately in 2006-2007 I was one class short (of graduating). I actually studied math with the goals of becoming a math teacher," Glover said during his performance. "I was trying to find a way to get into the schools and I had a passion for music, so this was one way I could get into the classroom and to get my degree."
After his performance, students from MAHS had a chance to meet and talk with Glover. He said he had some students tell him that they were going to read Shakespeare. Glover said one student even told him that maybe class work would be easier now.
"I do this because I have a drive for education. My career was to be focused on the future and if I wasn't doing this I would be teaching math," he said. "So this is just another way to reach the youth and inspire them in some way."
As Glover was trying to inspire the students, he also inspired a teacher. Nora Torreano, an English teacher at MAHS, said Glover's performance was inspirational to to her as a teacher. She saw somebody come in and connect with her students and get them interested in something right away.
"Sometimes it takes me months to build up to something or get them excited about something," Torreano said. "It's inspiring to me to watch this and kind of get excited about teaching again."
Torreano received an email from the organizer of NMU's annual UNITED Conference asking if she would like the opportunity to bring her students to see Glover perform, so she grabed it.
"Our kids do better with hands-on activities, things they can witness and interact with instead of people talking at them and we all thought it would be a really good cultural experience for them as well," she said.
Before coming to see Glover, Torrenao said some of her students were worried that they wouldn't be able to understand the poems. But Torrenao thinks that hip hop and rap helps the students realize the emotion put into it, she said.
"(Shakespeare) was meant to be acted and performed and not just read," Torrenao said. "I was hoping that the emotion of the performer would come out and they would also have the connection of the type of music that a lot of them enjoy listening to.
For more information on Devon Glover, The Sonnet Man, and to hear some of his work visit www.thesonnetmannyc.com.
Adelle Whitefoot can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 243. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org