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Hats, hymns and history


With his guitar in hand, Ray Owens can take you on a musical journey covering more than 200 years of American music.

Students at Overlook Elementary School took that journey last Friday as Mr. Owens donned various costumes and entertained them with song.

"Anybody recognize this song?" he said, strumming a few lines of "Yankee Doodle."

"Let's see a show of hands."

The kindergartners through sixth-graders sitting on mats spread out in the school's multipurpose room raised their hands. They knew the old-time favorite.

Mr. Owens put on a tri-cornered hat and told the children the song spoke of the United States' fight to gain its freedom from England.

"Maybe it's not a silly old song after all," said Mr. Owens, 43. "It tells us what it was like in the beginning."

Mr. Owens came to Linthicum from Gettysburg, Pa., bringing with him a dozen period hats and instruments for his show, "Hats Off To America." The performance was part of a cultural arts program the school's PTA sponsors each month.

"My kids cheered when I told them we were coming here today," said E. Renee Carnochan, a first-grade teacher.

The musical travelogue took the children through early American life, the beginning of the railroads, the wagon trains that carried pioneers into the west.

A folk-blues song, "I'm Goin' Fishin,'" illustrated the influence African-Americans have had on the country's music.

The children delighted in the songs and the hat changes, sang along and snapped their fingers to mimic the clackety-clack of a train moving down the iron rails as Mr. Owens sang "Wabash Cannonball."

Though the show has its comical moments, such as when Mr. Owens puts his raccoon hat on backward, he wants to leave the children with more than just a few laughs. He hopes they walk away with new ideas, a different perspective on history.

"On TV they get a lot of the present and the popular culture of music," he said. "But they don't get a chance to see the different roots of music and where they came from."

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