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Lesson 2: Learning “Ola de la Mar”

Aim: What elements make up a plena song?

Summary: Students will explore the rhythms and instruments utilized in a plena song, and learn about the social context of plena music.
Materials: Musical Explorers digital resources, Musical Explorers Student Guide, classroom instruments
Standards: National 1, 2, 3, 5, 10, 11
Vocabulary: güícharo, pandereta, plena, rhythmic layers, seguidor, Segundo

Plena originated among urban workers of Puerto Rico’s coastal areas, mainly in Ponce and Mayagüez, shortly after Spain lost political control of the island, and thus during the early period of US colonial rule. Like bomba, plena is sung in a call and response style. In plena, the singer, rather than the dancer and drummer, does the improvising. Lyrics are often inspired by current events. Thus, plena has sometimes been called “el periódico cantado” (the sung newspaper). More broadly, the songs relay oral history, and reflect the singer’s own perspectives, beliefs, hopes, and feelings.

Juan and Julia Teach “Ola de la Mar”

“Ola de la Mar” Demonstration

Bomba and plena artists Juan Gutiérrez and Julia Gutiérrez-Rivera teach the plena song “Ola de la Mar.”

Sing “Ola de la Mar”

  • Listen to “Ola de la Mar,” Track 35.
  • Learn the lyrics to the chorus using “Ola de la Mar” pronunciation, Track 36.
  • Sing the chorus using “Ola de la Mar” chorus, Track 37.

“Ola de la Mar”

Text

Chorus:
Ola de la mar, ola de la mar
Tráigame la paz,
Tráigame la paz que mi plena va a sonar
(x2)

Entre ola y ola, entre ola y ola
Mi plena va sonar
Ola de la mar, tráigame la paz
Tráigame la paz que mi plena va a sonar

(Chorus)

Siempre cuento contigo,
siempre cuento contigo
A la hora de la verdad
Cuando tengo tristeza o si no felicidad.
Cuando tengo tristeza o si no felicidad.

(Chorus)

Saquen los panderos, saquen los panderos
Y vamos a tocar
Ola de la mar tráigame la paz
Tráigame la paz que mi plena va a sonar.

(Chorus)

Siempre que oigo la plena,
siempre que oigo la plena
Me dan ganas de bailar
Ola de la mar tráigame la paz
Tráigame la paz que mi plena va a sonar.

(Chorus)
(x2)

 

Translation

Chorus:
Wave of the sea, wave of the sea
Bring me peace,
Bring me peace that my plena will sound
(x2)

In between the waves, in between the waves
My plena will start to ring
Wave of the sea, bring me peace
Bring me peace that my plena will sound

(Chorus)

I always count on you,
I always count on you
At the moment of truth
When I am sad or when I am happy
When I am sad or when I am happy

(Chorus)

Take out the panderos, take out the panderos
And we will begin to play
Wave of the ocean bring me peace
Bring me peace that my plena will sound.

(Chorus)

Every time I hear the plena,
every time I hear the plena
I feel like dancing
Wave of the ocean bring me peace
Bring me peace that my plena will sound.

(Chorus)
(x2)

The core rhythm instruments in plena are a series of three panderetas—hand drums similar to tambourines without the jingles—and a güícharo or güiro (scraped gourd). In order from largest to smallest, the panderetas are the seguidor, the segundo, and the requinto. The seguidor, segundo, and güícharo play a foundational rhythm that remains constant throughout a plena song. The requinto improvises more intricate rhythms on top of the established base rhythm.

Explore Rhythmic Layering in “Ola de la Mar”

The foundational rhythm in “Ola de la Mar” is made of three rhythmic layers played by the seguidor, segundo, and güícharo. The rhythmic layers are as follows:

  • Using Panderetas layer 1 seguidor, Track 38; Panderetas layer 2 segundo, Track 39; and Panderetas layer 3 güícharo, Track 40, listen to the three different layers separately, and hear how they come together.
  • Using classroom instruments or body percussion, have your students try out each of the rhythms. If they are ready, try layering two or even three of the rhythms together.
  • Explain that the smaller pandereta, called the requinto, improvises over the foundational rhythm.
  • Demonstrate how the requinto would improvise over one or more of the foundational rhythms.
  • As your students get comfortable, have them take turns playing the requinto and improvising while the rest of the class maintains the base rhythm.
  • For an added challenge, try adding the chorus to “Ola de la Mar” to the rhythmic layers. You can sing the call, while your students sing the response.

Compare and Contrast Bomba and Plena Instruments

  • The instruments played in bomba and plena are distinct for each genre.
  • Explore each set of instruments using Bomba and Plena Instruments (PDF).
  • Discuss the similarities and differences between the two sets, focusing in particular on the differences between the two sets of drums.
  • Using some of the listening examples on Resources for Teachers, see if your students can identify whether the sample is bomba or plena, based on the instruments.
Creative Extension

The Sung Newspaper

  • Plena music is sometimes referred to as “the sung newspaper,” because singers improvise lyrics about current events or their own personal experiences, punctuated by an established refrain.
  • In this activity, your students will create their own plena song using The Sung Newspaper.
  • As a class, decide on a subject for your plena song.
    • What is an important event that you’d like to tell the world about? Is it something in the news, something that happened in school, or something in your own life?
    • If you were writing a story about that event in a newspaper, what would the headline be? The headline will be just a few words, and will become the refrain of the plena song.
  • Using The Sung Newspaper (PDF), students can create their own “sung newspaper” by filling in the headline, writing a short story, and then illustrating their story.
  • Work with the class to create a chant or melody for the headline. Start with the rhythm of the words and then add pitches if desired, using classroom instruments as available. You can use Panderetas layer 1 seguidor, Track 38; Panderetas layer 2 segundo, Track 39; and Panderetas layer 3 güícharo, Track 40, to establish the underlying rhythm for the chant.
  • If your students are ready, you can complete your plena song by adding an improvised response to the refrain: A student can read or chant a line or phrase from their story, and the rest of the class will respond with the headline refrain.
Literacy Extension

Juan Bobo Goes to Work: A Puerto Rican Folk Tale

Folk tales about Juan Bobo are Puerto Rican classics. Juan Bobo, or Simple John, is a naïve young boy who can’t seem to follow instructions, leading to lots of funny misadventures. In Juan Bobo Goes to Work: A Puerto Rican Folk Tale retold by Marisa Montes, Juan Bobo encounters all sorts of obstacles as he tries to find work on a farm and at a grocery store.

Book cover for "Juan Bobo Goes to Work" depicting a young boy walking with a dog and cat

Musical Word Wall

Add the words güícharo, pandereta, plena, rhythmic layers, and seguidor to the Musical Word Wall.

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