Mr. Kist’s New Literacies presentation had a lasting impact on me, most especially with his Multi-genre Autobiography activity. With this, he has his students create a slide show containing pictures they associated with their childhood. As an example, he created one from his own childhood. Some of the pictures presented received some pretty great responses – a lot of energized “ohs” and wistful sighs were heard practically after every slide. I admit I heaved a few sighs myself. Looking at those pictures evoked some pretty great memories and when Sesame Street
and The Electric Company
popped up on that projector screen, I began to reflect back to my own learning experiences through what I saw on TV as a child. The first thing that popped into my mind was Schoolhouse Rock
. I loved Schoolhouse Rock. My older brother and I would plant ourselves in front of the TV every Saturday morning to catch it on ABC. For those of you who don’t know this stroke of genius, it was a series of 2 to 3 minute episodes that covered many subjects we learn in elementary and middle school and set them to music and animation – multiplication, grammar, and American history were the most popular. This was the show that basically taught me how to multiply by 8 – “Figure 8
” was a favorite of mine. I also loved the episode on Adjectives
. I even think my brother can still recite The Preamble
because he remembers the episode on the Constitution! As we sang along with these bits, we did not realize we were learning basic math, grammar and American history. All we knew was we loved the music and the cartoons that came along with them. So much so it would peak our curiosity to find out more: what else happened in 1776 or what about pronouns. As an adult, I had the opportunity to be Musical Director of the stage version of Schoolhouse Rock and it was exciting to get a chance to introduce it to a whole new young audience. Although television gets a bad rap nowadays, we tend to forget sometimes it can be a positive tool that can help kids learn and perhaps motivate them to explore and discover new things.
From Schoolhouse Rock, I got to think of other ways music can be used as I am currently venturing into Music Education. The influence of music is undeniable. In terms of cinema, it has a tremendous effect on our movie viewing experience by creating or amplifying a mood to fit what is occurring on screen. From the piano accompaniments of the silent film to the orchestral scores of Jaws and Star Wars, they reach out to us and leave a lasting impression. Nowadays, the score is sometimes replaced by familiar songs from the radio. An example of this is the 1983 movie The Big Chill. It had an enormously successful soundtrack with its use of popular songs from the 1960s. The songs hit a nerve with the generation it depicted on screen, and even now, the soundtrack is regarded as one of the best. There is even some discussion on how this soundtrack influenced the advertising world to use Rock-n-Roll songs to advance their sales.
This trend of using popular songs is becoming more and more common in cinema, sometimes replacing the traditional film score altogether. Quentin Tarantino did this with his movie Pulp Fiction (1994) and his soundtrack (or his film score depending how you look at it) mirrors the hip, aggressive mood the film itself exuded. Ironically, some singers and songwriters are beginning to abandon their song careers to venture into the film scoring world full time. Danny Elfman from the group Oingo Boingo is now a very successful composer of films and even RZA from the Wu Tang Clan wrote a few things for Tarantino’s Kill Bill (2003).
With this knowledge of music and its effect on the public, I began to think of the many different ways it can be used in the high school classroom. From what I can see, almost every high school student owns an IPod or some kind of MP3 player. IPods have given individuals access to an infinite amount of music, all at the touch of a button. This sure beats those days of carrying around a Walkman, practically gargantuan in size compared to an IPod Nano. Then I began to think about their playlists. The playlists they create are usually very personal and can say a great deal about who they are as individuals. Also, their enthusiasm for their favorite music is apparent when they talk about it. I would love to tap into that excitement.
So, what would happen if say, Odysseus had to create a playlist for his journey in Homer’s The Odyssey? Or Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice? What kind of music defines them and their story? This could be an exercise for students to play around with, choosing songs they believe define these literary characters and asking them to explain their choices. '
Students can also play around with scoring certain scenes in novels – what sets the mood of this particular chapter? What would be playing as you visualize the devastating affects the Dust Bowl has had on the Joad family in The Grapes of Wrath?
All of this lead back to Mr. Kist’s question from his presentation: What can you say in music, visual art or video that you cannot say in print? These exercises promote creativity, help us find new ways to communicate and, when students share their ideas with other students, build community. It seems when it comes to music the possibilities are endless, and I am eager to explore other ways to incorporate this in schools.
The lesson ideas I gave here are just miniscule compared to others. There are so many articles on using music in the classroom. Here a few I found interesting:
Scholastic’s guide to Music in the Classroom
A New Jersey Teacher that uses Wii Music as a teaching tool
Chris Brewer, Music and Learning
And lastly, I’m a proud member of MENC: National Association of Music Education. Please check out their website