True confession: I can’t sing and in spite of a few valiant attempts, I cannot play a musical instrument. Among other things I inherited from my mother is the inability to carry a tune. However, I also inherited a love of music from my father. I have discovered that the two are not incongruous and my passion for music means that I now have an extensive and eclectic iTunes library.
So, when we discussed a change to our middle school music program that included some form of a music appreciation course, I wanted in.
My students are mainly in music appreciation to avoid being in band class and most really do not care much for music in general. This makes for a bit of a challenge as a teacher. Reluctant learners are by definition, not enthusiastic or even happy about being in class. Compounding the challenge is the fact that I teach a grade 7 version of the course as well as a grade 8 version. These two groups of students are very different from each other.
So, I have to to find points of connection for all students, things in the curriculum that can be meaningful and relevant for them. The beautiful thing is, that to some extent, every student listens to music in some way, shape, or form.
A Musical Journey
We began with gospel and spiritual music. Honestly, this is not the most exciting genre for 12 to 14-year olds! Still, exposing students to Elvis Presley singing, “Swing Down Sweet Chariot” or The Blind Boys of Alabama singing harmonies, can get even the most reluctant toe tapping! I also discovered that some of my students have a thing for country music and they connected with The Happy Goodmans’ version of southern gospel.
I have incorporated my own musical journey into our classes. Who knew that my collection of old records and cassette tapes would be considered cool! I posted a number of my old LP covers on the classroom wall and when the record player was connected to the classroom sound system, I became an honest-to-goodness disc jockey! The requests came fast and furious as students’ curiosity about the album artwork and its connection to the music preserved on the vinyl disc outmatched the time we had in a class period.
I recently asked a few of my music appreciation students what they thought of the class. Their responses were certainly encouraging. Most said they enjoyed just being able to listen to music in class. A couple of students said that they liked being able to dig deeper into what the music and the lyrics mean. One student even started their own playlist of some of the music we covered in class!
If Nothing Else…
I hope that these students come to not only make connections to some of the music we listen to, they also apply discernment to their own listening choices. Through our time investigating the music and culture of the last century, perhaps students will recognize music’s influence on popular culture and become more aware of the power music and popular culture have in their own lives.
In the end, I know that on some level, each student will experience at least one moment when the music we listen to inspires them in a way nothing else we do at school could.
And that makes it all worthwhile!