MUSIC IN THE CLASSROOM

Music is a "whole brain" activity: It involves the full range of our mind's capacities—analytic, emotional, physical and creative. Learning music is closely related to learning languages: Both require the careful discrimination and interpretation of sounds and patterns. Music is mathematical: musicians "count" rhythms and describe the "proportions" of a piece. Music is scientific: Its elements are often a direct result of the physical properties of instruments; its expression is deeply rooted in our psychology. Listening to music helps build memory and concentration. Music thus helps integrate the mind, uniting the machinery of our thoughts into a smoothly functioning engine of attention and imagination. Best of all, as this program hopes to demonstrate, we are all musicians: Music is inside all of us and belongs to all of us.

Bringing music into the classroom has many important benefits. It can enliven and enrich academic subjects, help to maintain students' focus and train their memories.

Along with suggestions for ways to integrate music into the curriculum, we have provided four "One-Sheets:" These lesson plans and ideas are designed to show how songs from the Musiqa program might be incorporated into the study of other subject matters, such as social studies, language arts, science, and history.

MUSIC AND...

Modern History

Artists often get caught up in important historical events. The German composer Beethoven dedicated his Eroica ("Heroic") Symphony to Napoleon, believing him to be a champion of the people. When Napoleon declared himself Emperor, Beethoven famously crossed out the dedication. The works of such composers as Arnold Schoenberg and Paul Hindemith were banned by the Nazis as "decadent." Schoenberg's A Survivor from Warsaw vividly captures eyewitness accounts of brutality in the Jewish ghetto. The Russian composers Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shoskatovich struggled throughout their lives with the Soviet authorities, falling in and out of favor with Communist party. The French composer Olivier Messiaen was imprisoned in a concentration camp by the Nazis. While interned in the camp, he wrote and premiered one of his most famous works, The Quartet for the End of Time. George Crumb's Black Angels for amplified string quartet reflects on the Vietnam War. More recently, John Adams' operas Nixon in China and Doctor Atomic focus on actual historical events.

Ancient History

Although we cannot know how the music sounded, because no written record exists, we can study the instruments and how music was used in rituals and ceremonies in earlier world cultures. The connections between music and authority, music and spirituality, music and daily life are often very revealing about a particular population's belief and customs.

Here are some questions that can be used to address music's role in a particular culture:

  • What instruments were used? How did these compare to the instruments of other cultures during the same time period? Was the music primarily vocal or instrumental?
  • What was the setting for the performance: Was it part of a ritual or ceremony?
  • Was the audience expected to be silent or were they allowed to participate?
  • How long did an individual piece last?
  • Was the music written down? If so, how? How strict was the notation? Was there room for improvisation, embellishment and other forms of interpretation?
  • How "enduring" was an individual composition? Was it intended to be played only once or a few times, or was there the hope that the art-work might endure?

Science

Musical instruments are inventions, and make excellent studies for hands-on science. The analysis of instruments involves an exploration of the physical properties of sound and the resonance qualities of different materials and shapes. How many different kinds of materials can be used to make a flute? (Partial answer: Wood, bamboo, clay, stone, silver, gold). Why are the violin and piano shaped the way they are? Asking students to design and build their own instruments is an exciting and fun project.

Literature

Setting a poem to music creates a "reading" of the poem. Thus, studying how poems are set to music can be very revealing about language, meaning and emphasis. Many of the world's greatest poets have been set to music. Often, the same text is set by several different composers, making for intriguing comparisons. The "Lieder and Art Song" web-site (http://www.recmusic.org/lieder/) includes a search function both by poet, facilitating comparisons of different settings of the same text.

Foreign Languages

This program has featured songs in Brazilian, French, Italian, and Taiwanese. There are great traditions of songs in all languages, from popular songs to concert works and opera. Learning songs is a fun and exciting supplement to language study.

Art

Musical instruments make excellent subjects for still-life drawings. Students can also build and decorate their own instruments.

Physical Education

Dancing to music of all varieties is a great way to combine physical activity and music. Jane Rosenberg's "Play Me A Story," "Sing Me a Story" and "Dance Me a Story" book/CD sets contain excellent suggestions for teachers.

DESCRIBING MUSIC IN WORDS

The renowned American composer Aaron Copland once wrote: "For every two words written about music, one of them will be wrong." Describing the abstract experience of music in words will always be open-ended, personal and incomplete.

Students often relate to music through metaphoric images or stories and emotional descriptions: "This piece sounds like raindrops falling," "this music sounds sad." Encourage your students to go further and describe how the descriptions they have chosen fit the music. "This piece sounds like raindrops falling because the music is tinkling high up, and is very steady and repetitive;" "This music sounds sad because it is low, slow and soft," etc.

Always keep in mind that, in any art form, there is never a single correct interpretation. The question is: How well can the student support their point-of-view through careful observation of the music? Ask your students to explore their emotional and metaphoric responses to the music through analytic listening. It will make their impressions and understanding even more informed and vivid.

CONCLUSION

This program is intended to celebrate the universal love of music that transcends all geographic and cultural boundaries. Nothing better demonstrates that music belongs to all of us than the rich heritage of folk song. Singing and listening to folk songs in arrangements both "authentic" and freshly created are a way to build community, to express one's personal thoughts and convictions, to learn about other people's ways of life, and to cherish the bountiful imagination of the human spirit. In her introduction to American Folk Songs for Children, Ruth Crawford Seeger writes: "Many of us open a savings account at the bank when a children is born, and add layer and layer of small deposits which he can later draw on for a college education. Perhaps a fund of songs might be begun as early, and added to layer after layer—an ever-growing wealth of materials which he can draw on at will can take along with him as links from himself to the various aspects of the culture he will be going out to meet." We hope that today's program makes such a contribution to the students' fund of songs.

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