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This is the sound of silence

Simon and Garfunkel Concert in the Park was the first CD I ever owned.

(I had to use the opening link where the back up band get their props!)

I listened to it on my Sony 5-disc CD player (12th birthday present, I think, no maybe 14th b-day) with headphones until acquiescing to hook the player up to the family stereo system thereby accessing speakers. I still have the CD player which makes it ancient in technology terms and the CD, which I now understand in the much longer context of S&G's career, falling out, coming together (in Central Park and again more recently), and separate solo ventures including Paul Simon's controversial global music making (Graceland album in particular). The Sound of Silence still reigns among my favorite tunes, along with I am a Rock, and Cecilia - each for varying reasons. (Please note the clip of Cecilia is craziness, but youtube offered very few options of S&G actually doing this song relative to the number of covers)

Come to think of it COVERS are an interesting conceptual spin off of last week's parody and satire. While an artist like Weird Al thrives on satire and parody, as do plenty of other cover bands, many instances of one artist playing or re-making the song of another is an artistic nod of approval or an example of the "copying is a form of flattery" apothegm. If nothing else, examining covers in a classroom setting can demonstrate issues of artistic and intellectual ownership, copyright, derivation and the evolution of artistic/intellectual content within the community of artists and fans, and meaning based in context. Each of these is also applicable when looking at "real and fake" news as well as fine arts or literary works.

My personal appreciation for musical derivation snuck (or is it sneaked?) out early this month. As a (former? I don't play all that much these days) musician I have spent a lot of time with the way that music of most genres connect people: composer to performer to audience to future song writer to garage band to past musicians to musicians of other cultures and styles and so on. This connection usually happens not intellectually (by understanding that Mozart studied with Haydn, that Fats Domino listened to Gene Autry as a kid, that Johnny Cash covered Gospel tunes and Nine Inch Nails) but viscerally through a non-verbal medium with very physical manifestations (pretty much all music is a dance in one way or a more subtle other). A very powerful place to be is one that works on an auditory, physical (movement), and intellectual levels and that is where music hangs out.

It isn't a far stretch for this imagination to understand why major entities from the medieval church, to monarchies, to multinational corporations would tap into the power of music for good, or evil, or profit (or all of the above). The patronage and support structures provided affect musicians and their craft, as does the socio-economic status of the musicians and their audiences, the historical happenings, and personal motivations often unknowable to fans and scholars (something we all like to ignore in the effort to know and understand and explain!). All in all, these provide such an exciting number of opportunities to engage with learners of all ages on social issues, on economics, history, and just plain music.

White and Walker suggest that a purely pedagogical approach with popular culture (hook 'em with what they like) stops short of critically engaging with the medium itself (p.16-18). While not entirely disagreeing with this position, it seems that the strong ability for music to connect with wider issues and for a single song to time-travel via the mode of "the cover" is a powerful and enjoyable "gate way drug" to those larger issues and other peoples places and times. In my experience to really analyze at a musical level (not the industry) requires more intense listening and training than the average class situation allows for. That is, a music teacher wouldn't be expected to cover social studies in music class the way the social studies teacher is and vice versa, a social studies teacher can't necessarily be expected to teach "the music" in their class.

All in all though, I can see a very rich class room project that takes a tune. The students find as many versions of it as they can. They look at the who what where and why of each or selected versions. They make a time line, a map, and a graph of the varying qualities. They write a paper/essay on some aspect (one of the recording companies, one of the genres, the artists, an instrument used, the historical time). They maybe make a cover themselves with basic recording equipment or by mixing, or they make a music video using one of the versions of the song already recorded. The album art is looked at and students design their own album paraphernalia. Maybe they do their own radio show on the evolution of a song or an artist with the artist's influences. Can they interview a local DJ and learn about radio production? Will a local station (KFAI or Jazz 88 here in town for example) let the kids participate in a segment? What about bringing in a local musician? Maybe a classical violinist and a guitarist from a band visit on the same day and talk about their varying styles?

And so the options generate. Maybe I just like them 'cuz it sounds like good fun learnin' to me too.