July 10, 2008

Teach Them Well

Something that stood out to me in the course of this class was that music is extremely overwhelming. The history of popular music has shown that the family tree of music is so inbred and inter-related that to separate genre from genre, while possible, is not possible. For example, we learn that the start of “hip-hop� formed from different musical areas such as disco, jazz, funk, blues and rock. For the sake of the consumer and the artist a label had to be placed on the multiple versions of music available. As an example, I am not going to go to the disco section expecting to find LL Cool J any more than I expect to find ABBA in the heavy metal group. Another thing that was expanded on for me was that music is everywhere. It is found in the silence of an early morning, the whir of cars muffled outside my kitchen window, and even in the workings of a corporate office. The question is how to articulate that to the students.

I stopped teaching about three years ago and time spent in a classroom is no longer something that I do. During my short classroom career, I was a kindergarten teacher. Music was something that I used every single day to get my students motivated to start the day, learn a new letter or clean up their work. Five and six-year-olds sponged up songs and would soon be singing the tune before I even had to press play on the radio. It surprised me the most when my little Kindergarteners would come into the classroom, not singing the songs that we listened to about colors and shapes, but current top ten hits from the radio. As I started thinking back to my teaching days I realized that the everyday music and situations are what I would use to create my lessons. The lessons written below are not necessarily meant for a certain grade. Any one of these can be modified for late elementary school up to 12th grade. For the younger grades they can be modified to be large classroom projects or family projects at home.

1. Music in Media: Evaluation and Critical Thinking
To start students will pick a movie or television show and list out each of the songs that are used in the course of the film or particular episode. A list can usually be found in the ending credits of a movie or the shows website. I have also found the website http://www.tunefind.com/ helpful for recent movies and episodes of shows although it is not comprehensive.
Student will then have different options for assignments. The assignment will last for approximately three weeks.
1. Student will critique critical moments in the movie and how the song affected the outcome of those moments. How would you make it better? What would you do differently? If you would not change anything, why?
2. Student will look at the genre of movie and compare it to the type of music that is included in the movie. Do romantic comedies equal a soundtrack full of pop artists and top ten hits? Do independent films equal independent artists?
3. Students will remove songs from a portion of a movie and replace those songs with something they choose instead. They will then present a scene with their song in its place. Is there a difference in the scene now that the music has been changed? Does the tone of the movie change? If the change is in the beginning of the movie how does the anticipation change?

2. Soundtrack to your Life: History
The student will think back to key moments in their life and the year that these moments occurred. They will then have to create a soundtrack that is equal to the timeline of their life. For example, if you were born July 5, 1981, you will have to use a song that was made July 5th, 1981 or earlier. If you know the year of a particular moment but not the date, the song has to be from that year or earlier. Student will have to pick 10 songs/events minimum and concurrently write a 1-2 page paper on an occurrence that also happened at the same time. This project will last for 10 weeks and in the end the students will create a “greatest hits� for their life up to that moment.

Example: July 5th, 1981 Birth of Kimberly Steele. Historical event on that date: Police attacked in Liverpool riots, http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/july/5/newsid_2494000/2494599.stm
Song: Foreigner “Waiting For a Girl Like You� (Album released in July 1981)

3. Track your Music: Continual Research
The music that a person listens to does not stay the same in their lifetime. At any particular moment a person may be big into country, the next week listening to jazz and the next week folk. Students will pick one day a week and track their consumption of music. This will go on for the course of the English program.* The students will journal about the songs they listened to and why one particular song affected them. They will need to discuss a minimum of three different aspects song such as the words, beat, background singers, tone, etc. In the end of the project students are required to do a research paper based on the songs as well as the corresponding events they journeled about. Are they finding a pattern to what they listened to or was it random?

*Growing up my English classes were split between Freshman/Sophomore and Junior/Senior. For 9th and 10th grade English we had one teacher and for 11th and 12th grade English. This project would be designed to be ongoing between either the whole high school career, two year increments or grade level. This will take organization in order to keep track of music and ongoing changes.

4. Music Interpretation: Playwriting, technology, performance, geography
As a class or small group students are to write, create and present a music video or performance based on a song from another country. The students are to research different aspects of the song (lyrics, language, hidden inferences) and present an accurate portrayal of the country’s culture using clothing, material objects and dancing. Student will have to turn in their research and present the video to the class.

5. Use of Music in Science: Does Classical Music Make Plants Grow?
In groups of 2 or 3, students will study the effects of different music genre on plants. Students will grow three of the same type plant. One will be a control, one will “listen� to Type A music and one will “listen� to Type B music. Students will maintain strict variables on the plants and will present their findings in one month.

These are some classroom ideas that, while rough, have potential to widen knowledge in science, history, English, technology, critical thinking, role-playing and research. All these lessons are discovery processes that are best utilized with a teacher who is willing to look outside of the standard teaching model and use their student’s experiences in the learning process. I may not be in the classroom anymore, but I am always learning and will always be a student myself. Music, media and pop culture are engrained in my life and yet, they are more a bigger piece of today’s youth than ever before. The evolution of music doesn’t stop inside a classroom; the classroom is where the evolution of music is exponentially expanded. A family tree doesn’t get bigger without new blood. For every new song and every new listener the seedlings of popular music gets pushed deeper into the soil of culture. May the rings of this tree keep growing.

July 9, 2008

We Are The Ones

Yes We Can

Continue reading "Yes We Can" »

July 7, 2008

Katy Perry Video Review

Katy Perry’s new video “I Kissed a Girl� is an attempted throw back to 80’s excess with a dash of pin up doll vulnerability. Katy starts the video with quick glances of legs, lips and little bit of cleavage to get the interest of the viewer, male or female, and then quickly takes her next shot into a slow rise up from her feet, which are incased in six inch stilettos, to her legs and finally pans up to her face. Here is where we see the full shot of Katy in a short dress, 1920’s pinned back hair and holding a cat. I think the reference for what the cat stands for doesn’t need to be mentioned. This follow up to her song “Ur so Gay�, which was a standout to what all girlfriends wish they could say to their exes, is essentially the one song on the album made to hook the listener. It’s the guaranteed number one on the CD while the video to this hit, well, sucked. After the scene moves into something other than her lying on a bed, we get to witness her standing in the middle of a room trying to figure out just what exactly she is supposed to be doing. Meanwhile in the background, women are surrounding her, wearing castoff clothes from Madonna’s Truth or Dare tour and a Pussycat Dolls B List audition, trying to appear sexy. The image they give instead is of a brothel waiting room where women wait to be picked to go upstairs. Katy is waving a cheap fan in front of her face, trying to think of actions to do, while she stands in one spot singing the same words over and over again. Next we get four or five shots of a bad 80’s video complete with fingerless gloves, pink bow leopard print shoes and a harsh orange lighting. Here’s Katy though, coming in with the aforementioned vulnerability. She starts leaning up against a wall and staring seductively into a camera, the video attempting to show that good girls, aka Katy, can behave badly and that you’re the one she wants to behave badly with. Except that, with her hand moving to cover up her face half a dozen times, she looks like she’s hiding and again, doesn’t quite know what to do. Vulnerability? Check. Now we need excess. Here we get to witness more lingerie only on Katy this time and longing looks at other women. Apparently cherry chapstick goes well with the dominatrix. The only thing missing from this sequence in the video was Katy or one of the background girls writhing on the hood of White Snakes car. Finally, 2 minutes and 6 seconds into the video things start to actually have some action to it and wouldn’t you know, it’s a pillow fight. Oh Katy. Who would have ever thought of that? At least here she looks like she is actually enjoying herself and doesn’t have to worry about singing along to the music track. Don’t worry though, that fan makes it back in and we’re back to her shaking her shoulders. To end the video, Katy’s back in the same position that she started, lying on the bed. Only this time gone is the kitty and here enters that boyfriend, sleeping soundly next to her while she awakes from a dream about kissing a girl and liking it. Leaving us with a little, all knowing smile Katy fails back into her dream. No Katy, your boyfriend won’t mind it but for our sake, keep it to yourself.

Katy Perry "I Kissed A Girl" video

American Idol?

I don’t watch American Idol. If I had to do a rough estimate of how many minutes I have spent watching American Idol I could possible add up to 45. The 45 minutes I was watching wasn’t the competition either. I was watching the auditions; the bad ones. William Hung, known for singing the song “She Bangs�, is the biggest winner of all the losers. He recently has been offered a record contract by Fuse Music Television and has gone onto sing on both the Ellen Degeneres show and the Early Show on CBS. (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/02/19/earlyshow/leisure/celebspot/main601111.shtml)
He considering the deal, but he may want to look at how the past winners and runner-ups of the show have fared with their record labels. Katherine McPhee, Taylor Hicks, Ruben Studdard, and Blake Lewis have all been dropped from their record contracts. Fickle Americans, you vote them your winners and almost winners, but then don’t buy their albums. Give the losers a chance though and the tide turns a bit. Jennifer Hudson has an Oscar under her belt, Kellie Pickler has a top selling country album, and Chris Daughtry has had a few top charting songs. Maybe William Hung really does have a chance.

Given poor album sales, Americans love American Idol and the contestants that go along with the show. American Idol tours sell out tickets and stadiums city after city and the show is ranked 1 and 2 in the 0708 broadcast season. (http://tvbythenumbers.com/2008/07/03/top-season-to-date-broadcast-shows-by-viewers-2/4319) Obviously the market is there and American Idols demographics show that. With 50% of its viewers between the ages of 18-49 the country is watching and voting and waiting for the next big controversy. As read in the week 3-4 syllabus, Brian Dunkleman, a former co-host of the show, claimed the contestants were owned by the show and record companies associated with the show and that the Idolists were not treated right. Paula Abdul opens her mouth and the comments that spew forth end up on the front page of the variety section or on the cover of US weekly. Even Simon, known for his rude comments, makes the entertainment headlines for how he rips into the contestants. Viewers aren’t watching for the music, they are watching to hear what is going to be said after the song has been sung. Along the way, favorites get picked, voted on and booted off knowing that they will be back to tour with the rest of the gang.

As a music consumer, I don’t watch American Idol to help me pick out the next CD that I am going to listen to. I listen to multiple radio stations, I take into account what my friends are listening to and I read reviews in magazines about CDs. This is the case with many of my friends as well. While American Idol does have very good singers on their show, singers are a dime a dozen. The contestants are covering songs that have already been recorded or popularized by other artists. Karaoke bars do the same thing. I didn’t buy the Carrie Underwood CD because I saw her on American Idol. I bought it because I liked hearing her take apart a cheating boyfriends car. I bought it because even after I was bombarded by her song on the radio every hour and a half when it was first released on the country station, I didn’t change the station. Also, I didn’t watch Dreamgirls because it had an American Idol alum in it. I watched it because it looked like a good film, the reviews and nominations it received were above average and the music was emotionally packed, something you could feel in a 30 second preview. I watch and listen to something because I like it, not because it’s number 1 on the Neilson ratings.

So, back to you William Hung. Good luck on being a loser and laughing off the comments and parodies that were made in your name. But no matter how much you are played over the air and pasted in the entertainment section, this music consumer is not buying it.

June 29, 2008

Hip Hop

My first rap that I knew by heart was the theme song from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. “From West Philadelphia born and raised, on a playground is where I spend most of my days.� Give me the beginning beats and I could probably still go though all of the words. Hip hop to me was not used to tell about racial difference, a sexual position or social injustice. It was a catchy tune that signaled to me that one of my favorite sitcoms was about to start. Little did I know that soon my experience would blossom to Salt N’ Pepa’s “Short Dick Man� which was played on the bus to volleyball games, Sir Mixalot’s “Baby Got Back� which was played at dances and Vanilla Ice’s “Ice, Ice, Baby� which was played by everyone. Looking back though, I didn’t actually listen to the songs. I bobbed my head to them, sung along to the words but didn’t really understand what it all meant. To quote a memorable line from White Men Can’t Jump, Wesley Snipes said to Woody Harrelson “you can listen to Jimi but you can't hear him. There's a difference man. Just because you're listening to him doesn't mean you're hearing him�. I wasn’t hearing anything other than something catchy.

With that also on my mind, I’m sitting outside on my porch, listening to the sounds of cars as they go by. Where my road turns, I live in a predominately white area of the city and as I look at the people inside the cars, I can’t help but notice the teenagers listening to loud hip hop. I wonder if they understand what they are listening to and are asking themselves whether the lyrics that they are singing along to are fostering hate, a higher social consciousness or are strictly for entertainment value.

After reading the different articles about the beginnings of hip hop, I was impressed by the way Ice Cube described “the purpose of his music in terms of helping whites to better understand the historical and ongoing dimensions of racism directed at blacks. He alludes directly to the educational purpose of his music-that he is not only trying to entertain but to inform.� (Morrell and Duncan-Andrade). After reading that quote I wondered where the direction of hip hop is now going. For example, listening to the song by Lil’ Kim from the last posting, I fail to find the educational benefits of “How Many Licks.� The same goes for the two current recognizable names in rap, Eminem and 50 Cent. Both sing about homophobia, yet claim that they are not homophobic. The educational and entertainment value of those songs is severly limited and yet are top ten sellers.

I also took from these articles that the one source of music that every culture, every socioeconomic level and every person knows about is hip hop. In some areas, the term that is used may not be hip hop exactly, but the music most definitely ties into that genre. I also took away from the articles that if everybody knows of this music in some form, then everybody can break it apart. Whether textually (Morrell and Duncan-Andrade), digitally (Mahiri) or through the actually language (Richardson) hip hop is a connecting factor that can be used in classrooms across the nation. In the article The ABCs of HIP HOP, a quote form Michael Barnes said it best “Nothing else, currently, allows for you to talk about race, class, gender, sexuality, nationality, politics and the economy like hip hop music and culture.� (http://www.tolerance.org/teach/activities/activity.jsp?ar=815) Since I do believe this to be true, every subject can be looked at with hip hop favorably. I was especially impressed with the makers of Flocabulary and was glad to see that someone took the idea of music and memorization applied it to hip hop. Looking through the Flocabulary website (http://www.flocabulary.com/) I thought it was a great way to teach students the vocabulary needed for college prep tests as well the other options of Shakespeare and US History. Even the website, http://www.tolerance.org/teach/activities/activity.jsp?ar=815, I thought was great because it gave teachers who may be starting out and wanting to use Hip Hop, a first step and good ideas.

June 28, 2008

Music and Censorship

To understand what censorship was I wanted to get a definition of the word.
Censorship is the suppression of speech or deletion of communicative material which may be considered objectionable, harmful or sensitive, as determined by a censor (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship).
What came to mind right away was that by definition censorship has to be determined by a censor. A human being that has education, opinions, life events and outlooks that may be different than mine. If the censor has very little in common with me why are they telling me what I should or shouldn’t listen to. And if they do have a lot in common with me shouldn’t they trust me to make my own decision on what I should listen to. Unfortunatley this is a situation that is never going to happen. There is always going to be someone or some organization who thinks they know what is better for me. What I really found interesting was that the music that was being censored ranged from rap to pop to even christian. It seemed to me that no genre was safe from scrutiny. In the eighties I got the sense it was more rock, folk and emerging pop that were either banned form record stores, omitted from radio playlists or burned. In the ninties and this decade largely rap, metal and rock were under the strict lens of communication organizations, the government and now large retail chain and schools.
I also found it interesting that the complaints could have come from a radio listener or a large number of conservative groups. The songs could have one word or multiple lines that were being protested or it could have been something that was a simple as the title of the song or the cover of a CD case. Nothing was considered off limited and yet nothing was concrete. In 1986 CBS Music sets a strict, yet vague, company-wide policy regarding explicit lyrics (http://ericnuzum.com/banned/incidents/80s.html). The Federal Communication Commission would fine radio stations for playing both edited and unedited versions of songs. MTV would be removed from cable networks in areas after complaints of inappropriate songs but then put back on after complaints from viewers that they wanted MTV. Finally in 2000 the Federal Trade Commission held hearings stating that the entertainment industry should be regulated and sanctioned for deliberately marketing violent and sexual content to children (http://ericnuzum.com/banned/incidents/00s.html) and then followed that hearing with a finger shaking at the music industry in 2001. Based on the actions of these groups as well as many others, any song, no matter what the topic or genre could offend someone.
Listening to the two pieces of music by Ozzy Osbourne and Ice Cube, I understood why so many complaints were made by individuals and organizations, but I stand by the idea that freedom of expression should not be censored but instead talked about and understood. Many questions came to when I read and listened to the songs and I hope they arose at the time those songs was released as well. Why did Ozzy write that song about drinking? It’s known fact that he has had his own issues with drinking and drugs. Would it be so hard to believe that this was his own way of expressing how he felt about himself? Why did the parents feel that it made a big enough impression on their child that he would commit suicide? Personally I have had times in my life that things seem bleak, but listening to a sad song didn’t put me in a bigger rut. The issues that I was facing did. Why did Ice-T write a song called “Cop Killer�? Could it be because he felt that the issue of police brutality and racial profiling was so rampant that it needed to be addressed in a way the he knew would garner attention from all angles? The song did get into newspapers, television and on the radio and a lot of talk and debate was brought up.
People have used music as a form of expression or protest for years and has helped to bring a wide range of topics into view. I believe that using certain words that are going to be called out is a deliberate attempt to broadcast a idea. Singers and songwriters know it’s going to push peoples buttons and a conversation is going to get started. So thank you censor, because if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have looked up the Blind Faith album cover, or listened to Sarah Jones and DJ Vadim “Your Revolution�.

June 27, 2008

Videos: Then and Now

Leslie Gore and Lil’ Kim. In terms of listening to their music and watching their videos, they are nothing alike. Yet in terms of their popularity for their eras, both succeeded in having songs reach #1 and becoming major names in the recording industry.

Gore, a singer from the “girl group era� was best known her first hit single, the 1963 song “It’s My Party� (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leslie_Gore). At the time that she recorded the single she was 16 years old and the song was about a boyfriend who had gone off with another girl and Gore’s reaction to that. It was interesting to watch this video because when it is done playing, youtube allows you to watch related videos. I followed up “It’s My Party� with “It’s Judy’s Turn to Cry�. I found it very interesting that her first song talks about how she needs her man to have a good time at her party and that she wasn’t going to be happy until he came back to her. I feel this is a very young outlook on love, especially if it is a first love. Her second single then was a follow up to her #1 hit about how Johnny came back to her. The man was forgiven and the other girl was left behind. I also thought this showed a young view of love because all it took to get Johnny back was to make him jealous. The video itself I thought fit the song. In this black and white clip (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XsYJyVEUaC4&feature=related), Gore is standing on a stage with female synchronized dancers dancing behind her as well as to the side. In the audience couples are dancing back and forth with each other while she sings. To begin with a camera frames Gore and a few of her background dancers. It then zooms in and starts to change between mid-shots and medium close-ups of Gore. You get to see her singing and trying to convey how she feels about her man walking in with a different girl. Each new shot of Gore will last anywhere between 12 to 15 seconds before moving on to a different area of the floor or a different shot. I also liked the slow variation of shots because during the group scenes you see her friends “keep dancing all night.�

Kimberly Jones, aka Lil’ Kim, known for her hardcore rap and barely there outfits, recorded “How Many Licks� on her second album The Notorious K.I.M. The song is about Lil' Kim bragging about the various men she's been with and the effects her "dolls" have on men (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_Many_Licks%3F). This song reflects quite a different aspect of men and women. In Gore’s video, the woman pined after the man. In Lil’ Kim’s video, the woman had her choice of any man she wanted and he really didn’t matter. He was expendable and one of many. While Gore’s song has innocence in it, “How Many Licks� has fantasy. It gives the impression that the woman has everything but only if she is sexually charged, pin up hot and willing to treat a man, as well as her self worth, with indifference. The content of the song is very “colorful� and so was the video was as well. It moved very quickly and was highly charged with various camera angles and many scenes that included people as well as objects (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuqJssfGG8U). How it starts with the camera switching between a wide shot to a long shot to a mid shot and back again gives us a very intense feeling. She looks you in the eye and then turns away. The camera angle also changes between a straight on shot to a high angle shot, where it is angled towards Lil’ Kim. During this she is walking forward and at least once bares her teeth giving a menacing expression. The term man-eater comes to mind as well as her “declaring control over her sexuality, which meant that she was nullifying the power of the male gaze.� (http://www.imagesjournal.com/issue05/features/fiona2.htm. The rest of the video plays out like a story with her lyrics corresponding to the scenes in the video with occasional erotic dancing. These specific scenes of the video also brought to mind Mark Zeltner article and a comparison to eighties videos where “women…defined themselves by their relationship to the male gaze. The women in these videos seemed to pose for the camera and wanted to be objects of voyeurism.�

What a difference forty years can make. While Leslie Gore’s video was drastically different from what Lil’ Kim’s was, both cannot define but do highlight how love and relationships have changed. I can’t forget though that in the time of Gore’s song, the hippie movement of free love and peace was on the rise, something that can’t be seen in Gore’s song and video. Lil’ Kim’s video is the same. It doesn’t define a wide scale movement and help to define what love is in 2000. Yet both videos show what time can do to an idea like love and make us sing along to it.

June 25, 2008

My Music Evolution

I owned a brown and orange plastic record player. I had records that would play nursery rhymes or children’s songs. I would listen to a song until I knew the words by heart and then I would run around the house reciting them over and over again. Some of it was because I thought I was a singer back then, but most of it was because I really wanted to annoy my older sister. As a younger sibling, I took great pride in being able to bug and frustrate Jessie. She was four years older and had no time for me but with my record player, I got her attention . Of course, being noticed also meant getting made fun of and beaten up a bit but I also got to become a fly on the wall and soak up all things older.

It was probably the late eighties and Jessie finally had gotten her own bedroom in the basement and I was still stuck sharing a room with our younger sister Katie. Jessie was in middle school sports and often times would not be home right after school and I always snuck into her room and to go through all of her tapes that she was listening to. I remember seeing AC/DC, Poison and Billy Idol. All tough rock! I would listen to a few songs on her giant black boom box; always remembering to rewind the tape back to the exact spot. At school the next day, I would wait until the sixth graders were in the bathroom talking about boys and teachers and finally music. I remember one time, Stacy Pettis was talking about AC/DC, I was washing my hands and I looked up. “AC/DC, I listen to them.� They turned to look at me and I could feel my face turn red but for my gutsy interruption I got them to say, “Cool.� That was it. The conversation was over, but to have sixth graders talk to me, a third grader, made my day. It wasn’t soon after that I started to beg for a boom box of my own. I had long forgotten the record player and had moved on to the family stereo, but now I needed something of my own.

My next form of technology was a boom box. I had saved up from helping my mom in the house (our home was also gendered) and my dad around the house and was able to buy a metallic red two cassette, one record and one play, boom box. One problem though. Now that I had the coolest radio/cassette player, I didn’t have any cassettes. In no way shape or form was Jessie letting me listen to her tapes and I had just spent my money on the boom box. Now what? Thank god for mothers! My mom took me to the public library where you could check out cassette tapes and check them out I did. The very first one was Cher and soon I was moving on to Gloria Estafan, Tiffany, Debbie Gibson, and Madonna. My mom would get blank tapes and using my dual cassette player I would pirate the songs.

Eventually I moved on to the portable tape player and finally the CD player. And once again I was stuck not having any CD’s to listen to. This time it was different though. Jessie was not a big spender on objects that weren’t clothes and so my listening selection was limited to whatever my dad could find on super clearance in the entertainment section. Then I got a job and the first CD I bought with my very own money was Queen. It wasn’t something new or even on the radio, but I heard them on the Mighty Ducks movie and instantly wanted that song. Same thing happened with the movie Material Girl and Madonna (movies and music, hmmm). My music collection soon expanded to everything and anything from TLC to Coolio (Dangerous Minds) to Bob Dylan. A pattern was set. The majority of my CD’s were from groups that I heard on a movie or were the movie soundtrack. I started to listen to all types of music from country, folk, and rock to reggae, blues, and jazz. If you read off the names of my CD’s it probably started to read like the wiki article on American Popular Music.

Currently, I don’t own an iPod, docking station or an online account at iTunes. I’m still go to the library to get CD’s and when I’m in the mood for something off beat, I turn on 89.3. Still a former coworker once said it best. “If my life was a movie, it would have a kick ass soundtrack.�

June 22, 2008

Films and Education

If I was Dewey Finn my students would LOVE me. I would start the classroom day by having the students listen to a song that I chose and perhaps I would also follow along on my guitar. After I was finished and the song was over I would have a few of the students grab an instrument as well and we would do a variation of that song. Of course if I was Dewey Finn, my classroom would have 15 students, who all sat quietly in their chairs, waiting to be instructed on whether they can get up and talk or to pull out their history textbook. Never mind that if I was Dewey Finn, I also would not have a teaching degree and an administrator that would pop his or her head a least once if not twice a week. Dewey Finn and the students of School of Rock do not exist. Gone are the days that the classroom size is 15, it’s more like 35, and in my experience a classroom has never sat so calmly in anticipation of the day to come. Rather, the 35 students would all be doing activities along the lines of running around, sitting in groups gossiping, or skipping class. If I was a lucky teacher, one or two of the 35 would be sitting in their desks waiting for school to begin. The reality of what teaching is can not be shown in a movie. Even what I believe to be the most realistic movies about teaching and tough students, Freedom Writers and Dangerous Minds, gloss over how hard it is to truly connect with students. Yes, they do show the many obstacles stand in a teacher’s way but they show them with inspiring music in the background that makes the watcher believe that given the right soundtrack anything is possible.

That being said, I love those movies. I love the movies about how a teacher can turn around a classroom in a year or how a coach can turn a losing team into a winner. Those are the stories that make me believe that if I keep trying to motivate a group of individuals, everything will turn out for the better. I know that I’m not gullible and I’m certainly not naïve, but I do know that teaching is hard and can wear away at your edges. A most recent movie, Half Nelson, with Ryan Gosling, portrays an inner city teacher who is hooked on drugs, and even in Freedom Writers, Hilary Swank’s character loses a husband. Yet, even with those troubling issues, the two main characters still teach, still inspire and in turn are affected greatly by their student population.

In terms of labeling, what would a film be without the hero, the villain, and the damsel in distress. Each teaching film has these qualities just like every other film out there. It wouldn’t be Hollywood and a blockbuster if they didn’t have the necessary elements and in a lot of cases it wouldn’t have an audience. The main characters in each of these movies could have any one of the labels that Shannon and Crawford listed off. Those labels also brought to mind other movies that weren’t on the list. Who can forget the teacher on The Breakfast Club? He earned himself the label of “jailer� and throughout the movie worked hard to maintain authority against his “inmates.� The films that were listed in the article “Top Ten Picks for Great Teacher Flicks� (http://www.educationworld.com/a_admin/admin/admin156.shtml) got picked for a reason. They are all highly visible movies that those in the teaching profession can recall and some can say helped to steer them toward their living. Teaching movies also prepared future teachers for roadblocks that they were going to face. If it wasn’t a student who was hard to reach, it was the administration or district that didn’t have the funds, the resources, or the will to help. In Music of the Heart, Meryl Streep used music to reach her students and had to go up against cuts in funding to help keep her program afloat.

Like I previously mentioned, a bad situation, a trying time or an uplifting moment, set to a great song, can cause a person to feel huge ranges of emotion and also make you feel like you are part of the protagonist’s struggle. In Dangerous Minds, a thumping beat and the lyrics of Coolio got you in the moment with LouAnne Johnson and her students. It also made the soundtrack extremely popular. A white middle-class girl like myself felt a little tougher when listening to the rap song that came from the movie. I in no way was an inner city girl with a rough life, but listening to that music and watching that movie gave my imagination a little creative stirring. This goes with any movie and the score that goes with it. Just by listening to one song, a person can be put into a specific movie scene. If I said Celine Dion “The Heart Will Go On�, then name that movie, I’m going to say Titanic. Whitney Houston and “I Will Always Love You�? Well that’s gotta be The Bodyguard and now Jack Black with a little bit of every rock song? Well of course School of Rock.

June 19, 2008

What and Why Pop

What kind of music do you listen to? It’s such a simple question that can cause a lot of panic. How specific or vague should I answer? In the three articles that I read that helped to define “popular music�, I came away knowing I can’t answer that question wrong, but I am guaranteed a response.

The importance of popular music and asking that question is because it helps to show a timeline of important events and movements. The article“American Popular Music� (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_popular_music) shows this by defining the different styles beginning in the 1800’s. Just as different styles highlight a growth in the music industry it also defines a growth for whole countries and cultures. In the article, “How It all Began-A Cultural Revolution� (www.gpwi.ac.jp/~biddle/youth.htm), I read how youth in the 1950’s had no personal identity and were younger versions of their parents. They listened to the same music and typically ended up in the same jobs. It wasn’t until closer to the 1960’s that a change in youth values and ideas helped to bring about the distinction between adult and young person. During this change in the British “rite of passage�, icons in the musical community helped to lead and give youth their own subcultural soundtrack. If it wasn’t for the emerging popular music many subcultures, such as the “Hippies�, “Mod�, “Punk and “Teddy Boys, may not have come to be or existed to the extent that they did. While reading about these different groups I connected them to a big subculture/movement around my time, the grunge/garage band. Nirvana was especially popular and their music, as it said in the article, “American Popular Music� (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_popular_music), helped to define the Generation X.

In another article, “Arab Youth Revel in Pop Revolution� (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6666725.stm), the same type of change is occurring within their society. Just as it was in Britain 60 years ago, the Middle East also did not have a distinction between the music that parents and children listen to. Now, with over 40 music channels and pop superstars, male and female, the Arab youth are connecting with each other and other countries. They are repackaging and redefining themselves. With this change though also comes the controversy. Are the glossy videos demeaning or empowering to women and to a culture? Or are they true representation of a new generation? As I was reading about Lebanese singer, Haifa Wehbe and her suggestive lyrics and well as scantily clad fans, I immediately thought of high school and Brittany Spears “Hit Me Baby One More Time.� Her outfit in that video and videos to follow caused many parents to suggest that she was being to sexually provocative and was not a proper role model. This leads me into the necessity of teaching popular music in the classroom.

By including CDs, videos, or lyrics in curriculum, a wall can be broken in a student/teacher relationship and connections to critical thinking and comprehension can be made. In a fourth article that we read, “Clouding the Issues� (http://magazine.uchicago.edu/0304/features/clouding.html) a great point was made that students know how to argue. When asked to do something, children and teenagers will have a response based on reasons and theories on why they shouldn’t do it. Over time these responses become fine tuned and very skilled. By using popular music and it’s relating issues, ie the article concerning Arab Pop Culture, teachers can utilize a student’s natural ability to argue and mold it into forms of debate, journalism, and history. By connecting popular music with academia young people are going to feel that they are no longer causing trouble and confrontation but rather articulating and adding to a subject. I also feel that the teaching popular music is important because as more and more students move on to higher education, they need to have a broader range of knowledge as opposed to a specific expertise. As I left college, more than once I was told that it didn’t matter what degree I left with, as long as I had a degree. That being the case, society expects our children to know vast amounts of information and popular music, with all its different topics, subjects, artists, and background, is a great place to start.