Monday, December 30, 2013

History Through Music

Humans can’t help but make music, just like humans can’t help but make history. Music evolves alongside history; the two unfolding hand in hand, which is why music so vividly reflects whatever culture births it, and also why it's only natural to integrate the two. Ken Robinson also discusses the hidden benefits of cross-disciplinary pursuits, which enable students to see and understand connections they otherwise couldn’t, through the eyes of one discipline alone. Many students find history dull, and likewise, many history teachers struggle to captivate their students’ interests.
This is because the teachers must adhere to a particular curriculum, and must drill a certain amount of names and dates into their students’ brains to prepare them for the next examination (which is terrible). But students don’t care about the arbitrary stuff like names and dates. They care about what people feel. They want to know what it was like to be abroad, fighting a battle for a country who doesn’t want to be at war, uncertain whether you’ll ever see your wife again. They want to feel the weight of slavery and the apartheid on their shoulders, just to know what it was like. They want to see history through the eyes of those who lived it, not the authors of their textbook.
Tim O'Brien writes a detailed account of what it was like to be in Vietnam, for instance, in The Things They Carried, fighting a war against a million emotions that ring true with many kids today. The same is also true of music, which unites us timelessly as humans. I mentioned that students are interested in how it felt to live the history they’re learning--this was captured and preserved within the music made by those who lived it. Art, and literature, too. “Art History” is available to students in some public high schools (mine, for instance). I took it, and would have dreaded it if I had any other teacher. She was forced to cram too much material into too little time, as are most teachers, but she made time to relate and make it interesting, and put the context of the artist’s times and circumstances into contemporary terms the class could understand, often crudely. Not to mention, she’s hilarious and passionate about art history. She always reacted to the art, whether positive or negative, she either loved it, ridiculed or loathed it. I didn’t always agree, but it inspired me to form my own opinions and embrace my own responses to the art, not just memorize the date, city and name of artist, but its significance in its own time, as well as mine.
Geisha Painting by Gerard Doyle
Phantom Fox Art Blog
But the best thing about music, I believe, is everyone has access to it, regardless of their social class. Literature was largely exclusive to the upper class through much of history, and often limited to men. Art can be made by anyone, but often isn’t prominent in history unless the artist had extensive training and apprenticeship, and subsequently, recognition. This is true in some cases, of course, not all. Some artists came from modest means, but music comes from anybody. The voices who most desperately need to be heard often present themselves in songs, however subtly or metaphorically. Hearing the lyrics and the moods and emotions interwoven in the music of those times rings truer to most students than copying bullet-points down from the Smart Board. Music would engage students in the material they’re learning, which is the only way to learn it, if you ask me. It isn’t learning if you couldn’t care less about it. Music is universal to all of us, so why not study not just history itself, but the way that those who lived through it expressed themselves through music?

I ran this idea past my boyfriend Oscar (as he was blasting “All I Know” by Julian Marley), and he said, “If we had classes to cater to our interests like that, I doubt I’d be cutting meat right now.”

Watch these videos and tell me you know more about a group of people from a paragraph in a textbook than you do watching them dance, and hearing them sing and drum in the rhythm of their ancestors. There's a timelessness to music and dance. The way the women swing their hips and lift their heals in the islands, and how the movements of their ankles are sometimes reminiscent of the traditional Indian dance below, and the significance of that, which is your's to interpret and debate.

No comments:

Post a Comment