Music In The Classroom

Recently I decided to include more music into my lessons. I started this with my American Literature courses (the College in the High School and mainstream classes), and my students have reacted quote favorably.

Initially, I used The Who’s “Baba O’Rily” and “My Generation” with Anne Tyler’s “Teenage Wasteland.” Not only do the lyrics match the short story quite well, but the pacing of “Baba O’Reily” matches the story as well, especially the abrupt finish.

With The Grapes of Wrath I included “This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie and Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” My favorite part of Guthrie’s folk song is the last two (often forgotten or excluded) verses:

As I was walkin’ – I saw a sign there
And that sign said – no tress passin’
But on the other side …. it didn’t say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!

In the squares of the city – In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office – I see my people
And some are grumblin’ and some are wonderin’
If this land’s still made for you and me.

These lines really seem to sum up the feelings of Tom Joad at the end of the novel as he realizes that “his people” may not have a place in this country, that he will have to fight for the “Okies” and any other underdog.

Springsteen’s ballad contains folksy, desperate imagery much like Steinbeck’s simple but beautiful prose. For example, he writes about “Highway patrol choppers comin’ up over the ridge” and the “Shelter line stretchin’ round the corner.” He even includes obvious allusions to Jim Casy, the humanist, and Casy’s disciple Tom Joad. Maybe less apparent is the biblical allusion to the “promised land” just as Steinbeck used the Joads to represent the Exodus to the Promised Land. It’s a wonderful song, even quoting directly from the novel.

I’m looking to add more music to my lessons as I see my students quickly engage with it.

3 thoughts on “Music In The Classroom

  1. mrschili

    I LOVE bringing in multi-media to the classroom. I’m amazed by how many movies, songs, poems, and images I can find to tie into pretty much whatever I’m teaching. It’s all about themes, and some of them are universal enough that they’re well-represented in lots of different media.

  2. Cassie

    I’ve been reading your archives this evening and I have to comment on this post. I have fond memories of the songs my AP Lit teacher used. I believe he used “Stronger” by Britney Spears on the first day of school to start a discussion of Invisible Mani by Ralph Ellison. I also remember that he used “People Are Strange” by The Doors possibly for Camus’s The Stranger and Harvey Danger’s “Flagpole Sitta” for something I can’t remember…. hmmm… maybe for Crime and Punishment as a look into Raskolnikov’s mind perhaps?)

    I’m not teaching yet, but I plan on using music in my classroom whenever I can find an appropriate match for the unit or text. I think it’s an effective way to teach literary terms/devices in a medium kids already enjoy. It doesn’t feel like “learning!”

  3. drpezz Post author

    Thank you for your comments, and welcome to my little slice of the blogosphere. I am using more and more music the longer I teach and feel my students engaging even more.

    My next experiment is with film to teach literary terms. I’ll post when I decide how I am going to proceed.


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