Day of Music

We finished The Grapes of Wrath and are starting A Gathering of Old Men, but I was gone for a few days. Now, I had intended to do this earlier, but I had time today and we had “music day.”

We listened to Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” and look at the final two verses in particular which are often not used when singing this tune. Most of the song is so hopeful and positive, but the last two verses change the feel and meaning of the song.

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.

Next, we listened to Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad” as we finished off The Grapes of Wrath. The kids were at first curious about the song’s folksy sound and gradually got into the tune while easily connecting its ideas and its final verse to the novel. The kids told me it was “cool” that people today still sing about Steinbeck’s work.

Then I talked to the class about how Springsteen may be becoming the voice of new generation. We started out listening to “Born in the USA” and focused on the desperation and sadness in the tune. Believe it or not, I used the film and novel First Blood starring Sylvestor Stallone (we didn’t actually watch the film) to discuss the post-Vietnam society and the veterans themselves as a connection to Springsteen’s 80s hit: the unemployment, the hopelessness, the frustration, and the decision to make a stand. Of course, this connects quite well to Ernest Gaines’ A Gathering of Old Men. We also briefly discussed the irony of how “Born in the USA” became such an American anthem while being a less than patriotic song.

Lastly, we listened to and examined the lyrics of “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday. My students were shocked by the title metaphor and the juxtaposition of the “pastoral scene” and the “gallant South” with the image of a hanging man. Quite a few of the kids actually questioned the truthfulness of the song’s subject, but I also have some pictures of actual lynchings with people smiling and pointing proudly to their handiwork. The kids were horrified at the sight of the pride in the photos. I’m glad they can’t imagine events like these occurring in their community, but I also want them to understand the magnitude of these horrific events and their influence on Gaines’ novel.

All in all, today was a great day and the kids were sad to leave the room at the period’s end. 🙂

3 thoughts on “Day of Music

  1. Gym334

    A Gathering of Old Men. Boy I am glad someone is still introducing kids to Earnest Gains. I love that part of Louisiana, and no one ever did quite as good a job of depicting what that area was like during that period. I grew up down here before integration, was in the Army here in the south during the civil right movement, and live in north Louisiana now.

    I have read most all of Gains’ books and reread Miss Jane Pittman and A Gathering every so often. Even with my background it is hard is hard to believe that period could ever have existed. I would sure be interested in knowing how you lay the back ground for that novel and how your kids react to the period and story.

  2. Mrs. Chili

    Doc, THIS is the kind of thing that gets me all jazzed up. EVERYTHING connects, and I get excited in the investigation of those connections. I also try to bring music in as often as I can, though I usually find that my students aren’t familiar with the music I choose, they still get something from the experience. It’s even more fun, though, if I can bring in something they DO know, though I find that my familiarity with the music they listen to is lessening (a sure sign I’m getting old!)


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