Category Archives: Music

The Music Video

Each year I try to include a new hook to get my students more interested in my English classes. Usually I can keep the energy level up enough, but another “in” is always welcome. This year I started using music videos (purchased online), and this year I used the following:

  • Green Day’s “Warning” during our Transcendental unit. The students love the ideas of the Transcendental writers, but they don’t always enjoy reading through the difficult vocabulary of the writings. Thus, I included this Green Day video as part of the idea of living by one’s own rules rather than the rules of society (sort of a Dead Poet’s Society carpe diem idea as well but 3.5 minutes long).
  • Blind Melon’s “No Rain” while teaching about individuality and finding one’s own group. This worked well with Modernism and Post-Modernism (loosely used) with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The students loved the Bee Girl, and we even had a quick contest to see who could do the dance. A few kids even talked about their own searches for the right group of friends. Powerful!
  • Dave Matthews Band’s “Ants Marching” is a good one for conformity and not taking charge of one’s life. The students really connected with the idea of going through routines without really thinking about them. This also came up during Modernism and Post-Modernism with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Plus, DMB’s “Typical Situation” has a fantastic chorus for teaching about conformity.
  • Blues Traveler’s “Runaround” was fun for teaching allusion and allegory. Since the entire video is an homage to The Wizard of Oz (which is perfect for the heroic cycle), the students easily saw the allusions and allegory. Also, Shrek is a fantastic set of visuals for teaching allusions.

I’ll have to see what other clips and videos I can find. 🙂

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. 🙂

Green Day and the Classroom

Today I used the embedded video below with Transcendentalism and The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. Green Day’s “Warning” is about how living in fear is not the way to live. Obviously, the video contains a fair amount of hyperbole, but the kids are sophisticated enough to see this.

First, I had the students list all of society’s rules that are violated in the video, and then I asked the students what the music group’s point is. Then I asked them to connect the video to what we are studying.

They connected this with transcendentalists’ ideas of self-reliance, individuality, and living by one’s own idea of goodness.

In Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar they connected the video with Caesar’s lines: “Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.” Living in fear is not the answer.

Two Novels of Race Relations

Two novels I taught this year were To Kill A Mockingbird and A Gathering of Old Men. Prior to and during reading these novels, I had the kids look at some songs, poems, and historical context. Here are a few of my favorite things concerning the race relations in the novels. Continue reading

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: Continue reading

Beautiful In So Many Ways

Everyone deserves a dance. And, everyone deserves a chance to dance. This story is one of those which reinforces why I love working with educators and why I have faith in our youth. Students, alongside teachers and parents, made an often overlooked group of young people feel as lucky as the Prom King and Queen. These are lessons that just can’t be taught.

At a dance for special education students:

[T]hey gathered in a circle to dance…Teachers, art students and parents joined students with Down syndrome, children in wheelchairs and students with severe vision, cognitive, physical and social handicaps.

Read the full story here.

Defending the Admin.

I’m not one who generally feels sorry for the current administrative team, and that is obviously my bias, but I did feel somewhat bad for them last week. Until the proverbial foot entered the mouth.

My school had a huge (no, gigantic would be more fitting) music concert involving over 1/4 of the student body during a two night stretch. To say the two nights were well-attended would be a massive understatement.

Well, unfortunately a bad element in the community drifted towards the concerts, and a gang fight between two boys erupted in the restroom while 8-10 look-outs stood as sentries. This occurred outside the auditorium and down the hallway where no one was really on duty to patrol. I guess a teacher noticed the look-outs, investigated, and scared everyone away. Although the kids involved were caught, it wasn’t until after they had stolen items from the choir room and parents were intimidated by these guys.

When parents complained at an open meeting about the lack of security and overall supervision, the administration admitted no principal or security were present because there had NEVER been a problem at a music event in the history of the school. This is where I felt sorry for them. We have never ever had a history of any sort of negative element attending or any disruptions at all. It just wasn’t an expected occurrence.

This is where I probably would have simply sat down in front of the with a notebook and said something like (and I hope something more elegant than), “I recognize that we dropped the ball here, and I want you to know it will not ever occur again. Please give me a list of ideas that you think could help us solve this issue, and I will then make sure we do solve this issue.” Then I’d list every complaint and every suggestion without comment and take all of it back to my administrative team to solve the problem. Apology, input, discussion, solution.

However, the Boss Lady then made a major blunder: she (and the head of district security) blamed the parents. They said the parents needed to supervise, patrol, and secure the music events. Ouch! This turned the parent group red with rage. Normally silent parents began to speak up, and speak loudly they did.

They said sports parents don’t have to do this, why should they? They were attending to watch their children perform. The district hosted the event, and they should provide a safe and secure environment. How can the music directors be in charge and perform with the students? How could no one be in charge? Why was no administrator present when one attends every sporting event? Good points.

The elephant in the room–which no one mentioned, of course–was that this was the first concert inviting the school’s all-Hispanic music group. Beneath the discussion was the implied thought that this group’s audience brought the bad element and the first ever incident at a music event. Yikes!

A solution needs to be met no matter what, but I think the leadership’s approach again strained relations with the community, our most needed allies.