As a child some of the best times that I spent with my mother were in our car. Every Friday she would pick us up after school and drive us to weekly piano lessons. She always had music on in the car, and often Fridays would be the day that a new tape would be playing when she showed up. I remember Michael Jackson, Paul Simon, The Good Morning Vietnam Soundtrack… I remember them all. In fact, car rides with my mother taught me way more about music than all of the piano lessons in the world. Music somehow put perspective on conversations, on things we drove past, on life.
In high school I stopped playing music and started playing sports, but I never stopped gathering, collecting and listening to music. To this day music is always playing in my house, my headphones and in my class.
For about a year I have been thinking about how to meaningfully use music in my class. I decided to use music to create context.
I started with lyrics. I asked a student in my class what her favourite song was. She said The Best Song Ever. I asked what the song was about and she shrugged her shoulders.
For the next three days we worked through different songs. We talked about meaning and we tried to rename the songs to reflect their meaning. I asked the students how they would know that they had succeeded in explaining the song. Together we came up with these criteria:
Next we moved to wordless songs. I played songs form 14 Actors Acting, but I didn’t show students what the actors were doing while the songs played. (Careful when you look through these. Some are appropriate for students, others are not.) I wanted to challenge the students’ sense of imagination. Could they make a connection between music and feelings or music and action? After we had discussed a song and imagined some action that it could describe, I showed the clip to the students. It was amazing how often they were close to imagining the exact thing that the actor was showing. It became kind of a game. We repeated it a few times. Here’s our favourite:
The next day I posted this song to our class site:
Students had to post what action this wordless song might be describing. Check out their ideas!
At this point I was pretty sure that the majority of students were seeing that music is an expression of an idea or a feeling.
So, they were ready. Time for the real task.
We watched this video:
I found it by using the Creative Commons search engine. The class watched it a few times and I posted it to our class site. We talked about the different parts of the video and how the sounds helped explain the wordless text.
Next students mashed up the video using WeVideo and the Free Music Archive. When their videos were finished they had to post them to our site and defend their choices. Here are some great samples: Kathy/Jithya/Maxinne, Ali/Duke.
But this one… this is the kind of work that I never expected. Eliza, Marie and Aster showed such a deep understanding of the text that it made me speechless. I incoherently blasted out their work through twitter. One of my friends Lisa said it best:
A lot of these assignments made me think back to Friday drives with my mom. Music is such a special gift. It’s a form of expression that truly has the power to say things that our words often cannot. I invite you to borrow and steal from these lessons. The way they give voice to students is truly something special.