A lot of what we do in the South High guitar room is based on inidvidual or group creating. We create our own lyrics, we create our own melodies, we create arrangements of songs. This week, we are taking pre-existing poems that students picked out and writing the music that will eventually turn the poetry into a song. The students were very thoughtful in the poems that they picked out and we tried to have a variety of books that students could choose from including African-American poets, female poets, Native American poets, Latino/a poets and Somali poets-which basically represents the students that come into this classroom. We wanted to have a variety of resources and eras for students to choose their poetry.
Students have learned a variety of chords and songs throughout this semester and how they work within the context of a pre-existing song. Now they are in charge of making the musical decisions about what chords to use, what strumming patterns to incorporate and the melodic flow to their song. We haven't necessarily studied these concepts in depth, but students have a basic understanding of what these are as individual components and we can discuss what a melody is, but this is a great way for students to demonstrate their understanding of melody. They are not being asked to notate it, but they will be asked to express their lyrics in some way-that can be through singing or rapping (which is a form of rhythmic melody).
As a teacher, I really enjoy how this class has unfolded this semester. The students have embraced a project-based learning approach rather than being told what to do all the time. However, rather than me sharing what I have noticed, I thought I would allow a couple students to express some of what they have learned in the class. (Excuse the loud interviewer......)
I overheard my colleague share this sentiment this week and it has resonated with me ever since. This week was an incredibly tough week for our students (and staff). Our school embraces progressive ideology and the result of Tuesday night's election weighed heavily on students and staff the next day. Many of the students with whom I work are afraid for their own personal safety, as well as the safety for their families and friends. Based on the election's rhetoric, many of the students with whom I work have been targeted because they are minorities and immigrants. Thankfully, I work in a school who embraces all walks of life and we support our students-and the students support each other.
Music can offer a place and moment for healing, as well as expression. Music is powerful in that we can escape the realities of the world, or it can help us to face the realities of the world. Music can provide us a place to safely express our emotions, either through lyrics or by simply strumming a guitar or improvising over chord changes. Music is a way to communicate.
As a former band director I remember working hard to get the kids to get the right notes, the right rhythms and dynamics. I would like to say that I didn't lose sight of the real reason we create music, or share music, but I know that I did. I could turn this post into something that addresses competition and festivals, but this isn't where I want to go with this. I want to share how this statement "We share our music to express, not to impress" has impacted myself and my students, especially this week.
Our jazz concert is coming up on Monday. Today was the last rehearsal that we have to really get everything in the pocket. These kiddos meet at 7:15 every morning (what jazz musician does that?!). Wednesday morning they came in just looking tired and defeated. We discussed, we cried and then we played. We played "Blue Monk" because they wanted to play a blues....and they played the heck out of it. They were playing with emotion and feeling. Something that cannot be taught, but can only be felt. Today, after what seemed like the longest week in school history we had our final rehearsal and they did it again. I shared with them the quote that I am referencing and I think it clicked with them. Music only happens when we can truly express it, when we take ownership and create our own meaning of what is in front of us and what is in our minds. This week proved that music is very capable of healing.
Additionally, music can be extremely empowering. Last week we concluded our "Cover Project" in our guitar classes. Self-selected groups picked out songs that they wanted to learn. The used a variety of sources to learn the chords, melody and lyrics. They put together their covers in about 10 days. It was pretty awesome to watch them share their music with the classes. The students were very supportive for each other. The video below is one example of the cover projects. These girls are all new to guitar this semester. I am so proud of these girls, not only for their hard work and willingness to collaborate, but also the song they picked out, which is "Pretty Hurts" by Beyonce."