We started one of my favorite units of study in my music technology classes this week. I design most of my instruction around the 5 elements of music: rhythm, melody, harmony, form and expression. At this point in the semester, we have covered the first four and this is the week that we start with expression. The first lesson of this unit always begins with this question for discussion: Why do people create music and songs? The students begin offering ideas: for personal enjoyment, to entertain, express their feelings, tell a story, make money, become famous, communicate, etc. This discussion leads us into writing lyrics for songs and I have a couple of songs that I usually play for the class. We listen to the lyrics, dissect them to discover who the audience is, literary devices used such as simile and metaphor, rhyme schemes, sentence structure, etc. The students get it. They basically understand the difference in the intent of a song such as "Who Says" performed by Selena Gomez versus "What Does The Fox Say?" performed by Ylvis. Nevertheless, no matter the purpose or the intent of these songs they are still inherently commercial. It is difficult to present a truly personal example of intent and purpose in musical and lyrical composition. Well that certainly changed at the end of the CNN program that I mentioned at the opening of this entry.
If you made until the end of the CNN broadcast that night, you witnessed a truly inspirational example of musical expression and intent. The broadcast ended with a performance by a group of drama students from Stoneman Douglas HS of a song that two students composed called "Shine." I'm not going to try to describe the song to you, you need to watch it:
Wow. Just wow... In the face of so much terror, anguish and anger over living through that event when 17 others lost their lives, how would you respond? I'm not sure how I would respond, but look and listen to how these students responded. They created music. They poured their hearts, souls and emotions into a song and then had the courage to stand up on national television and perform. They didn't do this for money or fame, but because they needed some way to direct their emotions, express their feelings and communicate a message. Not just for themselves, but for their friends, their school, their community and for anyone who was listening. Delivering a message of hope, determination and courage. The power of music in its purest sense. I don't know how any human being could listen and watch this performance and not be moved. Just wow...
I played this performance for my students today and I don't believe that there is a better example in existence to answer the question why do people create music, or perhaps, even better, why should people create music? My students were moved and affected by the music. I listened to the song six times today in my classes and cried every time. I truly believe that the group of students that I have right now will go through this unit very differently than any other class I have ever taught before because of the example by this group of students.
In another blog entry or perhaps on the website I will post the lesson plans for this unit or maybe give a follow up to this post, but this is the point that I hope readers will take from this entry: Teaching students how to create music and how to perform as a means of self expression is important, critically important. This could not be illustrated in a more powerful way than by what these students created in this moment. Thank you to the teachers who taught these students how to create and perform! If not for you, this song would likely never have been created and shared. Whoever taught them this will likely never come forward on their own, because that's not what we teachers do. But, I can imagine what was going on in their heads and hearts as they watched and listened to what these students created. Their teachers have given those students an incredible gift and because of their gift, those students have given something to their friends, school and community that cannot be valued highly enough.
"This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before." - Leonard Bernstein
"You may have brought the dark, but together we will shine the light." Shine - Stoneman Douglas HS
Lenny would be proud and so are the rest of us!