Last year we (two ARSC members) piloted a program teaching 8th graders
about the Great Depression using music recorded during that time. We
reached out to the list during this project for questions about specific
songs. Todd Harvey at the Library of Congress helped us a great deal to
find recordings that we used. We divided an 84 student class into 21
groups, giving each group a track to study. They were asked to transcribe
the lyrics of the track, research the performer (s), writer (s), the
engineer, and generally unlock the mystery and stories of the song as a
musicologist might. We even called the students the first cohort of The
League Of Young Musicologists.
Our premise, which we are sure many of you will relate to, was that music
can tell the stories of our lives…of our history and our humanity…better
than anything else. The students gathered pictures, articles, self-made
drawings and other ephemera about the material and were tasked to write a
final essay for each track. We then had Barbara Bersche (designer of
amazing box sets like ALAN LOMAX IN HAITI, PAUL BOWLES IN MORACCO, and the
most recent set of Bill Ferris’ life work) take all that the students found
and create an incredible book/CD package for the students to keep.
The school….the students…their parents…had never seen anything like it. The
feedback we got was pretty great all around.
We are going to repeat this curriculum next year and we are looking to
potentially offer a small amount of finished book/CD packages for public
consumption (obviously getting the rights to do so) making the students
graduate junior high with a publishing credit.
So here is why we are telling you all of this. We are going to focus on
the 20s this year and we are beginning the process of finding tracks that
can tell stories about that era. We are reaching out to all of
you…especially those who oversee music archives that might have recordings
that fit this project or that know where there are recordings that fit this
project—to help us get our track list together. We prefer recordings that
have not had much public distribution (makes the recordings less googleable
and makes the research seem more meaningful to the kids). We are
definitely interested in the obscure. Last year, one group tracked down an
obscure singer that was in a quartet that John Lomax recorded in the 1930s
to his church in San Antonio, to a niece that was still living. We received
a photo of the singer later in life...and suddenly for the students,
history came alive.
We hope to hear from you!
David Katznelson & Skip Walter