Saturday, October 8, 2011

Kids These Days - Music & Social Change

I've recently been holding a discussion on the (somewhat distressing) fact that one of my students - a thirteen year old - didn't know what folk music was, or who Bob Dylan was. And it's not the fact that she's young and doesn't know that's the problem.

The issue is that by neglecting music and music history in our education system, we are denying kids (and adults) many, many more things - social context for music, social history, the role of music in the progress of civil rights, the power of art to change history... The list could go on and on. What I received from music education has informed many facets of my life. The information gained has allowed me a much higher level of sophistication in my understanding of life.

For instance...
  • Because I know who Palestrina and Martin Luther were, I know of the trends of reform in Christianity that affected and continue to affect the differentiation in religious thought and practice today.
  • Because I know who Wolfgang Mozart was, and because I know his operas, I know about the difficulties that surround patron-sponsored art, and I know of the role music and theatre can play in upsetting regimes and sparking revolution.
  • Because I know who Nannerl Mozart was, I know of the difficulties women have faced in the performing arts, and how far we've come in that direction.
  • Because I know who Gossec was, and his role in the French Revolution, I know how problematic state-sponsored, propaganda-driven music can be. Because I know who de Lisle was, I know also how even music created at the behest of the state and for specific political purpose, like La Marsailles, can rise above all that and take on meaning and life of its own.
  • Because I know who Verdi was, I know how a composer and his music can unwittingly take on a far deeper political meaning than intended, and can become thematic to an uprising.
  • Because I know who Shostakovich was, I know the problems of state-censorship, the problems caused by forcing artists to follow the desires of a political regime. I know how dangerous allowing art to be censored can be for the artist.
And more recently, in our own history...
  • Because I know who Jelly Roll Morton is, I know of the history of Storeyville, how the problems of corruption in Louisiana became so deeply ingrained that it is still affecting the state today.
  • Because I know who Billie Holiday was, I know how effective a song can be against horrors such as lynching.
  • Because I know who Marian Anderson, Roland Hayes, William Warfield and Leontyne Price were, I know how a minority can take on the majority in a "non-threatening" way, and open the way for others to follow in their footsteps.
  • Because I know who Sam Cooke was, I know both how a pop song can stir a movement towards civil rights; I also know how dangerous "country justice" can be, and the problems that arise when one group of people are valued above the rest.
  • Because I know who Bob Dylan was, I know how music can slide under the radar of the authorities, and stir people to action, to continue to struggle for the rights of man.
  • Because, even, I know who Madonna is, I know how women have struggled to define themselves in the music industry, and that one woman can become an impresario.
This list could go on and on, but the point remains clear: by denying people the history and experience of all kinds of music from all eras, we are denying them tools to shape and change the future.

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