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Music Education Sans Brittany
I’m teaching again, much to the consternation of the people who knew me as a student, and so far, this is shaping up as a pretty good semester. Of course, we’re only three weeks into it, so there’s still plenty of time for a disaster, but I’m optimistic.
The subject is “The History of American Popular Music.” I got the job by virtue of my experience as a newspaper music critic, back when newspapers had such things. I got that job by virtue of my experience as a musician. And I just noticed that this is the first time I have ever seen the word virtue appear in a paragraph about me. Twice, no less.
Anyway, one of the things I love about teaching this class is shattering the perceptions of students who think the history of American Popular Music is going to be a class about today’s pestiferous host of one-named pop stars, from Akon to Zendaya, or a tradition that goes back to such antiquities as Madonna and Prince.
I define popular music as “music made by people.” Of course, this lets out a lot of today’s pop songs because as far as my ears can tell, the greater share of the electronic noise that blasts through modern earphones has been untouched by human hands.
So I take my students all the way back to the 17th Century or so and work forward through the different eras of American history and the music they spawned. And the nice thing is you don’t encounter any singers named Brittany for most of the trip.
I like teaching. I like looking out over a classroom and seeing the bright, eager faces buried in their laptops and concentrating furiously on their smart phones. And then I like telling them that anyone plinking away on an electronic device after class begins will eat it. As I say this, I usually put a bottle of room service ketchup on the lectern. Works every time.
But I also make sure my students know my philosophy of education, which is:
(a.) It should be enjoyable if not downright fun.
(b.) It should teach you more than is apparent in the subject matter, and
(c.) The teacher-student relationship should be cooperative, not adversarial.
As you may already have surmised, this is a philosophy based on (d.) everything my education was not.
I kid. Sort of. I had fun, I learned a lot, and I had some wonderful teachers. But I also have entire years of school that I have chosen to wipe from my memory simply because they were so awful, so boring, or so awfully boring. This accounts for fifth, seventh, ninth and 12th grades and most of my college courses.
I tell my students it is my job to help them get the best grade possible. They like that idea. Then I tell them that they’ll be doing most of the heavy lifting and they don’t like it quite as much, but at least they know I’m on their side.
And now, if you will excuse me, I have to prepare a lesson plan on the music of Stephen Foster. Last week I asked for a show of hands to see if anybody even knew who he was. Not a paw went up. As you can see, I have my work cut out for me. Or rather, my students do.
© 2011 Mike Redmond. All Rights Reserved.
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