Music to My Ears

Image result for oldest musical instrument

Ancient flutes discovered in Germany.  About 35,000 years old, they were made of mastadon bones.

When I taught American History to fifth graders, I assembled several notebooks of music that I thought kids would be able to connect to different time periods.  Some songs were fun, some were sad, and most grew out of feelings of the people from the past to whom we are connected.

In the 80s the scope and sequence for our grade was prehistoric times through modern day, which was terrific.  I could start with recordings of Native American flutes and go all the way to “We Shall Overcome” from the Civil Rights Movement.  In between were “Yankee Doodle,” “Goober Peas” (a staple of the Confederate Civil War diet), “The Old Chisum Trail,” “Buddy Have You Got a Dime,” and “Over There.”

Early guitar by Antonio Stradavarius, AD 1679.

I was never a piano player like my sister, but I did manage basic guitar chords.  Social Studies class gave me a good excuse to bring in my twelve-string.  I sat on the old oak “guitar playin’ chair,” which I brought home when I retired, and passed out lyric sheets I’d usually typed the night before.  We pretended we were pirates, colonists, pioneers, soldiers and cowboys.  Singing led to discussions about where we were and the events leading up to the time.

Of course the music teacher was a tremendous help: one year she trained them to present the musical “Shh, We’re Writing the Constitution,” which pretty much ingrained the story of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in their minds forever.  Set, signs, costumes and actions reinforced  facts about the beginning of our nation’s great law.

The boundaries of music history, however, are much broader than our young country.  Humans followed suit of the birds and whales with the first compositions.  The “Seikilos Epitaph” from First Century Greece included musical notation and lyrics: While you live, shine/Have no grief at all/Life exists only for a short while/And time demands its fall.  Dynasties in China had full orchestras at their disposal.

The first instruments were probably drums.  We know that Egyptians played harps and flutes around 4,000 BC.  Trumpets were played in Denmark in 2,500 BC, and my guitar had its beginnings with the Hittites in 1500 BC.  Pythagoras dissected music as a science, using octaves, in 600 BC.  Tell that to school boards that desire the end of music class.  Ominous Gregorian chants originated about 600 AD.

Image result for gregorian chant

The invention of the printing press during the Renaissance made it possible to mass produce music used by the church.  During the Baroque Period, the violin family made its appearance as did the opera.  In the Classical Period, the piano and harmonies were introduced; with the Romantic era, the flute and saxophone joined in.

Then, the Twentieth Century.  Radio, records, jukeboxes, TV, movies.  Ragtime, jazz, blues, swing, country, rock and roll, and hard rock.  Themes of industrialization and globalization; and civilization was – what?  Out of its mind?

A recent study by engineers and biologists in London used computers to categorize US Billboard “top one hundred” recordings from 1960 to 2010.  Hip-hop in the 1990’s had a dynamic effect on young minds, not unlike an explosion.  Who can measure the effect of rap music on this generation?

Beethoven, who was deaf, heard music imaginatively.   Darwin studied it as a social phenomenon.  We associate good times and bad times with music we’ve experienced.  It is an emotional hook, like it or not, and whether we can sing or play an instrument or not.  Music makes us remember.  Maybe it helps us forget.

Image result for music in american history

Probably one of the last things I give up from my teaching career will be the song notebooks.  With them are the past, of America and of good times in the classroom.







One Reply to “Music to My Ears”

  1. I am sorry it took so long to reply to your fascinating blog. Looking forward to seeing you on Wednesday! Carol


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