Last Updated on
I use listening examples at least once a week in many of my classes. I encourage very active listening, where we really try to get to the heart of the composer’s, performer’s, or producer’s intentions. Listening exercises also usually spark off great discussions, and get students very engaged about learning more. I spend a lot of time finding appropriate music to use for class, and I really get a lot of personal fulfillment from this process. I believe it makes my students into much more informed listeners as they go off into their adult lives. I also really enjoy it when a student comes and asks if he or she can “do a listening” for the class. I always encourage this, and find that the students bring in a great variety of music (all of it exemplary) and they have fully prepared themselves for opening up discussion with the class. (Of course, I always “vet” their choice before the class to filter out songs with profane or objectionable lyrics, but that’s just simple classroom management). Listening Exercises which only focus on objective answers can often be a turn-off for kids, but allowing for subjectivity as well as objectivity in discussion brings great results. I find that my students are far more eclectic in their tastes and knowledge after they have been in my class for a few months. I insist that there is something good in all music – it is up to the students to find what is good in the music, even though they may not like it at first.
Mash-ups can be great starting points for discussion. In a mash-up, a producer takes two different pieces of music and fuses them together, often producing quite unexpected results. One of the most famous (and fun) mash-ups is called “Single Ladies (in Mayberry)” and combines the theme song of The Andy Griffith Show with Beyoncé’s song “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It).” The results are humorous on first listening, and my class certainly found it corny when they began to hear the two songs “mashed” together, but as we discussed the song we found the commonalities between them. The ensuing discussion allowed us to really focus on “swing” music, and why Beyoncé’s choice of swing for her chart-topper could be just as effective as when swing was all the rage. It also allowed us to discuss possible reasons why Beyoncé chose to film the video in monochrome (just like the The Andy Griffith Show). By the time the class had had a good half hour discussion, they could really see just how brilliant this mash-up is. More importantly, those kids who were R&B listeners had a new appreciation of swing, and my jazzers had a new appreciation of R&B. Music is the greatest thing for bridging cultures, and a mash-up provides a great lesson for that, as you can see both sides of the bridge at once.
Here is a link for “Single Ladies (in Mayberry)”: http://www.mashupciti.com/2008/11/24/single-ladies-in-mayberry/
Recently my wife pointed me towards a mash-up of Philip Glass’ Second Violin Concerto with Blondie’s song “Heart of Glass”. I must admit I was skeptical at first (how could these two things possibly work together), but when I listened to it, I was profoundly moved by how effectively the producer had melded the two together. I listened to a lot of minimalist music in the 1980s, particularly Philip Glass, and I also listened to a lot of post-punk music, particularly Blondie. Since I often talk about my own favorite music in class, minimalism and post-punk are frequent points of discussion. I am very much looking forward to using this mash-up in September when school starts again. I’m eager to see how the students begin to recognize the similarities in chord progression – what a perfect way to discuss how chord progressions are similar between “art” and “pop” music! I’m also looking forward to hearing them consider how the emotions in both musical examples actually highlight and enhance each other. I can’t wait to see how we bridge the gap between the austerity of the Glass with the immediacy of the Blondie song. It’ll also give me an excuse to dust off my old VHS tape of Blondie videos!
Here is the Soundcloud link for the Philip Glass/Blondie mash-up: http://soundcloud.com/daft-beatles/blondie-vs-philip-glass-heart
You can also download the mash-up from the Soundcloud link, which will be very useful if Soundcloud is blocked in your school, or you would rather play it from an iPod or a CD to bypass streaming problems you may experience at work.
I’m thrilled it was my wife who found this for me, as I regard this mash-up as a great marriage of two ideas. Each seems to bring out the best in each other, just as partners in a marriage should do.
I hope you’ll be able to use this mash-up in your classes, and I would look forward to hearing of any interesting discussions that ensue.
Richard McCready is a composer, musician, and the Director of Music Technology at River Hill High School in Columbia, Maryland. He was born in Northern Ireland and studied tuba performance, piano, and composition at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, England. Since emigrating to the US in 1992, he has held teaching positions at The Park School of Baltimore, Towson University, and Mayfield Woods Middle School, Elkridge, MD; he has also played professionally with the Monumental Brass Quintet, the Lexington Brass Quintet, and the Denhard/McCready Duo. He has earned two Masters degrees from Towson University, one in tuba performance and one in vocal performance. He plays many musical instruments, but the focus of his teaching is Music Technology in which he is widely regarded as one of the outstanding innovators in the US. His book, Making Music with GarageBand and Mixcraft, was published in 2010. Richard was awarded the TI:ME 2013 Mike Kovins Teacher of the Year Award and also the Howard County 2013 Music Educator of the Year.