Mamacita says: Where did the music go? Our children, and some of you, don’t know any standard American songs or basic classical melodies that everybody used to know. What happened? How did we allow this to happen? It didn’t used to be this way.
Back in the day (when dinosaurs roamed the earth) every American student knew hundreds of songs, all the same songs, for the most part. Every Wednesday morning, kids all over the States would gather in their school’s auditorium, or cafeteria, and sing. In my little grade school, it was called the All-School Sing. The music teacher was in charge, and she didn’t ‘teach’ the students much of anything. She just started playing and all the older kids joined in, and after a few weeks the younger kids had picked up all the lyrics and joined in, too. It was an awesome way to learn the songs, imitating the cool big kids! Miss Catherine Keach knew how it was done. We loved it. I couldn’t WAIT to know all the songs those big kids knew.
Every kid in my generation and before knew all the words to all the verses of most ‘standard American songs.’ We had songs for every holiday, every season, every celebration known to mankind, yes, even the minority ones. We knew dozens of patriotic songs. Funny songs. Indiana songs.
Even more importantly, we knew the major themes from hundreds of classical selections, because they were taught to us beginning in kindergarten, with age-appropriate lyrics. To this day, my generation can hum great classical music.
I think my generation, and the half-generation after me, were the last to benefit from this fantastic program. Shortly afterwards, it was deemed a waste of valuable class time, and it was done away with.
In my grandparents’ generation, music was so important in the schools that if the orchestra lacked a particular instrument or chair, a professional was hired to fill it. If you read A Girl of the Limberlost, you will see examples of such things. (you really should read that book, but before you do, you have to read Freckles. It comes first. Both are by Gene Stratton Porter, and are absolutely wonderful. WONDERFUL.)
I still have my music textbooks from grade school. They are full of sweet little songs, most of which use the melodies of famous classical compositions. As children we didn’t know that, of course, but as we got older and found out what we actually KNEW, we were astounded and felt so cool. The love of those melodies had been instilled in us, and it would never leave us. And it made us seek out the actual compositions themselves, that we might hear it all.
And in the back of each of those books is the synopsis of an entire opera. I adore Grieg’s Peer Gynt to this day. (The 1957 movie version of The Pied Piper of Hamelin, which used Grieg’s melodies for its songs, helped fuel my Grieg obsession, too. Don’t laugh at that laughable movie; it turned a lot of little kids to the light as far as Grieg was concerned. It’s corny as all get-out, but it’s a fun hour and a half and you’ll hum Grieg for the rest of your life.)
What do kids learn in music class nowadays? People like my sister do a fantastic job, considering the limitations put upon them, and the ridiculous even-larger-than-regular-classes student population thrust upon them all at once, but many schools have done away with music altogether, because they need the time for ISTEP review. In most schools, the students wouldn’t recognize a treble clef if it hit them on the head. And Beethoven is a big dog.
I used to quiz my middle school students about songs. Few knew many that weren’t on MTV. Why don’t kids these days know anything about real music? Because they aren’t taught anything about it. And since the schools dropped the ball, others picked it up and ran with it, and our seven-year-olds are wearing thongs and crop tops and running around the playground singing about sex. It’s sadder than we can even comprehend.
Oh, I don’t knock their music. I like a lot of it. It’s just sad that they have nothing in addition to it. They have no firm musical foundation, so they really can’t say “this is good because. . . . ” or “this is terrible because. . . . .”
And when they hear a song, they don’t associate it with a person, or a place, or an occurence, or where they were or what they were doing. They associate it with a video. Their musical memories revolve around seeing a celebrity lip-synch.
No wonder so many things just plain ‘suck.’ They suck, because they’re bad and there’s no background or knowledge about why they suck.
Personally, I believe that messing with music programs in schools sucks, and I CAN tell you why. And I just did.
Our children deserve real music. They need and want it. It would make their lives magical.
While my students are working on written work, I put on appropriate music: sometimes classical French music like Chopin, other times songs from the area we’re studying like music from French-speaking Africa, Quebec, etc. Without fail, several students come up to me after class, wondering if they can make a copy of my CD because they’ve enjoyed it. They just need to be exposed to it, I think!