Upper School music students have been learning about the power of protest music this term as they delved into the history, songwriting, and seminal voices of six different protest music eras: music of the early 20th century; songs from the Colonial era; songs related to slavery in the United States; the folk music of the civil rights anti-war movements of the 1960s; hip-hop, rock, and punk social commentary of the 1980s and 1990s; and post 9/11 protest music.
Music teachers Lloyd Dugger and Jay Besch have been guiding students through this unit introducing them to important songs and musical figures in each era and grounding their discussions in the historical context of the issues that were roiling society and culture throughout those eras. ”We’ve tried very hard to also make the discussions relevant to what’s going on today,” notes Lloyd, “whether it’s the Black Lives Matter movement, immigration issues at the border, or the Flint, Michigan water crisis, we want students to understand that there are a wide variety of issues that people are writing songs about.” Students were asked to reflect in writing on what they had heard and learned during this unit. They wrote about the songs that they found most impactful, compared and contrasted songs from different movements to identify what aspects of the music were most effective, and discussed the musical elements that they enjoyed the most.
In the next stage of the project, students will be writing their own protest music. Lloyd and Jay asked students to research several topics that they might write a protest song about. Students had to do some basic research on the issues, potential solutions to the problems, and other artists and songs that have addressed their topic. Now students are writing lyrics and will put their words to music in whatever way they feel most comfortable. Kids who are talented instrumentalists or vocalists may play or sing while other students might choose to speak or rap their songs to a backing track created in BandLab. “I’m not so focused on the quality of the recording,” says Lloyd, “because for many kids this will be their first attempt at something like this. Some kids will want to share and collaborate with their friends while for others it will be an individual process. It’s more about expressing those words and feelings.”
Below, you can see some examples of lyrics written by Upper School music students on topics that they care passionately about.
Cami H. ‘22: Climate Change
We hear the birds muffle their songs more and more every spring.
We watch as the only home that we have ever known crumbles and decays right before our eyes.
Yet we hear nothing but silence fueled by the greed and materialism of our leaders.
We see companies worshipping the American dollar, but refusing to protect the paper’s mother
We see the world ending.
We feel our home burning.
And we hear nothing but silence.
We just ask that you hear us.
William P. ‘22: Environmental Issues
The world burns around us and you say it’s fine.
As you sit back and relax sipping on your fine wine
You can’t deny it, you know it’s real
Now your gonna listen up, so here’s the deal