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“I’ll have to say ‘I love history’ in a Song” Using Music Effectively Using Music Effectively

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“I’ll have to say ‘I love history’ in a Song”

Using Music Effectively


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Using Music Effectively

  • As teachers, we want students to put themselves in the shoes of those who came before – to think and feel like people of the past in order to better understand their decisions, motivations and experience.

  • At best these will be vicarious experiences for students because the past has passed. However, music is a powerful way to have students consider the past. Introduce students to different genres, songs, lyrics and visuals to accompany music. These can often tell more about people’s lives, differing perspectives, and change than the best written textbook.


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Using Music Effectively

  • Music, particularly when combined with pictures, video clips and lyric text, can:

    • Be an entry point into a discussion on a topic

    • Be a cultural and sociological reflection of a people, a period in time, an event or change

    • Offer a perspective that may differ from mainstream sources on a topic

    • Offer a vicarious experience for students, allowing, if only fleetingly, a sense of what it was like to live through an event or a period in time


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Using Music Effectively

  • As many songs of the past were not recorded, the music has been lost (though occasionally sheet music remains).

  • Sometimes all we have are the lyrics. Analyze the lyrics for perspective. How does the songwriter use words to express their views? – “The Anti-Confederation Song”

  • Have students compare references in the song to the concerns expressed at the time of the event/debate. How do they compare?

  • Have students compose music for the lyrics to an older song.


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World War II

  • On August 6, 1945 U.S. President Harry Truman orders the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Two days later a second A-bomb is dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. So begins the Atomic Age.


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‘ATOM AND EVIL’performed by the Golden Gate Quartet

This is a story of atom and evil.

Their courtship is causin’ a great upheaval

Now Atom was a sweet, young, innocent thing.

Until the night that Miss Evil took him under her wing

Now Atom was an honest hard-working man.

He wanted to help out the human clan

But Miss Evil got him drunk on prejudice and hate.

And she taught him how to gamble with humanity’s fate

So true, I’m talkin’ about Atom and Evil, Atom and Evil

If you don’t break up that romance soon.

We all fall down and go boom-boom-boom


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World War II

Now if evil gets atom it will be such a shame.

Because plenty of big shots are playin’ that dame

Lord his sleep will be troubled and his life will be cursed.

Now if Atom sleeps with Evil

Jack he won’t be the first

So true, I’m talkin’ about Atom and Evil, Atom and Evil

If you don’t break up that romance soon.

We all fall down and go boom-boom-boom

Now atom is a youngster and pretty hard to handle.

But we better step in and stop that scandal.

Because if Atom and Evil should ever be wed.

Lord then darn near all of us are gonna be dead.

So true, I’m talkin’ about Atom and Evil, Atom and Evil

If you don’t break up that romance soon. We all fall down and go boom-boom-boom

So true, I’m talkin’ about Atom and Evil, Atom and Evil

If you don’t break up that romance soon. We all fall down and go boom-boom-boom

We’re settin’ on the edge of doom, doom, doom.


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Song Analysis

  • What point of view is this song presenting to the listener? (Offer examples from the lyrics / music)

  • What techniques does the lyricist / musical arranger use to make this song so effective?

  • Why might this song have been so popular in 1945?

  • Why might this song be considered controversial?


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Using Music Effectively

  • Using music to show “cultural and sociological reflection of its time and/or an impetus for change”

  • Play three thematically related songs to show change of attitudes over time

    • E.g., the changing conceptions of being a woman in western society are effectively shown through:

      • Born a Woman (Sandy Posey, 1966)

      • I Am Woman (Helen Reddy, 1972)

      • She’s Not Just a Pretty Face (Shania Twain, 2005)


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Using Music Effectively

  • Show the video “Africville” by Black Union feat. Maestro

  • Africville was a small unincorporated community located on the southern shore of Bedford Basin, in the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. During the 20th century, the City of Halifax began to encroach on the southern shores of Bedford Basin, and the community was eventually included as part of the city through municipal amalgamation.

  • Africville was populated entirely by black families from a wide selection of origins. The community and its dwellings were ordered destroyed, and residents evicted during the late 1960s in advance of the opening of the nearby A. Murray MacKay suspension bridge, related highway interchange construction and related Port of Halifax development at Fairview Cove to the west.


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Using Music Effectively

  • Show the video “Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd” by Ritchie Havens

  • The Drinkin' Gourd is another name for the Big Dipper asterism. Folklore has it that fugitive slaves in the United States used to use it as a point of reference so they would not get lost. The asterism is laid out in such a way that it is always seen in the north sky. Two of the stars line directly up with Polaris. Hence, according to a popular myth, all slaves had to do was look for the Drinkin' Gourd and follow it north to freedom. The name drinking gourd is based upon the shape resemblance of the constellation to a dipper.

  • According to legend, the song Follow the Drinkin' Gourd was used by a conductor of the Underground Railroad, called Peg Leg Joe to guide some fugitive slaves.


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Using History to Create Song

“We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel

Suggested Activity:

  • Have students write stanzas to include historical references that relate to the place and time period you are studying. Perform and record the song as a class.


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Using Music Effectively

  • Examples from the class

    • How would you use this song in your class?


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Suggested Sources

  • Songs for Teaching About Canada

  • Songs About Canada

  • Independent Lens

  • Songs About the Environment

  • Anti-War Songs

  • Anti-War Songs from Around the World

  • Protest Music


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