My curriculum unit, "How Music Moved: The Genesis of Genre in Urban Centers," examines how music has served as a catalyst for interactions between social groups, ranging from creative exploration and new styles of music to conflict and violence, in the northern Midwest, California, and New York City.
This will be part of the curriculum for High School in the Community's Music in America class. Music in America examines the history of popular music in America from the 1900's to today (focusing on the National Association for Music Education's National Standard #9: Understanding music in relation to history and culture.) Previously when I taught this class, I focused on the interaction of African-Americans and the dominant white culture. With this YNHTI unit, I will expand my class to include much more information on Latino music and cultural influences and also focus more on class, addressing the notion of migrants and immigrants seeking an entry-point to middle-class stability and also their music reflected those aspirations.
Since High School in the Community's curriculum centers around law and social justice, this unit will create a place for students to examine music from the perspectives of class, ethnicity, region, and history.
My unit will discuss the "home cities" of different music genres:
• Chicago: Chicago blues
• Los Angeles: West-Coast Swing
• New York City: Puerto Rican traditional music and hip-hop
Furthermore, for each genre, students will learn about the migration and immigration patterns that served as catalysts for the new genre's emergence, focusing on (but not limited to) work and housing. Students will also learn about the class- and race-related issues regarding the music's acceptance by "mainstream" culture, including but not limited to:
- Chicago Blues will discuss the "Great Migration" of African-Americans out of the agrarian South and into the industrialized North (1910-1930) and how it led to the Chicago blues (1940-1950)
- West-Coast Swing will examine the influence of swing music in California, and its effects on the way Mexican immigrants ("
and "Zoot suiters"
borrowed from African-American culture and interacted with white establishment (1940's)
- New York City will explore the role of traditional Puerto Rican music before World War II and its fusion with African-American traditions to create hip-hop
I hope to integrate into my curriculum first- and second-person accounts of interactions across boundaries of ethnicity, such as playing in integrated jazz bands and then-notorious "black and tan" clubs (which were among the first spaces for social mingling across racial boundaries).
This unit will make a point of drawing on students' experiences regarding racial and class interactions to draw parallels and form "big-picture" thinking about how ethnicities and classes have interacted throughout American history. High School in the Community is a very small school (approximately 300 students) whose student body is a mix of African-Americans, Latinos, and Caucasians, so students interact across lines of ethnicity, and to a lesser extent class, every day. Hopefully, this unit will encourage them to think about the ways in which music and popular culture more broadly have been critical sites for interaction for different groups at different historical moments. This would help to keep the focus on music as a site of cultural exchange for different groups.
Another way students will connect the curriculum to their own experiences is by drawing comparisons to the experiences of young people with their own experiences. In most cases, interethnic interactions were driven by young people, especially by people of high school-student age—particularly after World War II, when "being a teenager" gained special status, and teenagers gained disposable income and thus were marketed to (just as they are now). How young people of immigrant and migrant groups interacted with the established culture is an important aspect of studying the migrant experience.
This unit will also encourage students to examine the ways teenage (or youth) culture has changed over time (fashion, musical tastes) but in other ways remains constant (differentiating themselves from the previous generation, for example). This unit will describe certain genres' social contexts and encourage students to compare the history of interethnic interactions and collaborations with their own experience today. In my experience, it is not enough to teach music and music history just because "it's important and you should know about it."