Essential questions – “What purpose does having an identity serve?”
The goal of this section is to have students understand how we self-identify and how we choose the music that supports our view of what makes each of us individuals. The unit should begin with an exploration of what “Identity” means and the ways through which students identify. In order to start a conversation about identity, it is important to understand, at a basic level, how individuals identify themselves. Identity is initially filtered through the personal experience and only when one can extrapolate meaning beyond one’s self, go beyond our “personal fable”, can we then identify with others. Our connection to music is not always so linear. Exposure to music is rarely achieved in a vacuum; it is often discovered first through close peers and key influences such as parents or relatives. However, meaning and emotional connection to a particular piece of music is generally achieved through something resonating on a personal level.
Where to begin?
As a starting point in the curriculum, the class will discuss how people categorize themselves to facilitate the creation of identity. One cannot fully understand the relationship we have with music without understanding how music relates to aspects of their identity. Begin the journey with two simple queries, “What is your name? and tell us something about yourself.” We all have a name and we all have some detail about ourselves that we believe to be unique and which we are comfortable sharing. While this may seem innocuous at first, establishing a trust between all participants is important and this simple bit of information can serve as a gateway to expanding the conversation. You will most likely find that several participants share common interests or that what was once thought to be unique is in actuality a broad life experience with common threads across the class. While the focus of this section is on the self, planting seeds of inquiry that touch on expanding the idea our connected experience of self-identity to others would not be inappropriate.
Allow the students ample time to come up with sufficient attributes through which society identifies itself and how we put ourselves into categories. Guided discussion should encourage participants to come up with as many possibilities of identity categorization using a hierarchical organization for ease of comprehension. A small sample of identity categorization from which to start discussion would be:
National & Regional
Peer group sub-culture
Because music allows us to transcend the restrictive, isolating demographic parameters normally used to establish identity it holds a unique place as an art form and means of expression. While genres and styles of music are often categorized using these same generalized concepts used to define identity, inferred and sometimes openly declarative meaning associated to music often cuts through social and economic barriers. It is precisely because we have the ability to imprint our personal experience onto music that it becomes a medium through with one can claim as a representation of an individuals’ unique identity, supporting the “Personal fable,” while simultaneously acting as a representation of an larger group, even extending its meaning to an entire culture.
In order to set a base-line, students will begin with the creation of a semi-private journal. These journals will be seen only by the student and you as the teacher. Journals will begin with a self-profile of how the participants identify themselves, starting with the information shared at the beginning of the section. Students should feel free to modify the identity categories at any time; however, students need to present new ideas to the group prior to making changes so the class has a common understanding of vocabulary.
Students need to identify their current musical tastes and how they feel their musical preferences support their declared identity. Students should be prepared to share out at least one or two selections with the class as part of group discussion. Students should identify songs and artists/groups. Discussion about an artist’s public persona is appropriate during this section of the curriculum unit as it will hook into future lessons. Conduct one-on-one meetings with students to discuss why music choices influence and have meaning for each student’s self-identity.
1. Are selections based on a general emotion, ideal, or philosophy or are the pieces of music associated with specific events that the student feels are particularly influential to the development of their self-awareness/identity?
2. Is there a music genre they feel is antithetical to their current understanding of their identity?
3. Do they believe peers listen to the same music for personal reasons?
Literary tie-in: Frankenstein (1831 edition)
An additional exercise would be to have students choose a character from a piece of literature and create a personal identity profile for that character. As part of this seminar’s examination of identity, we studied Mary Shelley’s book Frankenstein, specifically the personas of Victor Frankenstein and his creation – the creature. Mary Shelley sprinkles the story with details regarding specific books that influence the identities of both characters.
Expand this idea to music. What kinds of music would these two characters listen to? Be careful to keep the focus on what might have been their personal choices, not what others believe they would have listened to. Remind the students that at this point they are looking at self-identity and what musical choices someone makes for themselves. What music might Victor and the creature listen to that supports their understanding of self-identity?
As the novel progresses, the creature is one of the only characters we see have an evolution of their understanding of how their identity is
by others, and
that identity to match. An interesting line of inquiry would be to discuss whether or not the same can be said of other characters, specifically Frankenstein.
The very nature of analyzing personal identity lends itself to the infinite. Regardless of how we project ourselves to others, as human beings we inherently view ourselves as unique, valuing our individuality while at the same time struggling to conform. Only music holds a unique place in our lives that allows us a completely valid personal connection without devaluing another’s interpretation.
1. Why and how are identifiers used, both negatively and positively?
2. Which attributes of identity are non-negotiable, such as skin color? Can these identifiers be transcended or is an identity indelibly tied to them?
3. Do these identifiers signify different meanings when used as personal, projected, or perceived identities?
4. How does categorizing provide commonality and differentiation between individuals?
5. What aspects of music allow individuals to create meaningful connections distinct from someone else’s experience?
6. Can music have a unique identity or does it reject or transcend the constraints we place on people?