At Music History Hall, we believe that arts education is cultural education. In our lessons, we talk about music in terms of the roots and the branches of the tree. The curriculum traces the history of American roots music from work songs in the fields of the Mississippi Delta during the time of slavery to the unique mix of cultures in Congo Square in New Orleans. We travel up the Mississippi River to Chicago and through the Bebop era of improvisation in New York City until we reach the birth of early rockabilly and rock and roll back down south.
It has been enlightening for the students to listen intently to the music they have not heard before and for the first time recognize the repetition of a blues song or improvisation in a jazz piece. The students are genuinely excited to learn about the next genre of music in the series. I know some of these students will forever be able to recognize a blues lyric hidden in a rock song or hear the influence of jazz in a pop song.
What may be the most important part of our American Music and Cultural History course, however, is that the students will also be able to hear a piece of music and think about what was going on culturally at the time. They are learning that cultural, societal, and political influences have an effect on music and art and that nature and certain places inspire art and music. There is a reason why blues music is repetitive and why improvisation was so important in jazz. There is a reason the blues found a home in St. Louis and Chicago and why Elvis was an important figure in crossing over rock and roll into the mainstream.
The students are learning history and culture from the perspective of the artists and musicians of the time. It is cultural knowledge they will have forever.