When I started my sabbatical early this fall, my intention was to focus on oral material for Popular Music. I had written off textbooks as useless, and probably wanted to become the Ken Burns of academia. Fortunately, my time away from my own entrenched teaching habits has allowed me to read real books which have led me back to a more holistic approach to literacy. I have gained valuable new perspectives on limiting students to any one mode of instruction–audiovisual or print-based.
My work this fall has opened two doors into teaching. One door has revealed the many lessons teachers themselves can learn from the history of popular music. The first lesson I learned is the importance of story. Teachers need to be storytellers, not just lecturers. Most important, though, is allowing students to share their own stories. If we only allow students to write their stories, those with oral storytelling abilities are silenced, and the opposite is also true. Not everyone can tell their stories aloud, especially students from ESL backgrounds. What does this have to do with popular music? Most of the early jazz bands included musicians who could read music and musicians who were strictly self-taught, by ear. Each had something to contribute to the music that they created together. My first script and podcast explores this first door, and can be posted on our teaching and learning site.
The second door is an improved Popular Music course, with a tighter focus on the American and British icons of music and the actual pieces of music which changed our world. I want to tighten the focus on American and British popular music to create time and space for Canadian songs and musicians.