Making Room for Music in the ELA Classroom

Posted on December 14, 2015

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This is the first of a series of posts where I’ll write about the role of music in my ELA classroom–and in my life.

“Music is the literature of the heart; it commences where speech ends.”

― Alphonse de Lamartine, French poet and politician

I love music. I have a rather checkered musical past. I’ve been an adventurer in music, a dabbler. I’ve sung in school choirs, church choirs, cantatas, bluegrass bands, rock bands, blues bands, country bands, acapella groups, folk groups–I even sang in a Scottish Celtic band with bagpipe players! I studied flute in grades 5-11 in the school band, but otherwise, I’ve never devoted myself to mastering an instrument. In spite of this fact, I’ve been performing music publicly for over a decade–because I always make room for music in the ELA classroom.

I give students regular opportunities to choose to write songs for some assignments, and whenever I find out that a student is a musician, I look for ways to incorporate their talents in assignments, or, at the very least, to give them a few minutes to share a song with the class. Making music with students, current and former, inside and outside the classroom, is one of the most beautiful and rewarding–as well as one of the most surprising–developments to have grown out of my work as a high school English teacher. I never could’ve guessed what would come out of my practice of inviting students to share their music with their classmates and me.

I came to Adrian High School in 1994. One of the first musicians to perform a song in my eleventh-grade American Literature classroom was Matt Jones (Class of 1996). I don’t remember what song he played, whether cover or original, but I do remember how music transformed him, right before our eyes,  from a shy student who rarely spoke into a young man who played a guitar in a powerful way that we couldn’t have imagined and that commanded our full attention. From that moment on, I’ve always been interested in Matt’s music. His music has continued to inspire, inform, and nourish me, from his first, homemade recording with just a few songs on it,  to his fantastic full albums with full bands, The Black Path  and The Deep Enders. Each time I listen, I am wowed by each composition, both musically and lyrically. I’ve listened to The Black Path so many times, I had to make a new copy. The Deep Enders is equally compelling for me.

I am so glad that Matt is still local, and so proud of what an incredible force he’s become in supporting and growing the local and state music/arts scene, most recently as an archivist, with his latest project, River Street Anthology.

In a few days, I’ll be in the audience at The Ark in Ann Arbor, treasuring each note of what is bound to be a spectacular performance from an incredible singer/composer and his amazing, super-talented band, The Reconstruction and..I cannot wait!

When Matt sings, “Don’t forget my name, and don’t forget my voice, and don’t forget the golden boy who loved to sing….” I remember that moment nearly twenty years ago when I first heard him sing–in English class.

End of Part 1: Part 2 Coming Soon!

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