Wednesday, December 17, 2008

P. Tyler Pearson vs. Clarinerd85

I stumbled upon a topic in the Amazon forums entitled “From a rookie music teacher: How do I get kids interested in more diverse music?” I thought it was an awesome topic but I found something in the original post to be a bit aggressive and controversial. It has since been edited. The original post, with edits, is found below:

Hello Amazon! This is my very first post in the forums, so I would like to take a moment to tell you a little about myself. I have just finished my internship for music education, and I will begin working at a K-8 school teaching elementary music and 6th grade music appreciation in January.

During my internship I worked at a high school for 8 weeks, and when teaching music appreciation, I had kids bring in their own music to share and occasionally tried to introduce them to something new. (A couple of kids also dared bring in something different, like Black Violin and Celtic Woman.) Everything was met with sarcasm, rudeness, closed-mindedness, and comments such as "Oh God" and "Why do we have to listen to this s***?"

Does anyone have any ideas on how to get 12-18-year-olds to open their minds and listen to music other than what is familiar to them?

[EDIT #2] Well, this has been fun. I guess in the future I need to be more careful about making a controversial statement. I left the original statement alone so people who want to follow the conversation, can. I seriously thought about deleting it though...

[EDIT #3] Controversial statement deleted! I am now in the process of studying the educational value and cultural significance of rap/hip-hop/urban music and how to expand upon it. I want to sincerely thank all of the people who have contributed to the discussion. Looking forward to hearing more of your ideas.

The controversial comment in Edit #3 was, “The music they brought in, by the way, was at least 90% rap and hip-hop. I'm sorry, but that isn't really music. Anyone can turn on a synthesizer and talk in rhythm. About the only true musical qualities that stuff has is beat and rhythm.”

My reply was on the 4th page of the thread, several people before me replied and took offense to the comment about hip-hop. I left that topic largely alone at this point, but wanted to share my ideas pertaining to the original question:

What an awesome thread. I am a huge believer in "good music" and I detest the argument that "music is relative, and if I like it that makes it good to ME." That is complete and total hogwash. There are very specific components of music that make it "good."

I will not get involved in the rap debate, but I will say this... Kids are drawn to to music with intense rhythms and beats because of the way it makes them FEEL. The reason your students are unable to explain the music they listen to is because they aren't paying any attention to it. They only know how the overall piece makes them feel and that's all they care about.

From a very young age I started to dissect music. I was listening to Simon and Garfunkel, Grateful Dead, and The Who. Ever since I have appreciated music on three different levels.

1) Musicality. Just WHAT is going on here? I listen for the bass line, rhythm patterns, and odd guitar work. I try and identify just what instruments are being played. Key changes, mood shifts, different tempos, atonal qualities.
2) Lyrics. Is there poetic value to what I'm listening to? Is the artist speaking metaphorically? What kind of emotion and social message might be behind what I'm hearing?
3) Vibe. Let's face it, music makes you feel things. What kind of mood or vibe is being put across here? Am I supposed to feel angry, aware, sad, or excited?

My suggestion is this, allow your students to dissect music. Bring in something somewhat challenging, but not impossible. For lyrical quality have them check out Dylan, Seeger, Cat Stevens. Play "Where do the Children Play" and divide the class into groups to come up with what they think the message of the piece is? For musicality allow them to listen to Peart or Ginger Baker or Gene Kruppa or Buddy Rich on the drums, Clapton or Page or Metheney or Charlie Hunter on guitar, Flea or Claypoole or Sting on the bass. There is some great video showing these master musicians at work as well. Encourage them to identify the various aspects that make that song what it is. Analyze the lyrics and the musicality of what they hear. Put on some Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young to showcase how the voice as an instrument and how vocal instruments can blend.

Then afterward, have them present THEIR music in the same light. Encourage them to pick out what is great lyrically about Lil' Wayne. What about the rhythm and beat is INTERESTING. Because there most definitely is a degree of perspective when it comes to music. They will most definitely have a different perspective and a whole new agenda when listening to music they've been hearing for years. And rap can be great. Public Enemy's "Fear of a Black Planet" shares a social message just as strong as Dylan's "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan." You and I might not get the message as clearly as others, but the political value is there. Chuck D has been hailed by myriad critics as being one of the greatest lyricists of modern times.

There was no reply from Clarinerd to my response. She must have missed it. After my post, many many more rap-lovers joined the fray, making some incredibly intelligent statements about why rap and hip-hop genres are most certainly “real music.” Clarinerd85 wouldn’t budge though. She made point after point about why rap is not music, but started to contradict herself in many places. I’m not a rapper, but I had to get involved. She was being incredibly closed-minded. I probably got a little too heated myself:

Clarinerd 85, Clearly you are very polite and articulate. You obviously know the music theory that has been taught to you. But it is also clear that "academia" has polluted your perspective as it has so many other bright minds. Just because you don't understand something does not give you the right to discount it. You are so quick to discount an entire genre of music that you just...don't...understand. I don't understand or care for country music, but I have the decency to not broadly label it as bad music. You have been contradicting yourself throughout this entire thread.

"Thanks Theresa. I hope to have them understand that as well, but even with people in this forum it's hard to get them to think outside the box a little bit. But I don't give up easily. :)" Hello pot, I'm kettle.

You openly dismiss a widely accepted genre of MUSIC as *not* being music, yet don't understand why people rush to defend it. You cite the fact that rap can be done without music as being a characteristic that makes it *not* music. Yet you have stated in this long and now-painful thread that the voice is an instrument. You wouldn't tell me that barbershop is *not* music because there is no backing music. And please don't say that "rap is different because there is no musicality to the voice, it's just spoken word." There are other genres of music that incorporate monotone patterns that you would defend to the death as being music.

There are avant garde, experimental artists that are TAUGHT at the collegiate level as being musicians that give no regard to rule or structure, yet that extreme end of the spectrum is no doubt accepted by you. So what then is wrong with the minimalist nature of rap? I learned of an experimental musician in college whose famous piece involved walking out to a piano, letting the pages of sheet music fall to the floor, bowing to the audience, and leaving the stage. That is taught in college. As music.

And let's be fair and responsible here. You are not saying that you don't understand rap music. You CLEARLY stated in your original post that rap music "is not real music." That is insulting to music as an art. Time and again you pull the "you clearly don't understand the point of the question" card, but your lack of regard to a fully legitimate, accepted, often-brilliant form of music has facilitated this justified hi-jacking.

The glaring fact, as I see it, is that until you are able to take your own advice and "think outside the box" you will never be able to reach your students and open them up to new things. You are trolling the forums. Did you think you would just get passive responses and nothing but brilliant golden advice? I'd suggest taking this discussion up with fellow academics who likely share your opinions because it doesn't appear that you are open to others.

She didn’t miss this one. She replied quite quickly:

Tyler, I wish you would have read at least some of the discussion before deciding to pass judgement on me or my alleged non-acceptance or misunderstanding of rap music. I have openly welcomed suggestions for rap music, and have spent the past few days on Imeem looking up songs and artists that people have suggested. I have also admitted -- many times -- that the problem could be I just have not been exposed to good rap music, which is why I wanted people to recommend what they like in the first place. (And you would be able to see that most people have said the Top 40's and commercial rap, which is evidently all I have ever heard, is a bad place to start.) As I told Jason, I am grateful for the links he posted, because I found them very helpful and eye-opening, and I have started keeping a list of songs that I could use in an academic setting (i.e. don't have words or themes that could get me fired). You are sitting here scolding me because you think *I* am the one that is not open-minded, meanwhile I am taking MY time off to do research and hear suggestions from other people on how to improve my already-successful course. What I do NOT appreciate is people telling me I should teach rap to the exclusion of everything else, which is not appropriate and that WOULD be closed-minded. How is that any different from teaching strictly Baroque music? Answer: it's not.

I hate traditional music-appreciation courses just as much as the next person, which is why I am spending time looking for new ideas. That is why I have done things like let my STUDENTS bring in music of their choosing, let THEM decide which artists they would like to research and learn about, and most importantly, let THEM create THEIR OWN music. I even let them bring in Rock Band a couple of times so we could discuss the musical intent behind the video game. Clearly, I am very student-centered. However, I also expect them to let ME teach once in a while. There's nothing wrong with me expecting my kids to expand their listening repertoire, just as there is nothing wrong with you, and others like you, who expect me to learn about rap.

One last thing: You completely took what I said about rap existing outside of music the wrong way. It was meant to be complimentary, not to say that it isn't music if there is no synthesizer in the background. There is something to be said about people who can maintain a beat and rhythm with no help from a machine. But I guess I will have to go back and rewrite that post since it didn't come across that way.

Now Tyler, if you want to offer suggestions to help me, please do. But if you are going to continue making accusations based on one line in a post that was written two days ago, and which I have learned a hell of a lot from since then, please don't reply any more. Besides, if you really think I'm trolling instead of learning, you wouldn't want to encourage me anyway.

The gauntlet had been thrown down. And she misspelled "judgment" which I reacted to like a shark smelling blood:

1) I've read the entire discussion. It started out as an interesting topic with great feedback. And has derailed into a (now) 7-page epic hi-jacking by the angry hip-hop nation, to which I do NOT belong.

2) You are not open-minded. You've repeatedly stated your reasons for claiming that rap is not good music. Hence your constant and repeated contradictions. "Rap isn't music, er maybe I don't know enough about it, er anyone can rap, er I just don't get it, er" on and on and on.

3) You have no sense of accountability in this post. You expect other people to conform to your standards simply because you are the OP. Early on in this discussion, someone got heated in the topic. You came down hard enough to force the poster to tuck tail and apologize. On a public forum! I was embarrassed. You respond to heated criticism with frank, heated, scathing responses. Instead of rewriting muddy thoughts and rationalizing awful broad-stroke stereotypes, you may want to swallow some of your preachy pride and genuinely apologize for offending the rappers on these boards. Or at the very least stop expecting people to behave. On the internet. /boggle

4) I offered my suggestions, see page 4. Many of them. Back when I thought this debacle had value. I can give you no true suggestions for rap to listen to, since I don't listen to it myself. But I don't have the audacity to tell strangers that it's not music...

5) Don't pretend that OP makes you the almighty dictator of what is and isn't said in this topic. You have absolutely ZERO right to tell people to not post. Face it...your research experiment is replete with epic failure. You may want to cut your losses, take the few tidbits of information you found valuable, and move along. For many like myself, the primary purpose of this post has been completely lost to the incredibly high lack of tolerance, understanding, and education of music foreign to you. If you don't want me to post, don't reply to my comments. Rest assured I will always reply to you.

6) I enjoy feeding floundering trolls. *lobs another sheep*

Pwnt. She had to quit at this point, right? That had to have crushed her soul. Not so! Clarinerd has some scrap in her!:

1.) It has been hi-jacked by a few people from the "angry hip-hop nation." Most people, however, have been very helpful, even if they don't agree with my original assessment of rap. I'm sorry those few people have made this painful for you.

2.) I stated originally that I felt rap was not a form of music, and later on put those thoughts into words. Not because I felt like someone should agree with me, but because I wanted people to point out what I was doing wrong. And they did. Clearly I do have a lot of learn about rap, and I am making the effort to do so. Isn't that what is important, even if you didn't agree with my original statement?

3.) I don't expect people to conform to whatever standards you think I am trying to enforce, but I am also not obligated to respond to people who choose to be rude. And if some of my comments come across as scathing, it's because I do not want to be treated that way. You're the one who said I was polite and articulate; now you say I'm scathing? Who's wavering now? :-\

4.) I found your post and reread it, and I appreciate you taking the time to give me suggestions. Just as I appreciate every other person who has given me suggestions to add to my listening repertoire or add to my curriculum. I am sorry that my original statement, which I have said is wrong, still continues to offend you. Really.

5.) I am so sorry that my asking you not to post any more offended you so much. Please feel free to post as much as you want. My "research experiment" has actually been quite helpful. As a result of this thread, I have found new music to introduce to my students, new links between rap and other forms of music, and new ideas to add to my classroom and curriculum. Not to mention it has motivated me to find the educational value of rap for myself as well as my students. That is a lot of information I would have otherwise not had. I'm sorry that my efforts to educate myself about rap music has come across as intolerant to you. I'm glad you will always reply to me... I learn a lot more from people who disagree with me than from people who agree with me.

6.) Bahhhhhhhhhhhh. ;)

Well-played. I have to respect her now. She is holding her own. I can either get vicious now, or back off. I was the only one getting nasty on the board, and I don’t want to look like the bully. So I backed off:

Clarinerd85, I actually really like you. You're smart, well written, passionate about music, and you stick to your guns. I think if we were to meet each other by chance in an airport during a painfully long layover, we'd likely enjoy each others' company. I'm sure we'd talk about music.

A) I'll not lie. This discussion has indeed become painful.

B) Well stated. I understand completely and rescind my previous statements about your closed-mindedness.

C) I think it's perfectly reasonable for a person to be polite, articulate, AND scathing. You've established quite clearly in text that you tend to respond to complimentary replies (within the framework of your expectation) with politeness and grace. You have also shown that when someone comes at you with something less-than-complimentary, outside of your framework, you drop a nice little hammer. I am the exact same way. In your follow up to my second post you implied that I didn't read the discussion, didn't understand what I did read, revealed that you hadn't read (or didn't remember, to be fair) my original reply, and asked me to shut up. Our styles of reaction are similar. When someone drops a hammer on me, I look for a bigger hammer to drop.

D) A clear, concise, and obviously sincere apology. A high-road example of open-mindedness.

E) I'm glad that you are getting good information for your class, because I really truly and completely hope that kids get a good musical education. There is so much more to the art of music than what we hear on the radio. I think you care about the kids and care about their education AND care about music.

F) This response made me grin. I'm a huge fan of smilies. Shows you have a sense of humor.

To sum up, I leave you with this. And I'll only state opinion. I think music is the tie that binds. It is a universal language that touches every soul in one way or another. It is unfair to blanket an entire genre of music as being bad, or even worse, not being real music. To be clear, I don't think you are doing that...but at first I thought you were. My wife is a Celine Dion and Barry Manilow enthusiast. I'd personally rather be kicked repeatedly in the groin by a rabid mountain goat than listen to anything by those two, but I can't label it as being "bad" or "not music." Even William Shatner's albums, which are very very bad, still deserve to be called "real music."

I wish you the best with your class. I'm sure you'll do great. And I'll be looking for Clarinerd85 in airports all over the country.

I could have dragged it out, but it looked like Ms. Clarinerd85 was extending an olive branch of some sort. She edited the original post and many of her more scathing comments to replies. And finally responded thus:

AA.) I'm glad you like me. I like you too. ;)

A.) If you think this is painful, try standing in front of 28 teenagers for the first time and asking them what they want to learn and how. That is a good reason not to let them bring weapons to school...

B.) Thanks.

C.) I didn't remember your original reply, no. But I did reread it, and probably will many more times.

D.) :)

E.) I sincerely and passionately care about all of my students and their education... otherwise I wouldn't put myself in this position to begin with. Thanks for acknowledging that.

F.) :D

FF.) Thanks for sharing. I really do appreciate you taking the time to share your views. See you at the airport.

Here endeth the flame war between P. Tyler Pearson and Clarinerd85. I call it a draw.


jasnjan said...

This makes me a little bit relieved that I forewent my aspirations of being a music teacher. :-) To be fair I was shooting for high-school rather than jr. high. I often marvel at what the motives must be of one who spends their career trying to achieve some semblance of saturation of subject matter for this age group of "young adults." A brave and stalwart bunch(the teachers not the kids). Thanks for sharing.

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