Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Effects of Music

I actually wasn't going to post this, but it's been running through my head all day. This something really had a profound effect on me. It had to with music and it reminded me why I love and obsess over music so much.

Let me set the scene...

Part of my job is to travel around central Misery to visit the teachers I train. I usually hang out with them during their planning periods to discuss inquiry or using technology or something like that. That's sort of how things went today, but the bell rang, effectively ending the visit.

I had some time before my next visit, so I figured I'd hang around and watch this guy's lesson. It was a class of eighth or ninth graders, I believe. After some bell work, the teacher began by reminding the class of the definition for a metaphor. He was going to give the students an opportunity to write metaphors about aspects of various pieces of art. He began with Van Gogh and Dali paintings before moving to music.

There were four songs used for the lesson: "Mmmbop" by Hanson, some metal song, a Miles Davis track, and "Biggest Lie" by Elliott Smith. I mention "Biggest Lie" last as it had the biggest effect.

"Mmmbop" was played first. The teacher made the connection with Hanson being the Jonas Brothers of the mid-nineties. The students laughed and made fun of the track. This was expected.

At this point, the students were really engaged and wound up. They were chatty, making fun of the art their teacher chose or some of their funnier attempts at metaphor.

Then, "Biggest Lie" was played. It hit me really hard as this may be one of his more prophetic pieces of music. The story of Smith's unfortunate death ran through my mind. I nearly teared up right there.

Suddenly, I realized the entire class was silent. They just listened and wrote. These kids know nothing of Elliott Smith. They had never heard of him, but they paid attention now.

The rest of the period returned to the same silliness. The kids went back to joking about the metal song and groaning about jazz.

The Elliott Smith song had an effect on these kids. A cold listen silenced them. There was no back story, video, or even picture of the artist. They just stopped everything to listen to the music.

One kid even wrote his metaphor about death.

Maybe I'm reading too much into this. Maybe I'm putting my own opinions and feelings on this song. Maybe I'm projecting just how important this song and its creator were to me in interpreting their silence as admiration. I don't know. I just know that it affected me.

Whatever your feelings about Elliott Smith or his music, you have to agree to the amazing effect great music can have on our lives. It's why we dedicate songs on the radio. It's why you and your significant other have "our song". It's why a computer company saved itself by creating the most innovative music player ever invented.

If music doesn't affect you, then you're soulless.

Below is a fan-made video for "Biggest Lie".


MaryManning said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MaryManning said...

I love Elliot Smith and am glad you decided to post this, Zac. Thanks.

Telebastard said...

"wanted everything to stop that bad"

that's the part that kills me

douglas said...

It's funny (not funny ha-ha) that you almost didn't post this. Why is that? Hunter Thompson supposedly didn't want to turn in "Kentucky Derby is Decadent & Depraved," and when he had to, he thought his career was over. This is one of your better posts.

ATR said...

Been meaning to comment on this one, Bud. Music. It's the primary means of human creative expression. I'd say primitive us were beating a bone on a stone before we were crawling into Lascaux to draw bulls on the wall. It has to get you somehow. And different tunes, modes, genres get different folks.
I have posted before about the power of music in our lives and in my classroom. Just the day that you posted this, I was playing Tom Waits' "Dirt in the Ground" to make a point about some thematic ideas in Hamlet. And while many of the kiddos were caught up on the singularity of Tom Waits' voice, they still remembered that connection several days later during a writing assignment, mentioning the song when they were not prompted or required to do so. No doubt, music is powerful, man.

Raymond Cummings said...


you know, maybe i should get off my ass and finally give smith's catalogue a whirl.