Unit VI Louisiana's Musical Landscape
Lesson 1 Music Around the State: Sound and Place
I grew up hearing Cajun music all my life, but like most teenagers I got side tracked and wanted to hear popular music. . . . It didn't take me long to realize that we had something very special here. . . . It's our music. It's who we are.
--Christine Balfa, Cajun Musician, St. Martin Parish
You can go to everybody's house and everybody don't cook gumbo the same. Some people have chicken wings, . . . hot sausage, shrimp, crabs, . . . chicken feets. Depends what flavor you put it in. That's the way the music is. It's the way you step in it. . . . What kind of groove you put to it. That's what the music is about, putting a groove to it, a great feeling to it.
--Benny Jones, Tremé Brass Band, Orleans Parish
English Language Arts, Math, Music, Social Studies
Purpose of Lesson
This lesson introduces students to the styles and elements of music in the three major folk regions of Louisiana within specific traditional music genres. The lesson allows students to hear the diversity of music in the state and to identify the major genres of traditional music by how they sound and where they most often occur. This lesson will also give students a context within which to consider their own musical landscapes they look for and listen to different versions of traditional songs.
Lesson Objectives/Louisiana Content Standards, Benchmarks, and Foundation Skills
1. Students learn to identify traditional music from each of the three major folk regions of the state.
2. Students explore the relationships among traditional, popular, and elite music.
3. Students learn to listen to music discriminately and to identify these musical elements: instrumentation, lyrics, tempo, dynamics, melody, and rhythm.
4. Students use multiple resources to collect data and draw conclusions and to interpret data using charts and graphs.
5. Students compare and contrast different pieces of music.
3-5 class periods
State and parish maps, recordings of traditional music from each region of the state (See Technology Connections below), CD player, AM/FM radio (optional), headphones (optional), Internet access to radio shows and audio files (optional), duplicates of worksheets and rubrics.
Websites with Louisiana Music Online
Other Traditional Music Online
Background Information for the Teacher
Because folklife is at the heart of Louisiana Voices curriculum, the examples and lessons for this unit focus on music from folk or traditional cultures of Louisiana. Unit I explains the difference between folk, popular, and elite cultures as well as their dynamic interrelationships. Folk or traditional culture is usually learned mostly by word of mouth or through imitation within a folk group. Indeed, when we talk about "folk music" in this unit, we are not talking about the revivalist music of, say, Peter, Paul, and Mary. We are talking about traditional music passed on through generations within and among folk groups. Popular culture is transmitted through mass media forms of communication, such as radio, television, magazines, and the Internet. Bear in mind that traditional music may be played on popular radio stations. Or popular musicians may play traditional folk songs. Finally, elite culture is transmitted through formal institutions, such as schools, universities, music schools, or museums. Some people refer to "elite" culture as "academic" culture because it is learned and taught in formal settings such as schools, universities, or music academies. Again, it is important to remember that "academic" does not exclude traditional culture or even popular culture. The boundaries of the terms and music genres are fuzzy, so is important to allow for cross-overs and blendings of folk, popular, and elite cultures and music. A Venn Diagram helps students to visualize the interrelationships among folk, popular, and elite cultures and how the boundaries often blur.
The primary emphasis of this lesson is on what traditional music from each major region of Louisiana sounds like. Thus, the lesson relates closely to Unit IV Lesson 1 and Unit IV Lesson 3. Maida Owens describes the folk regions of the state in Louisiana's Traditional Cultures: An Overview. Nicholas R. Spitzer also provides a shorter overview in The Creole State: An Introduction. Older students can use Louisiana's Three Folk Regions. Briefly, Louisiana breaks down, generally, into three regions: North Louisiana, South Louisiana, and New Orleans. Read Ben Sandmel's article The Treasured Traditions of Louisiana Music for more background information. If these are written above your students' reading ability, refer to the Adaptation Strategies for ways to adjust and modify them to levels that students can understand.
North Louisiana is populated primarily by English-speaking Protestant British Americans and African Americans. It was settled largely by Scots-Irish Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians. North Louisiana includes all areas north of the "French triangle," so for the Louisiana Voices lessons, it includes the Florida Parishes. Refer to the Louisiana Folk Regions Map: Three Major Subregions. The traditional musical genres that characterize North Louisiana are ballads, lullabies, old-time country (or hillbilly), bluegrass, country, string bands, gospel, blues, and rockabilly. String bands typically consist of fiddle, guitar, mandolin, bass, and banjo, especially in bluegrass. Country-western bands also may include a pedal steel, Dobro, and drums.
South Louisiana was settled predominantly by French-speaking Roman Catholic European Americans and African Americans. Many of the Europeans were of Acadian, French, and Spanish descent. Afro-Caribbean and French influences are prevalent in Cajun and Creole music. The traditional musical genres that characterize South Louisiana are a cappella ballads and lullabies; Cajun music (fiddle, triangle or 'tit fer, and diatonic accordion); Creole juré, la-la, and zydeco (chromatic or piano accordion); and swamp pop.
New Orleans features a host of diverse ethnic groups: Irish, West African, French, Spanish, Italian, Vietnamese, Caribbean, Latin American, and others. Dominant forms of traditional music include jazz, brass bands, gospel, rhythm & blues, and salsa.
This lesson addresses two topics, primarily: 1) folk, or traditional, music genres, and 2) the folk region and ethnic group most often associated with these genres. For example, gospel is most often associated with African-American sacred music traditions of various Christian denominations, yet gospel is not exclusive to African Americans. People in white communities sing gospel. Koasati Indians in Allen Parish have gospel choirs. In many churches that share similar songs, it's the style and relationship to the songs that differ among the people. Our examples, though, come from African Americans because gospel is so integral to the identity of African-American religious folk groups.
Be sure to remind students that music is much bigger than "ownership." Musical genres have different meanings within different folk groups, so it is important for students to transcend simply "who" is associated with a certain type of music and focus on the meaning of the music as it identifies and functions within a certain folk group.
Students also need a special vocabulary to be able to talk about music, and this aspect of the lesson is user-friendly. Students study examples of various traditional musical styles from around the state and draw from these resources to become aware of the elements of musical style: instrumentation, lyrics or language, tempo, dynamics, melody, and rhythm.
Key questions to keep in mind with this lesson are: What people and/or region are represented by a piece of music? What musical elements combine to create a traditional music style? How does one style compare with another? The chart below provides background information on styles involved in this unit. Note that the chart does not include all instruments associated with all styles. It is tied directly to the online examples, and includes only the instruments heard in the songs referenced in this unit.
For music credits, see Streaming Audio and Video Clips on Louisiana Traditional Culture.
Familiarize yourself with the traditional music of the three major folk regions of the state. Review Unit IV Lesson 1. Listen to music online, researching Internet sites listed in Technology Connections. Also read some of the articles listed in Technology Connections above. You could focus on one region or genre or select a variety. For an overview read The Treasured Traditions of Louisiana Music. Select excerpts appropriate for your students to print. Talk with the school music teacher and librarian media specialist to determine what recordings, books, and equipment are available. The music teacher might want to work on an interdisciplinary lesson to allow students to play instruments from each of the three regions of the state or to sing a song from each region.
4th and 8th Grade Activities
1. Using the Key to Louisiana Music Resource Sheet, introduce students to different types of music in the three major folk regions of Louisiana. Distribute copies of the Resource Sheet, Pages 1 and 2, or show them to students on a projector. Play some excerpts of music from each part of the state from Louisiana Voices Traditional Music Examples Resource Sheet and discuss with students how these selections typify music of the region.
2. Introduce students to the elements of music by distributing copies of the Musical Elements Chart and reviewing the definitions on Page 1. As a class, have students listen to "Let's Go Get 'Em" by Bo Dollis and Monk Boudreaux and "Wondering, Wondering" by Webb Pierce and put check marks by each element listed in the column below them, on the Musical Elements Chart Worksheet - Page 2, as they are heard or noticed.
Then have students work as a class or in groups to choose two more music samples and complete the last two columns. Tell students to use their own words to fill in the blanks and describe what they hear, and to use descriptive words that are already part of their vocabulary to explain what they hear, such as "yelling, rocking, syrupy, whiney." Using words they know will help them to remember the sounds. Students will have difficulty describing what they hear, so working in a small group would benefit them. Choose appropriate music samples for the activity from those listed in the Louisiana Voices Traditional Music Examples Resource Sheet. Then conduct a whole-class discussion about what they think they heard. This exercise can be repeated with each individual example, and students may listen to each sample more than once.
After completing and discussing the group work, have students complete the Musical Elements Chart Worksheet- Page 3.
3. Ask students what genres, or types, of music they like to listen to. On the chalkboard or flipchart make a class Music Genres List. Their examples may include popular genres such as rap or rhythm & blues, traditional genres such as zydeco or gospel, and elite genres such as opera or symphonies. Then ask where they hear music and make a class Music Venues List. Again, venues will vary from car radio to religious services, football games to the playground, MP3 players to live concerts. Now students are ready to think about music in different parts of Louisiana. Using the Music Genres and Venues Worksheet ask students to identify which part of the state the musical genre comes from and some regional venues like dance halls, parades, festivals, fiddling contests, religious occasions, rites of passage, or rituals. Conduct a whole-class discussion to talk about the variety of answers, that will emerge and have students defend their answers. After the class discussion, break into groups and do a Venn Diagram to discover if certain traditional music genres have similar musical elements. Then identify the folk regions where this music might occur. After the Venn Diagram, make a mobile that compares and contrasts different music genres.
4. Distribute copies of the Music Prove It Worksheet and work with students to fill in an example, using the Key to Louisiana Music Resource Sheet, a Venn Diagram, and the Musical Elements Chart. Have students discuss and defend one or two of their choices to the class.
5. Students can perform a Music Web Quest on the Louisiana Folklife Photo Gallery website for specific instruments associated with the examples of music. Use the Subcategory "Music and Dance | Instruments."
6. Have students visit the American Roots Music website, and click on "instruments and innovations" and the "songs and their artists" links. Also, visit River of Song and American Routes. Assign them to perform a scavenger hunt to find Louisiana musicians and read about the instruments they play. Create a poster that describes a musician and his or her instrument(s).
7. Select a traditional song to compare versions, such as "Amazing Grace," "Jolie Blonde," "Goodnight, Irene," "You Are My Sunshine," or "When The Saints Go Marching In." Ask students to listen to the lyrics of the song you've selected. Ask them to pick their favorite verse and reflect on why it is their favorite: What does it remind them of? How does it make them feel? What message do they read into the verse? Have students share in small groups their reflections on their favorite verse. Afterward, they should write a personal narrative in journal format about their reflections or draw a picture about how the verse makes them feel.
Play excerpts of different versions of the song you've selected, asking students to list differences (instruments, lyrics, or tempo, for example) and commonalities (tune, for example).
Note: If you choose "Amazing Grace," discuss how many different ways "Amazing Grace" is used, its context, and how many groups identify this song as one of their "anthems". For more background information, watch the video "Amazing Grace with Bill Moyers" (see Unit VI Resources).
4th Grade Explorations and Extensions
1. Write a journal entry on which style of traditional Louisiana music you prefer. What instruments do you like? What kind of tempo and rhythm? What kind of lyrics? Write lyrics for a song in your favorite style. You might even make up a tune or set the lyrics to another tune in this style. Traditional musicians have borrowed tunes for centuries.
2. Create a game of musical styles. For example, place markers on a large state map in response to spinning a wheel, naming styles associated with the three major folk regions of the state as they are played aloud.
3. Use the list of music links in Technology Connections above to design your own scavenger hunt. You could share the scavenger hunt with another class, especially in schools with computer labs. The technology teacher could facilitate a friendly competition between classes. The skill that this would teach relates to research and evaluation of sources.
8th Grade Explorations and Extensions
1. Divide into groups and have each group
choose one of the articles below to read. Teachers, if these are written
above your students' reading ability, refer to Adaptation Strategies for
ways to adapt and modify them to levels that your students can understand.
2. Working in pairs, interview each other about the styles of traditional Louisiana music that you prefer. Write a paragraph describing why your partner prefers a style and ask your partner if your description is accurate. Play recordings of your favorite styles for each other.
3. Create a Music Web Quest to find sites related to different styles of Louisiana traditional music. Use copies of Music Web Quest Resource Sheet and Music Web Quest Record Sheet. You will need several to record essential information about each website in the appropriate blanks on the forms (Whose site is this? Is it public or private? What type of media is included--audio, video, text, photos?) and about the tradition (What traditions/cultural groups are represented? What musical styles are represented?). Then compare and contrast your sites with sites found by classmates and compile data in a chart, drawing conclusions about findings, such as which traditions or types of media are well represented on the Web, what genres or sites students like best. Or pick two music genres, research them further, and make a presentation to a group or the class using music to demonstrate your findings.
Use the following websites that feature Louisiana music online:
Expand this activity by using these additional websites featuring music from across the United States:
4. Survey different kinds of Louisiana
traditional music and report on a topic. For example, you might compare
and contrast two traditional musicians from the same region or from
different regions of the state. Or choose one musical genre, research its
roots, and make a timeline of cultural influences and changes in the
genre, including when certain stylistic elements appeared. If you focus on
Cajun music, Cajun
Music: Alive and Well in Louisiana is a useful article that
discusses the historical development of instruments driven by cultural
influences in Cajun music. Teachers, use Adaptation Strategies to
adapt this adult-oriented resource to your students' reading level, if
necessary. If researching jazz, look for influences from the Caribbean,
blues, and work songs. In North Louisiana, find roots in fiddle music and
the old-time country string bands that evolved in the Upland South. As the
year progresses, continue researching Louisiana traditional music and add
examples to your timeline.
5. Use the map of Ethnic Group Locales at Maps of Louisiana's Living Traditions to demonstrate how ethnically diverse the state is. Using printed material, Internet sources listed in Technology Connections above (as well as other sites that students find), radio, recordings, and online interviews, choose an ethnic group and research the traditional music of that group. Create a multimedia presentation that reports your findings.
6. As you read literature and history throughout the year, note references to traditional music. Keep notebooks with a list of book titles and the music genres mentioned. Research some of these traditional genres in the school library and on the Internet and perhaps once a quarter share findings, including recordings if possible, individually or in teams. Also pay attention to references in television shows and commercials, radio, the Internet, and other pop culture sources.
7. Perform a skit in which each student assumes the identity of a Louisiana musician and come together for conversation. You'll need to know the biography of each musician and their musical skills. You could use one of the 35 musicians featured on Louisiana's Legendary Musicians: A Select List.
8. Listen to the lyrics of a song that comes from a culture that is different from yours. What do the lyrics tell you about the culture it comes from? Contrast the culture with your own, using a Venn Diagram. Write an additional verse to the song, but make it reflect your own culture.
9. Use the Jazz in the Schools lesson one on the Advent of Jazz to explore jazz in New Orleans.