Wednesday, October 12, 2016

What is Music?

Steiner says that Sound, Word, Thought, and Ego are all different senses. Yes, it is easy to tell when we hear a noise, but it is more than that... and perhaps a different sense... when we identify that some noises are words. (For sign language, we can distinguish between a movement and a sign.)
It is a still different sense when we perceive the thoughts behind what comes out of someone's mouth. And it is still different sense when we perceive the SELF of another person, which exists above and beyond their thoughts.

In Philosophy on Friday we considered a parallel set of distinctions between sounds and music. What is it that makes a sound music? If something is not music, WHY is it not music? This is a lesson plan I first developed a few years ago, at a Montessori school. I used the same pieces of music this time, so click on the link to see my other students' responses to our discussion if you wish to compare them.

What is Music?
Initial Thoughts

    melody that comes in all sorts of different sounds and carries ideas with it

    sounds with a melody or a pattern of beats

    music is a surrounding feeling - if I'm outside and wolves are howling, to me that's music, different sounds blended together to make music. I don't think it always has to have words. Giraffes, elephants, whales... it doesn't have to be flutes, guitars, drums, tambourines... it can be nature performing music

    sound or multiple noises that appeals to a person

    a human sound
    and every kind of sound is also a kind of music to me

    It doesn't matter if it has words. Do crickets have words?

    doesn't have to come from humans to be music.
    male humpback whales sing

Then for each of the following pieces, I played the piece and then asked the question: it is music? why or why not?

I think so... I think that any sound is a kind of music. It doesn't need to be a kind of music to you

It is. It's a combination of sounds that someone finds beautiful. Any sound that someone likes that has some sort of a rhythm is considered music

I don't know what to think. she's screaming but yet it's music. it was like that spiral... she was making shapes with her voice and one side isn't even and that's how it made me feel

nobody could keep a straight face. it was ridiculous

the people in the room liked it but I didn't like it

NOT music because it's completely random

if it was a song to her...

it's only music if you can write it down and repeat it, memorize it, learn it. She'll never sing this exactly the same way every time

I think that's sort of the point of her music. whatever she's feeling, depending on her audience, the acoustics. It isn't meant to be repeatable

If it isn't meant to be repeated, why is it music?

I don't think it's music. because he didn't do anything at all.

it was. he was making music with his own body. Just because you can't hear it doesn't mean it's not music. he was making it his own way

I think it wasn't. He wasn't making any sound. Turning a page doesn't sound like music to me.

He focused on the silence part but I think there needed to be a sound part in the song. He wanted us to go to sleep?

[I reminded them of Lao-Tzu and the Tao, and the idea that everything also contains its own opposite within it.]

When there's sound, there must be absence of sound. All music must have a silence part / all silence must have a music part. That was only half of it. It wan't full music. It was only a part. That music lacked music.

no synchronized patterns and it's missing sound also

he actually made sounds. It's silent music.

it doesn't have to have words to be music but it has to be feeling. I didn't get any signal from that. I was just thinking that it was a void. Some emotion needs to be portrayed.

He did it for a reason

He didn't express anything. There was no words.

Yes it was music. But I don't know why.

rhythm, music, pattern, sounds. Her voice was a pattern. Did what her instruments told herder to do. Could practice it and do it.

She was singing for a purpose, beat, not nonsense words

I think it was music, had feeling. It was sad. It made us react. 4'33" didn't have a feeling.

this song has feeling. it has a purpose

Yes. Combination of sounds with a rhythmic pattern. Sound and absence of sound.

yes! all these different noises.
you can tell the feeling is excitement

I have no idea. Everyone just seemed to like it

Yes it's music. But I don't know why.

I think it's music. There's a synchronized pattern. Loud. Noticeable. You can predict something about it.

They're using the instruments. Everyone is singing. There's a conductor which makes it music-music.

It's planned. You can do it over and over again. The conductor is making sure the people don't mess up.

Personally, I see parallels with Sound - Word - Thought - Ego. Sound is the simplest thing to recognize. It has rhythm when it has a pattern and becomes predictable. It becomes music (to me) when it conveys emotion... and the highest level of music doesn't just convey emotion, but it also says something about the experience of being human. Actually I guess the hierarchy for me is more like Sound - Pattern - Poetry - Philosophy. So the question is still, at what point does it become MUSIC? And in the case of John Cage, can it touch on the highest levels of Poetry and Philosophy without also having the more fundamental elements of Sound and Pattern? Can you only reach the highest levels by way of passing through the lower levels?

So that was an enjoyable topic!!! Our new topic is Friendship. We started with A Friend is Someone Who Likes You by Joan Walsh Anglund, and then discussed our definitions of friendship. Next we talked about whether friendship is important or not important to us personally. Then each person thought of a friendship and came up with a brief phrase to describe it (5 words maximum) and we wrote all the phrases on the board; then we placed students in pairs randomly and they got to meet with their partners and elaborate more on their friendships. Lastly, we read Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss and discussed what a faithful friend looks like, whether we are that type of friend to others, and whether or not it is worth it to give so much to a friendship.

Here are some of their words:

    a friendship is something like a bond

    the thing you like has to at least be living or once was living

    I think having a bond with something is completely necessary

    I think not everybody has to have a friend. Some people are not social. Some people prefer to climb the tree alone.

    I feel like my dog has magic. That magic is the joy that animal gives you. When that animal gives you joy its magical powers rise. The special bond between animals and humans is magic power.

    I don't have one. I do like my mom.

Thinking about thinking, learning about learning, philosophizing... it's all part of a metacognitive classroom. I think that it is respectful of students to talk with them openly about what learning looks like and how the brain works. To me, there should be almost a civil rights movement around multiple intelligence theory. As an educator, I think this is a profound and urgent need. There is no doubt that students MUST get to know themselves as learners so they can advocate for themselves later on in life. And there is so much fascinating research out there which we can use to better inform our teaching practices. Why wouldn't we pass that along to students as well?

"Changing Education Paradigms"
a wonderful talk by Sir Ken Robinson

A master teacher at Carbondale New School has a fantastic way of encouraging students to drink plenty of water in the classroom! (Drinking lots of water primes the brain for peak performance.) Each child always keeps a water bottle at his or her desk. The kids have a little classroom routine. When they've finished drinking all of their water, they go get the little camel figurine in the classroom and move it to their seat. Then they refill the water bottle. As the next child empties his or her water bottle, the camel moves to a new desk. The little camel moves all around the classroom each day, quietly encouraging children and reminding them to drink all of their water. So simple. So effective! Today I purchased a little Holtziger wooden camel so that we can adopt the same strategy in our classroom!

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