Tag Archives: music

7 Notes

“Do * Re * Mi * Fa * So * La * Ti

As early as the seventeenth century, European musicians believed that this mnemonic for teaching musical pitch was derived from a Muslim source, though we now think this may itself lead back to a Sanskrit Bronze Age hymn. There is an equally strong tradition that it came from the first letters of each phrase of an eighth-century hymn to Saint John which goes: ‘So that these your servants can, with all their voice, sing your wonderful feats, clean the blemish of our spotted lips, O Saint John’—or, rather, in Latin, ‘Ut queant laxis resonare fibris, Mira gestorum famuli tuorum, Solve pollute labii reatum, Sancte Ioannes.’

However, for most of us the whole seven-not mnemonic is intrinsically bound up in Julie Andrews’ teaching the Von Trapp children to sing in the film The Sound of Music. This is one of the most beloved propaganda films of all time, creating an emotional case for excluding the inhabitants of the beautiful mountain scenery from any complicity with the war crimes of Nazi Germany. ‘Doe a deer, a female deer, Ray, a drop of golden sun, etc.’”

Excerpted from: Rogerson, Barnaby. Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers–from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World. New York: Picador, 2013.

The Monkees

Are you old enough to remember when The Monkees television show was broadcast between 1966 and 1968? I saw it in those years, and if memory serves it was one of the last things up in the Saturday-morning cartoon lineup (though I think this was a rebroadcast and the show debuted in primetime), right before The Jetsons. By Christmas of 1967, I had my own copy of The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour, which only confirmed my tender-aged skepticism of the The Monkees as both thespians and musicians.

Here is a reading on The Monkees along with its accompanying vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet. I haven’t tagged this as high-interest material, because I’m not sure it is–but it might be, depending on the student who receives it. There is a fair amount of conceptual inquiry implicit in the story of The Monkees, including the difference between commerce and art, the continuum between the popular and the rarefied in the arts, as well as the coarse and the fine in culture.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Blog Post No. 4,001: A Tentative Start to a Unit on the History of Hip-Hop

OK! I published my 4,000th post on this blog two days ago, which is something I’ve been pushing toward since the COVID19 pandemic began in March. Now that I’ve reached this point, I’ll be taking a break to look for a job, and to begin to review works in progress with an eye toward finishing some of them. And reading and resting, with an emphasis on resting often. I’ll continue to publish, just not at the frenetic pace I’ve set in the past five months. And, again, I hope I’ll have some new materials for your consideration, review, and use.

Before that, though, as has been my custom each time I’ve passed another thousand posts, I’ll publish some unfinished materials to store them for future use, and to offer users and readers of this blog some preliminary documents to develop from the ground up should they be so inclined.

Throughout my career as a teacher, and in every school in which I’ve served, you probably won’t be surprised to hear, my students have been deeply interested in Hip-Hop music. Since I’ve been present for the entire history of Hip-Hop–I remember vividly discovering the first album by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and its electrifying single, “The Message”–but I’d heard Kurtis Blow and The Sugarhill Gang before that, I knew at the beginning of the genre’s life I was hearing something new, original, and, man, oh so danceable. I started playing Hip-Hop records in 1981 when I began to DJ the occasional party. I still have Hip-Hop songs in my playlists (have you heard the song and album “Back on the Block” by Quincy Jones? You should).

So, when I showed up to teach at a school on Jackson Avenue in the South Bronx in the fall of 2003, I quickly started to think up ways to reach the students in my classroom. One thing that always stuck with me, as I watched Hip-Hop develop as a genre, was the remark Chuck D made that Rap music was the CNN of young, urban Black people (and I thank Quote Investigator for clarifying that paraphrase).

Chuck D’s aphorism became the guiding principle for the development of my unit on Hip-Hop. Broadly, I saw this unit as an exploration of the oral traditions that are common to cultures worldwide. Moreover, I wanted to situate Hip-Hop in the context of global oral traditions so that students would be able to move between the general (oral tradition) and the specific (Hip-Hop music). In any case, I knew that I could use Hip-Hop to engage my students.

When I first conceived of this unit, as I say, I was a new teacher in New York. Instead of outlining a unit plan, which at that time I still didn’t fully know how to do, let alone understand the purpose of, I just improvised. I can tell you in that improvisation, the first lesson involved a choral reading of the first twenty-five lines of Homer’s Odyssey, which I presented as the world’s first Hip-Hop song. My students were very self-conscious about choral reading, so I subsequently shortened that exercise to eight lines. I proceeded to the medieval troubadours as messengers, hewing to the greatest extent possible to the idea that musicians could be deliverers of the news in that (or any) world. From there I moved on to the Griot tradition in West Africa, then on to a review of  popular music in the United States, particularly blues songs from the world of Chess Records. Then, while continuing to focus on the oral tradition, I included material about and by The Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron as the progenitors of Hip-Hop. Finally, I moved on to the earliest Hip-Hop recordings, as above, by The Sugarhill Gang, Kurtis Blow, and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Later, as I began to deepen my research into the history that informs this unit, I also would include material (as below) on the Black Power Movement and DJ Kool Herc.

After running through this a couple of times in an improvisational mode, I began outlining a unit and preparing reading and writing work for its lessons. It was at that time that the New York City Department of Education, alas, abruptly changed the approach we were using with special needs students and struggling learners. Teaching to the Regents Examination became de rigueur, and this unit fell by the wayside.

As I look over the documents I accumulated in the run-up to writing out this unit, I can see that I envisioned an interdisciplinary reading and writing unit that analyzed the sociology of language, knowledge, and culture, and how all this was held together by music to synthesize Hip-Hop. I definitely wanted to focus on DJ Kool Herc’s ability to bring communities together in celebration with music–i.e. his famous block parties. To sum up, and move on to the documents, let me say this: the history of Hip-Hop offers a trove of possibilities for conceptual instruction that deals with continuity and change, poetry and poetics, tradition and innovation, mythology and earthbound humanity, modes of communication within and across cultures, the sociology of culture, registers of language from vernacular and dialects to the rule-bound and stylistically formal, the business of the music industry, what constitutes “news,” and the politics of, bumantity, equity, and liberation. As the music changed over the years, and I discussed these changes with a colleague (thanks for your insight, David) in New York, I saw that there was room in this unit for a discussion lesson on the corporatization and commodification of Hip-Hop driven by a question about how we got from the socially conscious lyrics of “The Message” (or, earlier, but lesser known among younger people, Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” or the beautiful “Lady Day and John Coltrane“) to songs glorifying murder, mayhem, and misogyny.

Anyway, let’s get on to the documents. First, the planning materials: here is the preliminary unit plan, which shows its age by my citation of New York State Standards. Those standards mean I started writing this before the Common Core Standards arrived and were adopted in New York State (if you need something shiny to show to an administrator, here are the Common Core English Language Arts Standards for grades 9-12 in Microsoft Word, so you can copy and paste from this document); this is the lesson plan template and this is the worksheet template. And here, as a do-now exercise, is a Cultural Literacy worksheet on the troubadours.

Now the texts I accumulated, haphazardly, for this unit: here are three pages of mixed text, including a definition of “Oral Tradition” from The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theorythe first eight lines of The Odyssey from the Fagles translation of that work by Homer, and the lyrics from three classic songs–one from Willie Dixon and two from Elias McDaniel (aka Bo Diddley)–from the Chess Records catalogue that anticipate the good-natured, playful, boasting of early Hip-Hop songs. This reading on The Last Poets, that I all but certainly took from the pages of either The Source or XXL magazines–and which I did a very bad job of scanning and citing–outlines the history of these proto-Hip-Hop writers and performers. Here’s a reading on DJ Kool Herc along with its vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet. From elsewhere on this blog, here is a reading and comprehension worksheet on Public Enemy, the seminal Hip-Hop group. Finally, here is a reading on the Black Power movement and its accompanying vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet.

As always, I seek your peer review on this material. In this case there isn’t much to review. But if you do use this material or its ideas to build a unit of your own, I would be interested in hearing about that. If you need or want anything in the way of ancillary materials to develop this unit, for example a context clues or Cultural Literacy worksheet, please advise; if they’re not already available on this site, I’ll write something for you and attach it as an addendum on this post. As far as typos and the rest, if you think it’s important, please advise. When or if I use this material, I’m sure I’ll revise it extensively.

Get well soon, Jacob Blake. I deeply regret and am ashamed of the assault on your dignity and your life.

Now: on the Blog Post 5,001.

Term of Art: Adaptive Skills

adaptive skills: Daily living skills that a person needs to be able to live, work, and play independently. There are 10 skills that are included in this area: communication, self-care, home living, social skills, leisure,, health and safety, self-direction, functional academics, community use, and work.

Adaptive skills are assessed in the person’s typical environment, in all aspects of an individual’s life. A person with limited intellectual functioning but who does not have have limits in adaptive skill areas may not be diagnosed as having mental retardation. By law, such a person is not retarded.”

Excerpted from: Turkington, Carol, and Joseph R. Harris, PhD. The Encyclopedia of Learning Disabilities. New York: Facts on File, 2006.

The Magic Flute

The Magic Flute (German title: Die Zauberflote). An opera by Mozart (1756-91), with a libretto by Emanuel Shikaneder, first performed in 1791. In this mystical (and quasi-masonic) quest opera, the magic flute is bestowed on Tamino to protect him as he goes through various rites of passage, such as ordeal by fire and water. The story is based on one found in Christoph Wieland’s collection of oriental folk tales (1786).

‘The opera [The Magic Flute]…is the only one in existence that might conceivably have been composed by God.’

Neville Cardus: in the Manchester Guardian, 1961

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

Hank Williams

Here’s another set of documents that to the best of my knowledge I only used once; that means I wrote them for someone with an interest in country music in general and this legend of the genre in particular. So, here is a reading on Hank Williams and its accompanying vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.


“Troubadours: Poets of southern France, northern Italy, and Catalunya who flourished from the 12th to the 13th century and wrote primarily in Occitan. The term is derived from the Occitan verb trobar, to compose. Troubadour poetry is best known through the elaborately formal lyrical Canso which celebrated courtly love and chivalry, and for proposing a fusion of aesthetic sensibility with the ability to love. During the 13th century nonlyrical genres, such as the sirventes, and the narrative works, such as the Canso de la crozada, became prevalent. Eleanor of Aquitaine was a noted patron of troubadours who introduced troubadour themes and lyrical conventions at the courts of northern France. The trobairitz were female poets of southern France who wrote in Occitan in the same period. Most trobairitz, such as Beatrice de Dia, Cara d’Andeza, and Na Castelloza practiced the Canso and other lyric genres. (See TROUVERES; GUILLAUME IX; BERNARD DE VENTADOR; and BETRAN DE BORN.)”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

A Reading Course in Romanticism in Art, Literature, and Music

If we’ve learned anything during the COVID19 pandemic, it is that far too many people are far too quick to forego reason, the weight of facts, and the methods of scientific inquiry for emotionalism, subjectivity, and simple ignorance when considering public policy and personal conduct in our current circumstances. I’ve always distrusted emotion, primarily because in my life I have seen it used to contrive, justify and buttress errant nonsense and the ghastly conduct that often accompanies errant nonsense–e.g. showing up heavily armed at a state capital building out of anger that you cannot get your hair done or drink in a tavern. It seems to me that when the leader of a nation-state suggests that a new, aggressive, and demonstrably fatal virus will disappear by “miracle,” romantic thinking is on the march.

In these circumstances, it is useful to remember the romantic movement in Europe rejected reason and objectivity in favor of ardor and subjectivity. I almost wrote my undergraduate honors thesis on the extent to which romanticism was implicated in twentieth-century totalitarian political movements. I don’t think one needs to watch much of a speech by either Benito Mussolini or Adolf Hitler, or review the propagandistic graphic art from Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union, to see that these dictators weren’t appealing to the capacity for reason in their audiences.

So, now seems like as good a time as any to publish a trio of readings and comprehension worksheets on romanticism. I just rendered the readings as typescripts and wrote the worksheets a couple of days ago, so this stuff is brand new. Between the three readings, there are repetitions of key ideas: as always on Mark’s Text Terminal, all of these documents are in Microsoft Word, so you can do with them as you wish.

First, here is a reading on romanticism in the plastic arts along with its vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet.

Second, here is a reading on the romantic movement in literature with the vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet that accompanies it.

Finally, here is a reading on romantic music (not make-out records by crooners, but those nineteenth-century composers like Schumann, Liszt, and Wagner) along with its attendant vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet.

And that’s it.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Led Zeppelin

OK parents and teachers, if you have headbangers in the house, literally and metaphorically in your respective cases, then you might have use for this reading on Led Zeppelin and its accompanying vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet. I just wrote this yesterday. That said, I suspect that for the right kind of learner, this will be high-interest material, so I’ve tagged it as such.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Brian Eno

A couple of hundred years ago when I was a high school student myself, the primary form of one-upmanship in my crowd consisted in identifying the most obscure, and often the most unlistenable, prog rock band. Then, at exactly the right moment, i.e. when it would most effectively reflect one’s own cultural superiority, one would drop the name of said band into conversation, generally editorializing on the band’s “excellence.” Personally, I wasted a lot of time and money on this exercise in status anxiety, buying and listening to execrable records by bands like Jade Warrior, Aphrodite’s Child (my faux sophistication required me to feign affection for the atrocious album 666 by Aphrodite’s Child), and other groups and artists on Vertigo Records.

And this to some extent continues–or at least it did ten years ago when I was out visiting Madison. At a cocktail party, one of my interlocutors mentioned to several of us that he’d recently seen Peter Hammill live. I think he assumed that we wouldn’t know that Mr. Hammill had been a founding member of another of these prog rock bands, Van der Graaf Generator, or, indeed, that I still had Mr. Hamill’s song “Imperial Zeppelin,” from his solo album Fool’s Mate, in one of my current playlists. I decided it was best, at age almost fifty, to pass on taking the conversation any further.

Anyway, if you have such students, if they don’t already know about him, this reading on Brian Eno and its accompanying vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet might be of some interest. Eno remains a major figure–and of deserved interest because of his work with David Bowie and U2, to name just two artists with whom he has worked–so this material, relatively speaking, is au courant. But he was, in my day, somewhat arcane–and for me, also mostly unlistenable.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.