I’m not kidding. That’s exactly what I had last year, and poor classically-trained me had a tough time getting them to listen to Vivaldi.
So in the interests of cultural exchange, I asked my students to write me a whole big list of songs they liked, and I agreed to get hold of them and find ways to incorporate them into our senior music unit. That weekend, instead of listening to Bach, Mozart, and Prokofiev, I was studying the musical works of Bullet For My Valentine, Parkway Drive, Enter Shikari, and The Amity Affliction.
Once I got my ears around the fact that their songs often use the voice as a (deliberately) non-pitched instrument, I discovered that some of them aren’t all that bad. “I Hate Hartley” by The Amity Affliction is now one of my favourite songs. The following week, I used it for a couple of musical analysis lessons, where it became quite a good learning tool for discussing timbre and pitch (or lack thereof). I also learned to never, ever refer to these songs as just “screamo” (“It’s post-hardcore, Miss!”). It’s also about a dozen other musical genres.
If this kind of music really isn’t your cup of tea, but it’s what your students are listening to, the way to get around it is to treat the “screamo” voice as just another type of instrument with its own distinctive timbre. Then read the lyrics of the song (you’ll need to: it’s next to impossible to understand a screamer otherwise) and see how the “scream” brings out their meaning. What meaning would be expressed if the lyrics were delivered differently? Sung in the usual way? In another dynamic? By a higher or lower voice?
As it happens, in a song like “I Hate Hartley”, not only is there both a screamer and a singer, there’s also what sounds like a whole football crowd, and the way that all three types of vocal execution interact with the lyrics becomes an engaging discussion about musical expression and interpretation. The song is also quite interesting and complex in other areas as well, particularly structure, dynamics, and texture. The way it uses the musical elements to express both anger and despair as well as determination and hope could make for a pretty interesting analysis essay. Check it out…if your eardrums can handle it.
Having said all this, I don’t advocate dropping Vivaldi & Co. from the senior music class altogether and just concentrating on “stuff the kids listen to”. As a music teacher, it’s part of my job to take them out of their comfort zone and introduce them to other genres and eras. But I’m all for using “their music” as a teaching/learning tool, and maybe even incorporating both at the same time. One idea I have is to take the chord progression and/or bassline from the second movement of Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in F Minor (for example), uploading it as a soundfile in whatever sequencing software I can get onto our new laptops, and getting my students to compose around it, letting them be as “post-hardcore” as they like if that’s what floats their bubble.
Then after they’ve done that, I’ll show them the original piece and see whether their understanding and appreciation of it has been influenced by their own work, and to what degree. It will also be very interesting to compare all the different compositions they’ve created. I look forward to the experiment. I also have a student who’s a very good bass player, and I fully intend to have him pinching basslines from Bach before the year is out.
The only thing one needs to be cautious about with the post-hardcore and similar genres, is that a lot of their songs tend to use explicit language and themes, but there are a number of others which are quite useable in class. I would tend not to use them for my junior classes, but they’re great for seniors.
I will say that listening to post-hardcore and using it to teach, has stretched my horizons and widened my repertoire scope dramatically. This learning curve hasn’t happened without any payback, however. There was one other student in that class who was not part of the post-hardcore metal-head group, and she also had some input into our listening list. The week after shredding our eardrums with The Amity Affliction, those same students were analysing Beyoncé. Revenge is sweet.
How to cope when your music class is full of “screamo” (sorry, post-hardcore) fans… by Gabrielle Deschamps is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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