Rocking the Classroom

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If you walked by Cogswell Hall this morning, you might have heard "Louie Louie" ringing through the halls. A lot of "Louie Louie." As in, a full hour of "Louie Louie." After all, it's "Louie Louie" Day in Gen Choral.

"Gen Choral" is what students call Music professor Laura Ferguson's General/Choral Methods class. And although Ferguson admits it has a reputation as "the rock band class," it's actually a class that teaches music education students the "very traditional" skills they need to lead choirs and choruses--along with general musical training to help them work with the many other ensembles they may be asked to lead, including world drums, microphone techniques, steel drumming, and, yes, rock band.

The mix of skills taught in Gen Choral derives from new thinking about what school music programs should provide for students. "There's this real disconnect between the kinds of music we make in schools and the kind of music we find authentically in our culture," notes Ferguson. Instead of making students fit the mold of what we already have--concert band, choir, orchestra--why not fit the mold to them? Why not open the door wider so more students participate in school music programs?

Ferguson is not the only music educator asking these questions. More primary and secondary schools are bringing popular music into their music curricula each year, and there is a growing body of research on the approach. In Britain, an organization called Musical Futures trains teachers to build upon students' "existing passion for music." And in the U.S., Little Kids Rock supports "teaching methods that are rooted in children's knowledge of popular music forms such as rock, rap, blues, hip-hop, and more." (Check out the New York Times's "Fixes" blog for more on Little Kids Rock.)

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But Ferguson believes she is the first person to create a college course for music educators that revolves around these new approaches to teaching music.

A key element of Ferguson's approach to the rock band part of the course is separating music students from the instruments they have spent years learning to play. It's not an easy transition for many, as years of musical training have convinced them that they should not play music at all unless they can play it very well. But not playing the instrument they usually play forces music ed students to be more "like their future students."

Hence "Louie Louie" Day.

Within a single class session, Ferguson's students pick up the electric guitar, electric bass, and sit at a drum kit for the first time. They learn their first three power chords and start playing a recognizable song. For many, it's a completely new way to learn music--and they are surprised to see how quickly beginning music students can start making music that they enjoy.

It's a lesson these future educators will take with them when they graduate. So don't be surprised if you hear "Louie Louie" coming from the choir room at a high school near you.

A Gen Choral Sample

While "Louie Louie" Day isn't open to the public, the Gen Choral concert is. This final class activity is a concert where students direct each other in choir performances and play music on the instruments they started playing only a few weeks earlier.

Below, you can enjoy a now-legendary (among IUP music students) performance from one of those concerts: "Lorraine's Lament," an ode to Lorraine Wilson, professor emeritus and former chair of Music:

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Michael J. Powers published on September 28, 2011 4:15 PM.

Nursing Simulation Lab Makes Music Video Debut was the previous entry in this blog.

Safety Protocols Everywhere, and No One Paying Attention? is the next entry in this blog.

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