We're about four months into our blog "experiment" here at Around the Oak Grove, and frankly, here at IUP's Office of Communications, we're ready to drop the "experiment" label. We've found this blog a great place to bring you stories that you wouldn't see elsewhere, and we've been very pleased with the attention we've been able to bring to them.
And now--time for a break. We'll be back on January 4, but until then, here's a top ten list of some of our favorite stories from our first four months.
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.)
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:
One of the main jobs of IUP's Office of Communications is to tell the story of IUP. Or, rather, stories. With over 15,000 students, 700 professors, and 100,000 living alumni, there are a lot of stories to tell.
We tell them wherever we can: online, in print, in e-mail, on television. But frankly, there are always more great IUP stories than we can ever hope to cover.
This blog is an experiment in getting more of those stories out to the public. We may end up revisiting some of these stories elsewhere--in IUP Magazine, in a profile, or in video form. But in the meantime, we want to get those stories out to the public quickly, in a form that's easy to digest and share. That's where Around the Oak Grove comes in.
The Oak Grove is where IUP's story began, and it's where IUP's stories have been unfolding for 136 years. Around the Oak Grove aims to bring you the stories we're hearing around the Oak Grove right now--stories that aren't getting heard elsewhere and that we think are worth hearing.