Eighth grade history students, with the help of teachers Skip Walter, Kathleen Jimenez, Chris Pflueger and MCDS parents David Katznelson and Barb Bersche undertook a new and exciting project this past spring using music recordings to examine American history.
Drawing from the Library of Congress’ immense archive of recorded music, students examined the decade of the 1930s and the impact that the Great Depression had on society. The final product of this effort was a book titled Ain’t No Depression in Heaven which includes student essays and artwork, transcriptions of song lyrics, and a compact disc of the recordings.
The students worked both individually and in collaborative groups to transcribe lyrics, conduct research, write analytical essays, and curate photographs and ephemera.
The project that led to Ain’t No Depression in Heaven was designed to turn each student into a musicologist: learning how to look at the lyrics of a song, ask questions about the song and songwriter, what story the song told to its audience and how the realities of the place the song was recorded framed what it was actually saying. The students worked both individually and in collaborative groups to transcribe lyrics, conduct research, write analytical essays, and curate photographs and ephemera.
During their research, many groups connected with scholars, libraries, writers and researchers to ask questions presented by their specific recording. In some cases, the students began their voyage not knowing anything about their artist but ended up finding family members of the recorded artist and old articles and dissertations related to the songs. They talked to other musicologists and started creating a bigger sense of who they were listening to. Much of this research was new and the students ultimately added to the overall knowledge of musicologists.
Listen to songs from Ain’t No Depression in Heaven:
Having worked with Grammy-nominated musicologists and designers, the students' research and contributions have been published in a release that shares the quality of the top music reissue projects on the market.
Their work also becomes a part of the historical recording conversation — much of it being the first of its kind for the recordings they have focused upon. Their publication will be included in the Library of Congress’ collection in Washington, D.C., the research library at the Missouri Historical Society and the MCDS Library’s collection.
In upcoming school years, eighth grade history students (aka the League of Young Musicologists) will continue to undertake this annual project. While the format will remain consistent from year to year, students will examine different periods of American history and/or themes that emerge in the nation’s music.
In November, history teacher Skip Walter traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with Todd Harvey, curator of the Alan Lomax collection at the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress, and explore the archive for songs from the next decade that our student musicologists will research — the 1920s.