Sharing Music Across Cultures

Activity 2: Learning From an Oral Tradition

Lesson Background:

Indigenous cultures throughout the United States, as well as working folk cultures (such as the Yankee whaling culture) have passed on music through oral tradition in contrast to written instructions or scores. In the case of indigenous cultures, music was usually passed on by someone the student had a personal connection to, such as a family member or Elder. In some folk cultures, these songs were performed as work songs to unify the movements of labor, having been taught by foremen and senior laborers.

Today music is often learned from downloading files off of the Internet, or reading intricate standard notation.

What aspects of the music do students who learn through oral tradition achieve that is not available to students who learn in a more "Western formal notation method? Learning from an oral delivery model takes a concentrated focus on listening and a sense of patience as well as a stable and reliable relationship between teacher and student.

Lesson Objective:

To help students reinforce a strong relationship with a respected elder family member or mentor, and to encourage them to share music through an oral delivery model.

Day 1



  • Show the Yupik Pulling Song with its traditional orchestration.

  • Ask students to hum the tune.


Most students will feel uncomfortable with this activity if they have not heard the tune enough times to learn it or if they have not sung in front of each other before. Note your understanding of their reluctance, and play the video again.



  • Play it several times, and ask the class to hum along with the video and then hum alone as a class.

  • Students will reflect on the following questions in their project journals:



  1. Imagine a time before easily acessible recording equipment, when songs had to be passed by word of mouth. Would it be easy to learn a song from just anyone?

  2. What characteristics do you think a good mentor would possess?

  3. Aside from the lesson of learning a song, what benefit do you think you could take away from this kind of mentorship?



  • Students are to contact an elder from their family who they feel comfortable interviewing. Students should disclose their full intent and reveal their questions for the interview when initializing the contact.


Interview: Students will need a recording device.


Questions to ask:



  1. What is the first song you can remember hearing someone sing? 

  2. Are there any songs you have only heard sung in your family and nowhere else?

  3. Are there any songs you have only heard where you live or lived?

  4. When was that?

  5. Had you heard that song before? Where?

  6. Would you sing that song for me?

  7. Would you teach that song to me?



  • Students will learn a song BY EAR from their mentor or interviewee. Students should not use a tape recorder to replay song but instead listen to the singing of the song repeatedly until they feel inclined to sing along. This can be a deceptively lengthy process and may take more than one visit.

Day 2



  • Show the Yupik Pulling Song from Day 1 again, then play the orchestrated version from the Echoes symphonic performance. Have the students answer the following questions in their project journals:



  1. Having hummed this song the day before and heard the sparse orchestration of the voice and Yupik drum, what are your first impressions of the orchestrated version?

  2. Do you feel that anything has been lost or is missing in the new orchestration? What?

  3. Do you feel that there is a positive effect on the music through the new orchestration? What is it about the new arrangement that makes you feel this way?

  4. Does the new orchestration of the Pulling Song change your original opinion of the song? Do you like it more? Less? Why?



  • Reflect on the above questions as a class.

  • Remind students to finish learning songs from their Elder or mentor.


 

Day 3


 



  • Show the traditional No Luna segment several times, asking students to hum along.

  • Show the traditional Yupik Pulling Song again, having students answer these questions in their project journals:



  1. What musical elements (texture, dynamics, tonal range) seem contrary between these two styles of music?

  2. What musical elements (texture, dynamics, tonal range) seem complementary between these two styles of music?



  • Show the orchestrated version of No Luna from the Echoes symphonic performance.

  • Show the orchestrated version of the Yupik Pulling Song, having students answer these questions in their project journals:



  1. What musical elements (texture, dynamics, tonal range) seem contrary between these two styles of music?

  2. What musical elements (texture,dynamics,tonal range) seem complementary between these two different styles of music?



  • Reflect as a class: How did the difference in orchestration change your perspective on the relationships between these two different styles of music?

  • Did the symphonic orchestration make it easier to relate these two distinctively different styles of music? How so?

  • Remind students to finish learning songs from their Elder or mentor.


 

Day 4


Students will perform the song they learned from their Elder or mentor for the class.


Prior to these performances, make sure you have set listening guidelines and performance protocols for your classroom.


Each student should invite his or her Elder or mentor to class for the song sharing activity.


This project would not be possible without the help of the students' mentors. It is the teacher's job to make sure their participation in this phase of the activity goes as smoothly as possible. The teacher may need to arrange rides for mentors, should make sure that they are comfortable during the performance (with age appropriate seating), and should be thanked publicly for their help in this project. A small gift or token of appreciation from the class for each Elder or mentor would be appropriate.


Student Performance:


 



  • Each student should introduce his or her Elder or mentor to the class.

  • Each student will introduce the piece of music learned from the mentor and will tell a little bit about the process of learning the tune in this manner.

  • Each student will perform his or her tune; Elders and mentors are welcome to perform for the class as well if they wish, but this should be decided prior to the classroom visit so guests do not feel put on the spot.

  • Each student should end the performance by telling one thing he or she felt was special about this learning experience