Politics. Religion. Popular music.
Three things you often don't discuss outside of like-minded company. While it can be difficult to cross the divide between Republicans & Democrats, it can be even harder to get people to agree on the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. To decide between Tupac & Biggie.
The hardest part is, as teachers of a subject that everyone has an extremely personal & emotional experience with, how do we not allow our tastes to taint our students burgeoning cultural identities? To paraphrase Dr. Madsen, one of my professors at FSU, how do we keep our biases from becoming their biases?
Arguing about, or more kindly, discussing popular music in a defensive manner, is one of my favorite pastimes. Surely, I am not alone on this matter. My hunger for talking pop was only exacerbated by the sheer volume of programming on VH1 devoted to list-making & talking heads discussing pop culture in the Aughts, a trope that network perfected before it was exported to every other cable channel. In my early 20s, I must have watched VH1's Top 100 One Hit Wonders special nearly a hundred times, every single time falling to my knees in anguish as it always ended with Alice Cooper doing the Macarena. When I start to get overly excited about a particular pop music rant, most of my friends ignore me, but when I'm around my similarly musically argumentative friends, we can go on for hours.
You could say that this blog and a good deal of my graduate school work was an excuse to discuss/argue popular music from a more academic perspective. Maybe.
What I have found very interesting is how personal tastes in popular music affect music teachers. Additionally, I find that various areas of academic musical professionals are often grouped by tastes. Band directors like Dave Matthews Band. Musicologists shudder at the mere mention of DMB. Music theorists like The Decemberists. Choral educators tend to love musical theatre the most, and have varying opinions on contemporary singers -- but they do like Ben Folds. The latest big thing to unite the largest cross-section of musical professionals, as I see it, also comes from musical theatre world -- everybody loves Hamilton.
Tastes are also generational. As my generation ages, we see the 1990s in increasingly rose-tinted glasses, and thus start to believe that Meredith Brooks was something more than just the tail end of the mid-90s female singer-songwriter trend. I loved 90s music, but I made a home for myself in mid-Aughts indie rock, too. I find that as I meet younger directors, their musical tastes are more aligned with mine. Among music educators I was around while in college, I felt like a unicorn.
Some directors and music teachers don't believe that their tastes affect their students. Some don't believe that their tastes in popular music matter at all -- they're teaching canon, so who cares if they like Beyonce or not?
But it all matters. We have to be open enough to provide our students some sort of cultural education, and if we do teach popular music specifically, we have to be proficient enough in our understanding to give them a comprehensive point of view.
And I do believe that it is harmful to invalidate the musical choices of our students. I admit to being surprised by the way music that was popular when I was young is appreciated by my students. Just this year, my chorus students came up with a multitude of questions about 90s music, lamenting that their generational music wasn't as good. Luckily, I was armed with enough knowledge (based both on my blog research and being ages 7-17 in the 90s) to give them a good sampling of the decade's music, while also pointing out musical features of many of these songs. (My favorite is the minor to major switch in Ace of Base's "The Sign".)
Up until (if I'm being honest) age 27 or so, I believed that my musical tastes defined my identity. I carried the songs I'd memorized and the bands I worshiped as badges of honor. For a long time in my career, none of my colleagues asked me questions about what I liked, and some of my co-workers believed me to be "one of those band teachers who only listens to classical music," when nothing could have been further from the truth. I'm grateful now that I've found ways to include my popular music obsessions into the classroom in a useful manner.
I think what matters more now is a willingness to be open in your tastes, even as you grow older. It is detrimental to believe that all people of any demographic, career field, or niche population have the same tastes. As a teacher, it is important to have some knowledge of popular music history and what has been culturally significant over the years, and it can be useful to let your students know what you've loved in your lifetime. Just be open to what they can teach you, and what you might learn to love because of them.
But that's just what I think. Don't let my biases be your biases.
And whenever I think of "the Beatles or the Rolling Stones," this song pops into my head.
ALSO regarding tastes and list-making, JUST TODAY AFTER I WROTE THIS, the wonderful folks at NPR decided they were going to turn rock canon on its head and write up the top 150 albums by women. And it is amazing. The list includes American women, Canadian women (one is at #1), African women, South American women, European choristers, Middle Eastern women, Asian women, white women, black women, Latina women, straight women, queer women, trans women, feminine women, androgynous women, popsters, electronic musicians, jazz singers & pianists & drummers, rappers, award winners, unknowns, and so much stuff you've taken for granted your whole life. For me, it's an absolute dream come true. Read up on it, and I'm going to write more about it tomorrow.