This post is by Carolyn Bennett, the 2018-2019 Library of Congress Teacher in Residence.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I teach vocal and general music for grades 6-12 at a small, rural school in Connecticut. I’ve played the piano my whole life; I was reading music before I was reading words.
How did you come to apply to be a Library of Congress Teacher in Residence?
I love writing curriculum and designing new, creative classroom activities. I also love history, so I pursued this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to combine those passions.
What are your goals for your year as Teacher in Residence?
I’m here to share primary-source repertoire gems with the music education community, modeling how interacting with this repertoire can create well-rounded, standards-based musical experiences. Seemingly disparate priorities compete for music teachers’ attention: ever-evolving initiatives, standards, and the desire for excellent performances. We can address many of these priorities by thoughtfully selecting rich repertoire. Primary-source repertoire connects us to a rich heritage of musical traditions. The pieces invite analysis and critical musical decision-making, adding our own creative voices to the narrative. Educational priorities naturally emerge as students engage with rich repertoire.
For non-music educators, primary sources cultivate quality interdisciplinary learning opportunities. Musical sources naturally branch out in so many learning directions. Studying music can make students better historians, writers, readers, and scientists. Primary sources offer authentic opportunities for educators to work together in mutually beneficial interdisciplinary partnerships, and I hope to provide the insight educators may need to incorporate music effectively in their classroom.
How has using Library of Congress resources changed your teaching?
I used to feel trepidation about teaching music from other cultures or times. How could I respectfully and accurately teach pieces from musical traditions outside my own familiarity? I wanted diversity in my classroom, but also wanted authenticity; there’s tension between those two ideals. By using primary sources, I can discover music alongside my students, guided by the evidence found in notation, recordings, and supporting documents. Teachers don’t need to have all the answers; we just need to guide students to explore and question. Teaching with primary sources has empowered me to broaden my repertoire and approach music class as a collaborative learning experience.
What advice would you give to teachers who want to use Library of Congress resources in their work?
The collections are so vast that one could easily ignore a beautiful rose or mighty oak while looking for a daisy. As a goal-oriented person, I’m often tempted to target an objective and then reverse-engineer learning activities to fit my goal. However, my most fruitful experiences begin when I discover a compelling piece. As I analyze the piece, learning activities naturally unfold, and learning outcomes follow. Even better, by analyzing the piece with students, their perspective guides our learning. I encourage teachers to browse the collection with few parameters – a culture, historical period, or theme – and an open mind. When you find the piece that resonates with you and your learning community, it will lead you to great musical and educational experiences.