Music: A Social Commentary

(This was an essay for the Clemson Honors College.) If you could design a class, what would it be?

Recently, Baz Luhrmann produced a remake of The Great Gatsby, a film that attempted to put the excitement of the Jazz Age into context by featuring modern hip-hop in different scenes during the course of the movie. However, I think that the authentic music from different periods itself is timeless and can impress upon students the true significance of historical movements and the atmospheres of different eras. For this reason, I would like to take a course that explains how history has shaped music, and how music in turn has reflected the different values and progressions in the development of the United States.Music has always been a driving force in America from the country’s inception. The course would begin with 1776, and the tunes of the American Revolution. For instance, there could be a discussion of the significance of “Yankee Doodle,” which was actually written by a mocking Brit. (Also, you did not eat the Macaroni in the song, because it was an English hairstyle.) Next would come other events like the War of 1812 (and the “Star Spangled Banner) and the Civil War. (In which the lyrics of “Dixie” were changed from comedic to serious in order to reflect Southern pride.) Topics would become more far-reaching after the beginning of the 1900s, with the introduction of jazz as a product of the scandalous and exciting Prohibition years (“The Charleston”), and the sudden reversal to bluesier melodies after the devastating stock market crash. (“Brother Can You Spare A Dime?”) One of the most notable decades, the 1960s, can be almost solely defined through the lens of music. There was Woodstock and Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of the National Anthem, U-2’s “In the Name of Love” about Martin Luther King Jr. and Civil Rights, and Creedence Clearwater Revival protesting the Vietnam War in “Fortunate Son.” Music and history exist in a symbiotic relationship, especially now in the culture of “political hip-hop” that continues to popularize songs about social issues.I personally am attracted to the idea of this course because I grew up engrossed by history and playing guitar, so I feel that music and the study of the past are two essential parts of me as a person and am constantly seek to learn more about both. However, I think other students would take this class because it would be interesting, and it would cement the details of history into people’s minds, in the same way that catchy jingles on TV make viewers remember that they should buy Band-Aids or eat a KitKat. For instance, during the SAT, I used Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” to think of topics to write about in the essay. Music and history, essentially poetry and stories, are two elements that should be paired, to help us as a society understand where we have been and the rhythm that we tapped our feet to as we moved ahead.

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