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Re: A long and winding road – with light up ahead

Re: A long and winding road – with light up ahead2010-04-14T02:08:29+00:00

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Patte Rosebank
Post count: 1517

I’ve found that things are much easier to learn when you set them to music.

Ever since the “Schoolhouse Rock” PSAs aired on ABC TV on Saturday mornings in the ’70s, history teachers have reported hearing kids quietly singing the Schoolhouse Rock version of the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, during history exams. And the “Multiplication Rock” segments are quietly sung by students writing Math exams.

Another example:

I came along after the New Math phase of education. I remember asking my mom about it—since she’d been a teacher during that time—and her explanation about using bases other than the standard base-10 made no sense to me whatsoever. I mean, why learn how to do math with bases that nobody used in the real world…well, nobody other than mathematicians and science geeks? And what was a “base” in the mathematical sense, anyway?

Then I heard Tom Lehrer’s “New Math” song. I loved (and still love) the chord progressions in the accompaniment. But, more importantly, I decided to take out a pencil and paper and try to follow along with the calculations Tom’s lyrics described. When I was done, I understood the whole concept and method of New Math—even the purpose of it. Namely, to make sure you were so clear on the method of doing the calculations that you could do them using any base.

And Tom’s talents weren’t just limited to teaching math. He contributed some classic songs like “Silent E” and “L-Y” to the original 1970s version of “The Electric Company”, which used songs and comedy to help millions of kids—even kids who were functionally illiterate—to learn reading and grammar. That was the REAL “Electric Company”, with Rita Moreno and Morgan Freeman in the ensemble cast. Don’t be fooled by the crappy show that PBS now calls “The Electric Company”. It just took the name and the “Hey, you guys!” catchphrase, and threw everything else out the window.

Tom Lehrer also helped science students, by setting the Periodic Table to the music of “The Major General’s Song”, from “Pirates of Penzance”. The elements aren’t in the order in which they appear in the Table, and several new elements have since been discovered, but it’s hugely helpful to be able to be able to rhyme off most of them. It’s also very weird to be sitting there, singing, “There’s antimony, arsenic, aluminum, selenium, and hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen and rhenium…” And it makes a great warm-up for enunciation.

Music can also unlock very deep memories. Sometimes, when I’m singing in a nursing home, there’ll be a person with such severe Alzheimer’s that they can’t even speak. But when I sing a song they remember, they’ll join in, and remember every single word. And it’s not just the very ill who experience this. One of the first records I ever had was “Animal Songs by Anna Lenti”. I loved that record, and I played it so many times I wore it out, but could never bear to throw it out. I spent years trying to replace it. I finally got a replacement (in the form of a CD copy sent to me by the composer’s son, who’d seen my posting on a music forum), and the first time I played it, I started singing along with it, and remembered every note and every word…despite not having heard the songs in over 20 years.