Music and Its Place in the School Library

By Braxton, Barbara | Teacher Librarian, April 2008 | Go to article overview

Music and Its Place in the School Library


Braxton, Barbara, Teacher Librarian


It is just 5.30 a.m., the middle of the Australian summer, and although the sky is light, the sun has not yet peaked over the horizon.

So why am 1 up working already? Well, once again, in my new home in the foothills of the Australian Alps, I have been woken by the kookaburras, not an alarm dock. The kookaburra is as Australian as a kangaroo, and it has the most distinctive call of any bird in the bush--a maniacal laughter that made the pioneers dub it the "laughing jackass." It is a badge of honor or rite of passage for the under-8 brigade if they are able to imitate this call.

The kookaburras rummage through the gum trees that inhabit this little piece of paradise and that brought to mind another badge of honor for the under-8s-knowing all the words to the song "A Home Amongst the Gum Trees", (Brown & Johnson 1975) a perennial favorite with Australian children. And again, that thought led me to think about the place of music in a school library.

When we think of the curriculum concepts and skills and library-related activities, we automatically think of listening, reading, research, and writing. Music is not an area that springs readily to mind, but is there a place for it in the library in a world where everyone seems to be wired to a listening device-and seemingly so since the invention of the transistor made music portable?

In Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimage Beyond the Sea, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1833) proclaims "Music is the universal language of mankind," and this could serve as an excellent bulletin board banner as we investigate ways that we might introduce students to a wider world of sound than that which is playing in their earphones. The quote itself could be the start of the library's musical journey as we challenge students to interpret the meaning and truth of the statement and search for other similar proclamations. Some proclamations from Quote Garden (www.guotegarden.com/music.html) that also provide food for thought are:

A painter paints pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence.--Leopold Stokowski

Take a music bath once or twice a week for a few seasons. You will find it is to the soul what a water bath is to the body.--Oliver Wendell Holmes

Music is what feelings sound like

Music is the poetry of the air.--Richter

My idea is that there is music in the air, music all around us; the world is full of it, and you simply take as much as you require.--Edward Elgor

Music is the wine which inspires one to new generative processes, and I am Bacchus who presses out this glorious wine for mankind and makes them spiritually drunken.--Ludwig yon Beethoven

Music is the wine that fills the cup of silence.--Robert Fripp

Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.--Victor Hugo

The common theme of these quotes is that music is universal-every ethnicity has its own unique sounds that are integral to its culture. Encourage students to investigate the musical traditions of their heritage, and offer them the space and facility to share their findings with their peers.

Similar studies could also be done to explore musical instruments using the traditional groups of wind, string, and percussion as a starting point but going beyond the conventional examples to include instruments such as a rebec (a three-string bowed instrument), duduk (a woodwind instrument of Armenian origin), or bodhran (a Celtic traditional drum). Students could illustrate their new knowledge by making a sample instrument and demonstrating how the sound is produced.

Musicians have made significant contributions to society throughout history, and for some, their music has endured for decades or even centuries. Have students write a biography of one of these people, particularly focusing on their musical life and why their music might have endured in the way it has. …

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