University of Pittsburgh
October 3, 2005

Pitt's Center for American Music Receives NEH Grant To Convene "Voices Across Time"

Educators will learn to teach social studies, language arts through song

Sharon Blake


Cell: 412-277-6926

PITTSBURGH-Even though delegates to the 1787 U.S. Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia occasionally may have been snoozing in their seats, middle and high school students learning about the drafting of the U.S. Constitution don't have to be bored.

Pitt's Center for American Music, part of the University Library System, has received $165,581 from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to hold another "Voices Across Time" institute, June 26-July 28, 2006, a series of workshops, field trips, and seminars that will train teachers to use popular American songs to educate young people in history, literature, civics, economics, social studies and language arts. The institute, to be held on the Pitt campus, was last presented at the University in 2004 and attracted teachers from around the country.

"Voices Across Time" will include a faculty of national education specialists, historians, and songwriters to provide workshop participants with materials and techniques to help them weave American music into a subject's existing curriculum.

"The sound of history is missing from our classrooms," says institute codirector Deane Root, who is also director of the Center for American Music and chair of Pitt's music department. "Over the years, songs have allowed everyday people to voice their attitudes, opinions, or beliefs. Music provides a very real soundtrack to events throughout history." For example, students may listen to the spiritual "Go Down, Moses" to help them better understand slavery. They may hear Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" as a representation of the American populist movement of the mid-20th century. And John Lennon's "Imagine" could help them explore the idealism of the 1960s. Other tunes may help them better comprehend the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the industrialization of the United States, and the post-World War II era.

"We help teachers provide the meaning behind the facts they're teaching," said Root, who is also a professor of music and history and the Fletcher Hodges Jr. curator at the Center for American Music. "Music is a wonderful bridge to incorporating historical knowledge, language, quantitative reasoning, and physical performance in the same classroom."

The 25 teachers who took part in the 2004 institute reported a marked difference in the level of enthusiasm and performance among their students. "I have never been interested in songs," admitted one workshop participant, adding that the "Voices Across Time" seminar completely changed his outlook. "Songs are remarkable transmitters of culture and history," he wrote in an evaluation of the program. "I will never view them as isolated expressions of musical creativity, which I had done previously."

While the institute is designed for teachers in grades 7 through 12, it can be adapted for younger grades. Teachers interested in applying for the institute can write to or call 412-624-4100.