University of Pittsburgh
June 19, 2006

Teachers From Around the Country to Convene at Pitt For Voices Across Time


Sharon Blake


Cell: 412-277-6926

PITTSBURGH-Teachers from Hawaii, Texas, and a dozen other states will assemble at the University of Pittsburgh June 26-July 28 for Voices Across Time: Teaching American History Through Song, an institute that will help them learn how to teach social studies, language arts, and other subjects by using American music.

Developed by Pitt's Center for American Music, part of the University Library System, the institute will feature activities and lectures by historians, musicologists, and performers, as well as field trips to Gettysburg and Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, among others. The 25 participants will learn techniques that will allow them to return to their home school districts and weave American music into the curricula.

"The sound of history is missing from our classrooms," says institute codirector Deane Root, who is also director and the Fletcher Hodges Jr. Curator of the Center for American Music and chair of Pitt's music department. "Music sends messages about the lives and values of the people who produced, performed, and consumed it. It 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.

Musicians taking part in this year's institute include folksinger and instrumentalist Mike Seeger, who documented Southeast mountain folk music traditions through field recordings and his own playing. He and his group, The New Lost City Ramblers, exerted a strong influence on the string-band revival of the 1960s. Musicians Jay Unger and Molly Mason also will take part. One of the most celebrated duos on the American acoustic music scene, Unger and Mason garnered legions of fans through appearances on A Prairie Home Companion and their own public broadcasting specials.

The last Voices Across Time institute, held at Pitt in 2004, was considered a great success. One teacher returned to California and fashioned his American history class around a song a day. Another English as a Second Language teacher from Brooklyn collaborated on a Spanish version of Voices Across Time. And many instructors noted that addition of American music in the classroom made a dramatic difference in their students' performances.

Voices Across Time is funded through a $165,581 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.