“Listen Up” Social Issues Behind Music in America and Beyond

I. Course description

Are you fascinated with the power of music in its ability to move you to tears, to move the people of a nation to rise up, or simply move people on the dance floor? At MSA 2003, we will journey into the world of artistic expression to discover how both American and world musicians use music as a tool for social consciousness, urging people to “Listen up!” Scholars will delve into music of all variety—from historical, indigenous music to urban, popular music of today. Group discussion on topics including race, equality, civil rights, the power of image and media, and cross-cultural and global issues will account for much of class time. To gain a greater understanding of culture as a whole, we will explore artistic forms outside of music as well—from art to poetry, dance to spoken-word. Most importantly, we will examine texts specific to music in society, and listen to mind-blowing music from across the world. Scholars are asked to bring a journal to MSA for thoughts on and reactions to the course.

II. Instructor’s educational preparation and current employment


  • Earned Bachelors in Piano
  • Performance from the University of Missouri, December 2001
  • Received University of Missouri’s General Honors Certificate
  • Graduated Cum Laude
  • Earned Departmental Honors from the School of Music
  • Awarded Honors Research Grant in Ethnomusicological Studies
  • Inducted into Phi Beta Kappa May 2002.

Current Employment:

Private Piano Instructor and Piano Accompanist

III. Rationale for inclusion in a program for gifted students

Of all universal aspects of culture, music is the most vibrant, lively, energizing, and inspiring in bringing communities together. In uniting a people behind a social cause. In representing and continuing a culture’s traditions and stories. In reflecting the feeling of a nation, whether it is through mourning a leader, protesting a government, or celebrating a victory. In short, music is alive in every aspect of culture, in the past and the present. It resounds out of every corner of every country, all over the world, from one person’s voice to the mass of gathered thousands—the voice of the individual, the voice of a nation.

As our world grows smaller—through technology and communication advancements, as well as agreements and contracts between governments across the world—it is every human’s responsibility to gain knowledge of other cultures, in order to promote greater understanding for further peace and productivity. Through heightened knowledge regarding cultural differences, humanity gains solutions to much of the tension of our time.

In studying the music of diverse cultures, we can put our finger on the pulse of a nation. We can experience and understand its needs, its decisions, its growth, and its presence in this world. As the world’s nations continue to be influenced by those nations most powerful on the world stage (first world countries), traditions are dying before we can experience them. South African music for example, is no longer simply South African; instead, it represents just one nation of many that has become a conglomeration of musical styles greatly influenced by Europe and America. Therefore we must capture as much of what remains in its original state, in order to understand and appreciate its uniqueness, and hence its role in the greater world music stage.

IV. Major topics covered
  • Analysis of National Anthems: United States (Star-Spangled Banner and the Negro National Anthem), South Africa, France, Germany, China. Discuss the power of lyrics to influence a country’s people, to unite people behind a common goal. We will touch on the abuse of this power, as well as the hope/faith people entrust in an anthem. The United States’ Civil Rights Movement, South Africa’s Apartheid, Germany’s Nazi Era, France’s Revolution, and China’s transition into Communism will be discussed.
  • Discuss Music as Protest
    • Jamaica’s Reggae
    • United States’ Civil Rights Era
    • South Africa’s Apartheid
    • African-American genres such as Blues, Jazz, and Rap, and the power of these genres speaking for equality
  • Philosophical discussion on “What is Music?” The Kodo drummers from Japan and the ensemble Stomp from New York, NY will be compared in order to pursue this question, leading into the disparate topic of historical, indigenous music to popular, urban music, and the importance of both.
  • Music and Religion
    • Sufi music of the Middle East
    • Gospel music of the African-American diaspora
  • Active Participationin Guest Speaker on Topics:
    • Poetry Jam
    • Latin-American Dance
    • Irish Fiddling
    • Afro-Cuban Percussion
  • Research Project followed by Class Presentation on topic relevant to class discussions.
V. Prerequisite knowledge

This class is philosophical and sociological in nature. Students therefore require no pre-requisite knowledge on musical terms. Scholars must, however, be able to participate in and contribute to active discussions, have an eager and open mind to new cultures, and have adept reading, listening, and comprehension skills.

VI. Learning objectives

Scholars will take away from this class the ability to:

  • Analyze a piece of music and study its lyrics as poetry, in order to understand its social implications.
  • Evaluate the power musicians have within a society as activists for social change.
  • Comprehend how music can unite people behind a common goal.
  • Realize music’s capacity to generate hope and faith.
  • Discuss in an academic, philosophical manner on topics relevant to music in society.
  • Research and organize a project in three hours for presentation in class with an outline, musical examples, handout for their audience, and short paper and bibliographic references to be turned in.
  • Grasp the enormity of the world’s musical stage, yet realize the importance each different musical culture has to the world as a whole.
VII. Primary source material
  • World Music—The Rough Guide, Volume I (Africa, Europe, and the Middle East), ed. Simon Broughton, 1999.
  • World Music—The Rough Guide, Volume II (Latin and North America, Caribbean, India, Asia, and the Pacific), ed. Simon Broughton, 1999.
  • Visions of Jazz—The First Century, Gary Giddins, 1998.
  • Rock Recall, Michael Budds and Marion Ohman, 1993.
  • Google Internet Search Engine, search by relevant topic.
VIII. Supplementary source material
  • World Music—The Rough Guide, Reggae, ed. Steve Barrow, 1997.
  • Music is the Weapon of the Future, Frank Tenaille, 2000.
  • Sounding Off—Music as Subversion/Resistance/Revolution, ed. Ron Sakolsky, 1995.
  • World Music, Politics and Social Change, ed. Simon Frith, 1989.
  • Rhythm and Resistance—Explorations in the Political Uses of Popular Music, Ray Pratt, 1990.
  • The Cultural Study of Music, ed. Martin Clayton, 2003.
  • Popular Music Perspectivese: Ideas, Themes, and Patterns in Contemporary Lyrics, B. Lee Cooper, 1991.
  • The Essence of Afro-Cuban Percussion, Ed Uribe, 1996.
  • Afropop!, Sean Barlow, 1995.
  • The Blues—From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray, Tony Russell, 1997.


  • Power of One (musical excerpt)
  • You Strike a Rock
  • Stomp
  • Japanese Kodo Drummers
IX. Computing and the Internet (if applicable)

In preparation for the class, research was done through the Internet through various music websites:

  • Musicsearch.com
  • Roughguide.com
  • Worldmusic.net
  • Google.com
  • Reggaefusion.com
  • Rockrap.com

During class, the scholars will do a research project through music websites in addition to books and periodicals at Ellis Library on the University of Missouri—Columbia campus. Their project will be then be organized on computer to be turned in on computer disk. This will include a brief paper plus bibliographic references, an outline for presentation, and a handout for the scholars when the project is presented to the class the following day.

X. Typical classroom strategies

Viewing videos on relevant topics (see above) followed by discussion.