Grant Funds Music Ed Program for Teachers

Issue Date: 
December 10, 2007

“Voices Across Time” last held at Pitt in 2006

Educators from across the United States will once again convene at the Pittsburgh campus to learn how to teach American history, literature, and other subjects to young people by incorporating American music into the curriculum.

Pitt’s Center for American Music, part of the University Library System, has received a $193,117 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to hold a “Voices Across Time” Institute, from July 7 to Aug. 8, 2008, on the Pitt campus.

The last “Voices” institute was held at Pitt in 2006.

It attracted participants from every corner of the country … from Chicago to Phoenix … from Staten Island to Honolulu.

The series of workshops, field trips, and seminars will train teachers to educate young people in history, literature, civics, economics, and other subjects by using popular American songs of a particular era. The faculty will include national education specialists, historians, and songwriters.

“The sound of history is missing from our classrooms,” says institute codirector Deane Root, who is also director and Fletcher Hodges Jr. Curator of Pitt’s Center for American Music. “Over the years, songs have allowed everyday people to voice their attitudes, opinions, and beliefs. Music provides a very real soundtrack to events throughout history.”

Root says it’s all about helping teachers provide the meaning behind the facts they’re teaching. “Music is a wonderful bridge to incorporating historical knowledge, language, quantitative reasoning, and physical performance in the same classroom,” he added.

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.

John Lennon’s “Imagine” may help them explore the idealism of the 1960s, and Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” may enlighten them about poverty and AIDS in urban centers.

Other tunes may include songs written by soldiers in war zones, including those written by U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

One teacher who participated in the 2006 institute later reported using the songs “Ballad of the Green Beret” and Edwin Starr’s “War” in a citizenship class. “I gave them the song lyrics, and they wrote about whether they thought a person could be a good citizen and yet protest that country’s actions in a war,” the unidentified teacher reported on a survey distributed after the event. “Those were some very interesting papers and very stimulating classroom discussions—a good experience overall.”

While the institute is designed for teachers of grades seven through 12, it can be adapted for younger grades.

Another teacher reported that he continues to use what he learned at the last “Voices” institute almost every day. “The kids in Special Ed love this program,” he said. “I just finished a unit on pre-Revolutionary times, and we discussed the Salem Witch Trials and the Puritans. We used many songs and then read the book The Witch of Blackbird Pond. It was phenomenal how much the kids remembered.”

Teachers interested in more information or wishing to apply, should write to, call 412-624-4100, or visit