In this, my first attempt at a pedagogical blog post, I share a recent article written by an acoustic ecologist/composer, and connect that work to my book, Eco-Literate Music Pedagogy. I currently teach music courses at Penn State Altoona. I grew up in rural, Central Pennsylvania, and taught in public schools for twelve years, eleven in the Pittsburgh city schools, and have come to believe music classrooms should be a place for cultivating ecological literacy.
ABC Classic FM, this week in their series "National Science Week," featured an article by Leah Barclay, an Australian sound artist, composer, and researcher. She discusses how the sounds of a place can increase our awareness of "social, cultural, ecological and political layers of changing environments through sound." Acoustic ecology, the discipline where Barclay's research resides, is an interdisciplinary field. In her work, she makes audio-recordings of the soundscapes in places such as wetlands. Wetlands, which store more carbon than other types of forest, have "complex acoustic environments." Sound recording can help researchers recognize when ecological crises are impacting a local environment (for instance, when an insect species disappears or a bird species' migratory pattern changes, there will be an audible change in a soundscape). And interdisciplinary music-science collaborations are not only artistically interesting, they can increase performers and audiences' understanding of complex ecological challenges, such as waste and climate change. You can listen to her soundscape composition, Wetland Wander on the website, as an example. Interestingly, it includes the sounds of many underwater creatures, such as insects, shrimp, and fish, that students might not be familiar with.
Our students can experiment listening to sounds outside, and writing their own compositions. In the Prelude section of Eco-Literate Music Pedagogy (pp. 1-2), I share a reflection on an activity I have done multiple years with a summer choir camp in rural, Central PA. After a short walk into the woods, students listened to, and sung the calls of cicadas, sparrows, chickadees, cardinals, and the music of winds through the tree canopy. They used their voices and found-sounds (such as branches and dry leaves), and used alternative notation to write their group composition. Here is a link to a YouTube recording I made of an early iteration of one of their compositions. Doing this type of group composition has not only increased student creativity, it has increased my own eco-literacy as a teacher. I am more aware now than ever of my role, and the role of musics in our society's ongoing ecological struggles. Barclay's article points out, protecting natural areas "requires interdisciplinary action to inspire and mobalise communities to participate in monitoring and conservation." And in my book, I recognize the importance of students in that community work. I call this community-embedded pedagogy a "philosophy on soil," where rather than treating schools as separate from their communities, schools and the people in them root themselves in their community, in solidarity with human and non-human community members. This type of small-scale action is recommended by countless ecologically-oriented thinkers (going back to Vandana Shiva, Gary Snyder, Rachel Carson, John Muir, and even Thoreau). The ecological demands in the 21st Century call all of us to begin living sustainably and regeneratively.
In the book, I call for increased ecological "awareness" (such as activities described in the National Science Week article) and use the term "conscientization" (that is, consciousness or awareness raising ... a term I take from Brazilian educator Paulo Freire). Especially in relation to ecological issues, the greatest challenge can be lack of local conscientization. I argue that we, in music classrooms, can slow down, listen, and become more conscious of our soundscapes and the ecologies that compose them. Music education can (and must) be a part of teaching people how to listen, to live and act in life-saving ways. This is the work of eco-literacy through music teaching and learning that I have dedicated the last three years of my scholarly and personal life.
Please leave comments below!
Daniel J. Shevock
References (in no particular order)
Link 1: http://www.abc.net.au/classic/features/national-science-week-making-music-from-the-environment/10118814
Link 2: https://www.amazon.com/Eco-Literate-Pedagogy-Routledge-Directions-Education/dp/0415792576/
Link 3: https://youtu.be/5N4txoPzVUo
Link 4: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paulo_Freire
Link 5: http://leahbarclay.com/