The following is a lesson plan for general music teachers using the musics of insects. This will help you fulfill your interdisciplinary hopes for your classroom, improving students' understandings of music and science.
Insects open opportunities for interdisciplinary lessons in the general music class.
The website, Songs of Insects describes the songs and habitats of 90 widespread species. On their “Appreciation and Aesthetics” tab, they describe how insect musics have been important for many Asian cultures, particularly in China and Japan. Here poets and musicians celebrate them. People who live in cities have long taken autumn vacations to the countryside to appreciate particular soundscapes known for their musicality. Insect-sellers became popular by the 16th Century, and keeping singing crickets and katydids as pets provided an opportunity for enjoying their musics throughout the winter. By drawing on the experiences of people who love insect musics in China and Japan, we can add increased cultural understanding to our list of interdisciplines (music, science, culture).
The website goes on to describe Western culture as less refined in the realm of the appreciation of insect musicians. “Certainly, we perceive and enjoy the pulsing choruses of late summer and autumn, but aside from a few outstanding species (such as the Common True Katydid and the Spring and Fall Field Crickets), most of us seem perpetually confused about which insect is making which sound, and we have no established aesthetic that helps us enjoy the beauty and communicate our appreciation to others.” They go on to describe learning to appreciate the musics of insects as part of a “new aesthetic” in the West. They recommend keeping singing insects as pets (suggesting appropriate equipment), give recommends for how to find and watch insect musicians, and, of particular use, is their insect song interactive, which provides song examples for twelve species commonly found in old fields. At the start of the new school year, music teachers and students can go outside to appreciate the autumn insects; and might even capture one to keep as a class pet, who will music throughout the school year--though creating audio recordings with apps such as Voice Recorder (or purchasing soundscape recording equipment) might be easier.
The composer R. Murray Schafer discusses the music of insects in his text, The Soundscape. “The sounds of insects are produced in a surprising number of ways. Some, such as those of the mosquito and the drone bee, result from wing vibrations alone. … Another type of sound produced by some insects is that created by tapping the ground. … Still other insects, such as crickets and certain ants, produce stridulating effects by drawing parts of the anatomy called scrapers across other parts called files. … [and] Among the loudest of insects are the cicadas. They produce sound by means of ridged membranes or tymbals of parchment-like texture, close to the junction of the thorax and abdomen, which are set in motion by a powerful muscle attached to the inner surface; this mechanism produces a series of clicks in the same manner as does a tin lid when pressed by the finger.”
What might a music teacher do at the end of the school year to prepare students to hear and understand the insect musics of late summer? Obviously students can begin by listening to various insects using the Songs of Insects website as a resource. They can identify musical elements contained in each song, which will help cultivate their musical ear for future musical activities. Next, if insect musics are seen as an opportunity for creative improvisation or composition, students can be guided to make instruments, Satis Coleman style. Each instrument might draw on Schafer’s “ways”—creating vibrating wings like a bee, instruments that tap the ground like a termite, scraping like a cricket, and creating a mechanism to produce a series of clicks like a cicada. At the end, students can create an insect composition, a soundscape map that has form, dynamics, and other elements.
Because music can be taught as an eco-literacy, as I discuss in my book, there is a critical element to understanding the musics of insects. For one, we create empathy for non-human beings, who often suffer from human actions. Our lessons can open space for student research of critical social challenges to the survival of diverse species. As a recent Guardian article notes, 30% of insect species are endangered. Scientists degree, insect species loss is a serious global problem. All adults in a democratic republic like the U.S. are called to be ecologically literate, and not just scientists. Understanding the problem of species collapse during our planet's 6th Mass Extinction event is an essential component to education at large, and not just a responsibility for music education.