Time Travel: Using Music to Explore Past, Present, and Future Messages

Jasmine Corbett, Communication Studies, Johnson C. Smith University

This seminar will use rhetoric as our curriculum guide, as we explore how melodious thoughts shape our world, enhance our world, and have the great persuasive power, to change our world.  In this journey, we will study the pillars of rhetoric from language, both verbal and nonverbal, perspective and culture, and our ability to effectively encode and decode messages.

In order to accomplish this goal and maximize our time together, Fellows will delve into a creative process.  First, Fellows will think of their teaching goals as a movie, and form an overall theme.  Each theme will need to consider target audience and a definition of rhetoric – how to inspire, motivate, persuade, inform, and entertain such an audience.  To help Fellows choose themes, we will study the foundations of rhetoric as it relates to different periods to include but not limited to Civil Rights Era, 1980s and the War on Drugs, 1990s and the Clinton Era, and even current moments to include #metoo, #blacklivesmatter, and bullying within the schools.

This seminar will focus on how music has been utilized to convey additional messages often housed in various historic periods. Fellows will study genres of music that range from Blues, Rock and Roll, Disco, Pop, and Hip-Hop, and determine how the messages fall within the Interaction Model of Communication, while understanding the physical and psychological context of these messages.  For instance, by looking at Muddy Water’s 1955 song “I’m A M.A.N.,” Fellows will not just hear the lyrics, but determine why such a song full of bravado to a simple listener, was in fact a song that spoke about injustice in a Jim Crow time-period. Taking into account the physical context of the song, a time where racism was highly prevalent, and mixing that with the psychological context of emotion, the message has a different meaning to the listener.

Next, each Fellow will create their own movie soundtrack that celebrates, defines, or reinforces his or her theme.   Fellows will challenge themselves by studying genres of music both what their ear enjoys, but more specifically, the songs that will reach their target audience.  Fellows will travel back and across time, by listening and studying musical messages from various time periods to include heavily saturated historical moments.

So Fellows, there’s work to do!  But the work, the conversations, the growth, will indeed be amazing.  Regardless of your discipline, and regardless of who sits in your seats, you will learn there is power in song.  And it is that song, that can have the greatest effect of uniting us all!  I hope you’ll join me, as we travel through time.

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