When did you learn that song? Where did you learn “This Land is Your Land?” What about “A Ram Sam Sam” or “Kukaburra?” If you’re like me, you first learned them in your elementary music class. What song was your favorite? Was it “The Ants go Marching” or “Big Rock Candy Mountain?” Maybe “Buffalo Gals” — though you probably heard that one in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life.
“Down in the Valley”
“Froggie Went a Courtin”
I could go on and on, so I will.
“Home on the Range”
“If You’re Happy and You Know it”
I learned so many songs in my elementary music class. We played instruments too, but little did I know that while I was singing those songs, I was learning a very important lesson about our American heritage.
I’ve been thinking deeply about what it means to be an American for a while now. When language, religion, and even value systems are so diverse, how do we distinguish ourselves as Americans? Then I had a YES! Grant application appear on my desk that reminded me how impactful the elementary music class is.
If we didn’t have that class, we’d likely not learn most of these songs. In learning these songs, and others like “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” and “The More We Get Together,” we are learning an American folk tradition. Sure some of these songs come from other nations; after all, this is a nation of immigrants. But I don’t imagine that this canon of music is taught in any other nation.
This realization makes me proud to have graduated from a district that prides itself on a rich arts heritage. Not only do every single one of our students get to take elementary music every single week, they also get to learn dance, visual arts, sculpting, and painting. In high school they can take a class on jewelry making and pottery!
What I’ve been reminded is that elementary music isn’t “extra-curricular,” it is essential to the curriculum. Elementary music teaches American history, like in “The Erie Canal,” and it builds our American heritage.
What happens when districts cut music? Where will these lessons be taught?
Who will know we are Americans then? Will we even know?