The First Music Class: Students Reflect on their First Semester of Music

                                                      By Common Ground Students: Brandi Ocasio, Emalee Ocasio and Raven Von Kohler
Edited by Common Ground Student:  Akieli Zidbeck

Common Ground has been open for over 20 years yet somehow this is the first year students had the chance to take a music class. The first music class at Common Ground was run by Mr. Green, who is a freshman core math teacher, and had a total of 15 students in the first music course. Prior to teaching at Common Ground, Mr. Green worked professionally as a performer, composer, and music educator at New York University, Yale, Neighborhood Music School, and the Center for Creative Youth at Wesleyan University. Despite his somewhat busy schedule for the entry level math students, he still made time in his schedule to teach us the fundamentals of music.

Mr. Green and the first ever Common Ground Music Class

The first unit consisted of percussion and beat making using Splice, a beat making computer program only music students have access to. The second was the keyboards unit, students learned how to identify chords, finger positioning, and the playing patterns to compose and learn songs. Thanks to we were able to get quality affordable music gear for the activities. Learning to play music most especially making a career out of it requires some serious cashing out. The third unit was critical listening, allowing students to suggest songs and have them analyzed by the class. We deconstructed and critiqued compositional choices; explored the functions of tension, intensity, and expectation in music; and learned about the role of phenomenology in the arts. The course itself was designed for students to become critical listeners. It was made for students to be sculpted and try to hear differently. Music is an important part of everyone’s lives. It should be something that’s explored and expanded upon — something shaped and evolved over time.

“To be honest,” a student in the class wrote, “(Mr. Green) kind of ruined me in a sense when it comes to this because now I can’t listen to music without really analysing it but it’s like. A good ruined, you know?”

There is more to the class than what the syllabus says. It was, surprisingly, a very raw and personal experience. In the class, there were  times when we talked about the emotional “behind the scenes” of the music itself. Some one would play a song for the class and claim it was “just cause…” but at the end of the song we hear a little more about how the individual feels on a personal level, allowing us all to connect. Sometimes we would even cross the line of individualism and into social justice issues.

“It was fun,” Sydney, one of the junior students in the class, noted, “We had a lot of freedom and some days. . .the students were the ones who got to teach the class.”

One example of this was during a game we played in the beginning of the semester: Everyone was given a pair of drumsticks and would play their own beat one by one, therefore creating a song based solely on the musical input based on the people who go before them.

“(I liked) how open people were,” Sevon went on. “(Music) is a part of our daily life.”

The class is very limited — it’s an elective, so students don’t have much say in whether or not they can have it. On top of this, Mr. Green’s responsibilities teaching math prevent him from teaching more than one section this year, and student interest is greater than the capacity of the class.

“I want to be in the music class,” Bridget, an eager junior, says, “because I never had the opportunity to be in a music class before, and I would like to, you know, learn music skills. It should be expanded and allow for more opportunities, because I feel like it should be easier for students who have less time left in school to experience it.”

On the other side of the coin, Akieli claimed that, “It was amazing to be one of the first music students. Most people don’t get to be part of a trial run. This class has been requested and in the makings for so long.”

Whether or not there are a lot of students in the class, the energy level was still over the top, maybe more so than any other classroom experience that students have ever been in. The student’s enthusiasm showed particularly during the third unit of sharing the students’ own music. There’s something invigorating of just having the floor and being able to share and listen to music in an open and safe environment. Being able to show your piece in a direct listening environment and share how you feel about the music allows us all to connect with each other on a deeper level than one would expect from a learning environment. This class reminds us all that there’s more to learning than uniform thought and pattern, providing us the space to put our own individual spin on understanding not only the music we love, but our peers as well.


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