Music of all types—classical, popular, and world music, folk songs and hymns—can enhance human rights curricula in many disciplines, and can be used as a vehicle to infiltrate human rights awareness into standard classroom curricula. In literature, history, geography, music, foreign language, and religion classes, music can be used as a means of conveying the emotional dimension of human rights issues, as well as providing a more effective entry point for some students than printed material. Incorporating music into the curriculum can include: (1) singing songs chronicling past struggles or songs sung by a people in protest of oppression; (2) listening to haunting works written in memory of victims of human rights abuses; and (3) studying the lives and music of composers and musicians subjected to persecution and repression to learn about artistic freedom and the use of the arts as a form of peaceful resistance. Even music which does not itself have an explicit human rights theme but simply represents an expression of the human spirit under conditions of repression can teach powerful lessons about human worth.
Karen Kraco is a high school teacher in Milton, Massachusetts, an AI high school group advisor, AI local group coordinator, and musician. She recommends the following comprehensive resources for educators in the area of folk songs and hymns and offers some specific suggestions in the realm of classical music and poetry.
Folk Music, Hymns, and Other Songs
A good basic resource for those unfamiliar with folk music is Rise Up Singing, an exhaustive compilation of folk songs lyrics, grouped by themes, such as “Freedom,” “Struggle,” and “Peace.” An extensive bibliography and discography are provided, and teaching tapes are available to accompany the volume. Another comprehensive reference geared towards the classroom is the Winter 1993-94 issue of Teaching for Change, the quarterly newsletter of the Network of Educators on the Americas (NECA). Entitled “Songs for Social Justice,” the issue is rich with articles, background information, teaching ideas, and resource lists on topics such as freedom and peace songs, labor movement songs, the Nueva Canción movement, and Caribbean music. How Can We Keep from Singing, a project of the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, contains music and words for nearly two hundred hymns and songs. Many of these hymns and songs are appropriate for programming events with human rights themes or for classroom use.
Classical Music and Poetry
Classical music is rich with works which can be used to accompany human rights lessons. For example, a number of recordings can be used to deepen students’ understanding of the magnitude and human impact of the events of World War II. The beautiful harmonies and compelling language of Francis Poulenc’s Figure humaine, a cantata for a cappella double chorus, exemplify the combined power of music and poetry to express the anguish and hope of a people. Written, published, and rehearsed secretly during the Occupation, the text of the cantata is comprised of poems by the French poet, Paul Eluard. The last section of the cantata is his well-known Resistance Poem, Liberté, copies of which were dropped by the thousands into occupied France in 1942 by the RAF. Luigi Nono’s Il Canto Sospeso sets to music letters of farewell written by anti-Fascist Resistance fighters in the hours prior to their execution. This work is a moving testimony to the commitment and at the same time the senseless loss of those fighting for freedom. Another Italian composer, Luigi Dallapiccola, driven into hiding by Mussolini’s 1938 race laws, expressed his indignation and distress through two works on the subject of imprisonment, the choral set of songs Canti di prigionia, and the opera Il Prigioniero. Powerful works also have been written in memory of victims of the Holocaust, such as Arnold Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw, and Krzystof Penderecki’s Dies Irae, an oratorio dedicated to the memory of those murdered at Auschwitz.
Perhaps the most moving music from World War II is that of the Czech and Austrian composers such as Gideon Klein, Erwin Schulhoff, Pavel Haas, Viktor Ulmann and Hans Krasa, who continued their work in the concentration camps and whose lives ended in the gas chambers. In the Terezin concentration camp in Theresienstadt, Czechoslovokia, cultural activities such as concerts, lectures, and readings began in secret, at great risk, but later were sanctioned by the Nazis so that this “Paradise Ghetto” could be used as international propaganda. With many well-trained and gifted musicians being held in Terezin, a most remarkable musical life flourished, which included performances of chamber music, choral and orchestral works, and operas and oratorios. A number of recordings of the music composed at Terezin have been released over the past few years. They include beautifully-crafted works such as Gideon Klein’s String Trio, based on Czech folk dances and Moravian tunes his nanny used to sing, composed just nine days before he was sent to Auschwitz.
The stories and music of classical musicians and composers who have struggled against repression and censorship can be used to illustrate lessons about artistic freedom and the use of the arts as a form of peaceful protest and resistance. Use selected resources listed on page 8 to learn more about individuals such as Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich, Spanish cellist Pablo Casals, Russian cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, and his wife, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya.
Music engages our emotions, our spiritual natures, and our intellect. Whether we are raising our voices with others or listening to the world’s finest artists, whether the message be explicit or abstract, specific or universal, we are celebrating and conveying the essence of the human spirit when we venture into the realm of music. Music is truly a language we can all understand. What medium could be more appropriate to communicate the universal theme of human rights?
Karen Kraco invites others interested in music and human rights education to collaborate with her in the creation of a comprehensive resource and activity guide. For more information, call (617-696-2903) or send email to <firstname.lastname@example.org>.