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December 3, 2003

Center gets music grant

Pitt’s Center for American Music, part of the University Library System, has been awarded a federal grant to host an institute for teachers next summer called “Voices Across Time: American History Through Song.”

The $146,705 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) will allow 25 secondary school teachers to come to Pitt in July 2004 to learn how to teach American history by using music.

The institute will expand upon the ideas the center used to develop Voices Across Time, a teacher-resource guide used in a pilot project in 1999. The guide consists of nine units, each dedicated to a different historical era.

“The sound of history is missing from our classrooms,” says Deane Root, director of the center, co-director of the institute and chair of Pitt’s music department. “Over the years, songs have allowed everyday people to voice their attitudes, opinions or beliefs,” said Root, who also is Fletcher Hodges Jr. Curator of Pitt’s Foster Hall Collection, the largest and most comprehensive collection of materials relating to the life and music of Stephen Foster. “Music provides a very real soundtrack to events throughout history.”

For example, students will listen to the spiritual “Go Down, Moses” to better understand slavery. They will hear Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” as a representation of the American populist movement of the mid-20th century. John Lennon’s “Imagine” will help them explore the idealism of the 1960s and ’70s.

According to Root, studies have shown that music helps a student pay attention, retain information and perform better on standardized tests. In the pilot project, teachers reported that students who had been struggling beforehand were making significant progress in class. Voices Across Time is specifically designed to aid teachers of grades 7-12, though it is adaptable for other grade levels.

Participants in next summer’s institute will analyze popular songs to gain fresh material for historical inquiry. Field trips, authentic performances, historians, musicologists and education specialists will help the teachers develop innovative strategies to integrate music into their teaching of American history.

Voices Across Time is funded through the Vira I. Heinz Endowment and the Grable Foundation. Teachers who wish to participate should contact co-director Mariana Whitmer at 412/624-3031 or access:

Filed under: Feature,Volume 36 Issue 8

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