Gospel Music is GOOD NEWS!
By Anne Smith, Ed.S
Aretha Franklin. Little Richard. Trisha Yearwood. Randy Travis. Beyonce. Katy Perry.
When you hear these names, the word gospel in not necessarily the first word that comes to your mind. Yet, each of these musicians have a background in gospel music. Still, as influential as it is, inside American classrooms, we have ignored this important musical genre or attempted to relegate it to a few lines about Mahalia Jackson. The truth is that while the teachers may be ignoring it, our students are not.
There are three main questions that come to mind when you bring up the topic of teaching about gospel music in a public school setting.
# 1 – Why Should I Teach Gospel Music?
Time is one of the biggest problems facing teachers of music. With all of the other things that you have to do, you might wonder why you should add one more thing to the list. Gospel music allows you to incorporate standards while staying true to the music. Gospel music crosses the curriculum and touches most of the standards. Think about it.
Harmony – students must sing together and in parts.
Improvisation – there are many opportunities to ad lib and create original ostinati.
Composition – many gospel songs are similar to folk music in that lyrics and arrangements can be changed to fit the needs and abilities of the group.
History – the variations of gospel music can be segmented and connected to the American experience.
Rhythm – the precision and syncopation that is found in the performance of gospel music requires understanding of how beats work together.
Gospel music is an American art form. People around the world are studying this music, why aren’t we?
# 2 – How can I Teach Gospel Music in a Public School?
The 1st Amendment says that we cannot teach religious music in a public school, right? WRONG! That’s the argument that most people will give you for not teaching it. However, there are two very important points. First, that is not what the amendment says. It says that the government cannot ESTABLISH a religion. Introducing gospel music from an academic standpoint should be no different that presenting any other academic material. Most of us have not eliminated Bach or Handel from the curriculum. We know that many of those that we refer to as being the great masters were not only court musicians but church musicians as well.
Second, we are not teaching religious music. We are teaching ABOUT a musical genre that is associated with religion. Once again, we sing “America the Beautiful” and even “God Bless America.” Music is more than simply looking at little black dots on a piece of paper. It is complicated and sometimes messy. That’s what makes it so exciting and necessary. We have the opportunity to introduce our students to other cultures. We can encourage Higher Order Thinking skills through analysis. We can teach them to appreciate others. How can you teach gospel music in a public school? How can we not?
# 3 – Where Can I Learn to Teach Gospel Music?
You have to decide what you are comfortable with in your classroom. If you are not ready to perform a gospel piece, then don’t. If you would prefer to have your students listen to a piece and play along with it, that is fine. Remember this is good news. Not painful news. Your students will take their cues from you. It you want to look at the genre from a purely academic standpoint perhaps you might begin with a book that deals with gospel music biographies. (Shameless plug below.)
Check out your school, you may have phenomenal gospel musicians on your staff or even in your classes. Some of the best gospel singers and musicians that I know cannot read a note. But they can pick up anything, and I do mean anything that they hear and play it. Check out videos on YouTube. Attend the NAfME workshop on gospel music at the National In-Service conference on Tuesday, October 27. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others.
You can learn more about teaching gospel music in the classroom by checking me out at:
Also visit the Tate Publishing page for Good News!: Innovators and Originators of Gospel Music.
Feel free to contact me at email@example.com
About the Author:
Anne Smith is a PK-8 teacher of music in Alexandria, Virginia. She majored in Music Therapy and double minored in voice and piano at Howard University. She holds an M.Ed in Teaching and an Ed.S in Curriculum Development. She has conducted clinics across the country on presenting gospel music in a public school setting. She is a playwright, composer and choral director. Anne recently published her first book for the classroom on gospel musicians, Good News!: Innovators and Originators of Gospel Music.
Anne Smith presented on this topic at the 2015 NAfME National In-Service Conference. Register today for the 2018 NAfME National Conference.
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