A big part of our week together involved an arts-integration breakout session with NHS orchestra teacher, Joe Reiben. The students were working on a PBL that focused on flood mitigation in Estes Park. So, Mr. Reiben prepared activities that helped the students see the connection between music and natural disasters. He discussed why and how this music was written, and also gave some background on the composers and performers themselves. Most of the music presented was composed during the Mississippi Delta floods of the 1920s.
“It seems there were 25 or 30 records by blues artists on or related to the 1927 flood. The songs present a variety of commentary on the flood. The ones by the few artists that were from the area, who might have actually experienced the flood (like Charlie Patton or Alice Pearson) tend to be the most realistic in their descriptions, the most accurate in their details. Some of the others are inaccurate, based on hearsay, some sentimentalize the flood, some even trivialize it.”
– Professor David Evans, University of Memphis
Recordings that were labeled as part of the Delta Blues included work from artists such as Muddy Waters and Memphis Minnie, who wailed harrowing lyrics in her song “When the Levee Breaks.”
If it keeps on rainin', levee's goin' to break / And the water gonna come in, have no place to stay.
After reviewing the historical context for the Delta Blues, Mr. Reiben also helped students look at the music through an engineering lens by teaching them how water is used to create musical instruments such as the hydraulophone, an instrument that combines the force of water and jet propulsion to push water through a tube to create sound. Students also learned about an aleatoric instrument, which is comprised of a combination of photo transistors, resistors, a single-board micro-controller, a computer, and water in a transparent container (such as a fish bowl). Musicians create ripples in the water, then the phototransistors (light sensors) detect changes in how the ripples reflect light; the sensors send that information to the microcontroller, which sends the information as midi events to the computer that plays the music.
After reviewing a few different types of instruments, the students were allowed to create their own. They made rain sticks consisting of long, hollow tubes, capped at both ends and filled with rice. Braided pieces of tin foil were placed inside the tubes, which were then filled with rice. Students turned the rain sticks end over end, allowing the rice to fall to the opposite end of the tube, thereby creating the sound of a rain storm as the rice bounced off the foil.
The capstone project for their music course was to create a spoken word song to be performed at a celebration on the final day of camp. An example spoken word poem called “Why Education” put students in the mindset of using creativity in education instead of being forced into a box of regimented ways to demonstrate knowledge. Then, much like the blues artists and musicians who went before them, these students developed spoken word songs (with hand percussion backgrounds) based on their Estes Park Flood PBL. The wrote the lyrics based on
various narratives they heard and information they gleaned from their research throughout the week.