A new course at Columbia High School is giving students a perspective on history they normally would not get until college, if ever.
That class is called social/political history of American music.
“My goal is to convey to students the importance of all types of music to our history,” CHS teacher Tim Gagen said. “Music really reflects the time period. Hopefully (students) gain an appreciation of the role of music in social and political movements.”
Gagen, who has been teaching at CHS for over 20 years, came up with the idea for the class after he was asked about ways to expand the curriculum.
“History is so diverse, and I’ve always tried to teach students not just names and dates, but also things like music as it applies to historical ideas or events,” Gagen said. “I thought it would be different and interesting to students (to learn about) an area of history that isn’t normally covered.”
“I think it is a huge plus that our administration at Columbia is willing to expand curriculum and support a class like this,” he added.
With that support, Gagen began preparing the course. That involved using a mixture of books and online content to build the curriculum.
It also included devising assignments for students, which include presentations on songs, writers and musicians and requiring students to attend a concert or music performance and review it like a critic.
The course began this semester, and Gagen has already covered topics like synthesizers, the importance of production in music, the influence of blues and jazz and the importance of decades like the 1920s, 1930s and 1960s.
Michaela Grogan, a senior taking the class, said she appreciates how the class has brought students from various social circles together.
“We all have a common bond in music, even if we’re from different groups. That kind of class brings people together,” she said. “It’s a very fluid class, very easygoing and very interesting. I know a lot about music and I love music, but there are a lot of things I don’t know that I’ve learned.”
Grogan said her favorite music comes from the 1960s and ‘70s, so some of that has already been covered.
Brandon Hall, another senior taking Gagen’s class, said he has appreciated learning this history but is particularly looking forward to discussing the transition from 2000s hip hop to modern hip hop.
“I feel like that will be fun when we get there because now we’re in the older stuff, which is cool because my dad still listens to all of that so I can kind of relate,” Hall said. “But I’m excited for when we can get to more modern stuff.”
The class is proving especially helpful for Hall, who plans to major in music and audio production and music business in college.
“I saw this as an opportunity to get ahead and make sure that’s the major I wanted,” Hall explained. “It’s really helping me for my future major, getting me a step ahead of everyone else going into my freshman year.”
While Gagen said he is not sure if the class will become a regular offering, Hall’s reason for taking the class is meeting Gagen’s goal for it.
“I hope students enjoy the class and find it valuable enough to continue taking it,” he said.