Music At Highlander

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 19 December 2016

Music At Highlander

Music is a powerful tool of expression. Whether produced or listened to, it can reveal deep aspects of ones personality. Song’s can hold unique personal meanings through memory or message. During time’s of desperation, music’s constant rhythm can provide a fortress of comfort and steadiness. Music is depended upon for security, care, inspiration, and as a safe haven to be able to express freely. The Highlander Folk School is depended upon for the same reasons. These two schools of thought not only share similar relationship’s with people, but they are practiced together frequently. “Song, music and food are integral parts of education at Highlander.

Music is one way for people to express their traditions, longings, and determination” (158). Myles Horton seemed certainly aware of the importance music had at Highlander, but never expressed it further than this quote from near the end of his autobiography, The Long Haul. How big of a role did music play in the Highlander education? Producing a safer environment, a more enriched education, and the ability to unleash potential, music was essential in the Highlander education.

Music is nonjudgmental. There is no right or wrong, it just is what it is. People take away from music whatever they want. Myles Horton set up Highlander to work in the same way. He offered a community that practiced social equality, no discrimination or lack of freedom of speech. He offered workshops on what the people wanted to work on, and then left it to them to take away and use what they want. This was the organic structure of education Horton preached. He also focused on the surroundings needed to support this education. “The job of the staff members is to create a relaxed atmosphere in which the participants feel free to share their experiences” (150).

Without an environment where people felt safe and comfortable in, this system would stay only a theory. Music kept this structure stable. Group songs created a platform for different cultures to bond and understand each other. It created comfort, security, and an environment full of love. Myles describes Highlander as, “A long tapestry with a weft made up of many colors…All of them are of a piece and blend in, and all are based on a love for humanity and trust in the ability of people to control their own lives enventually” (134).

Myles Horton believed in experiential-based education. He endorsed student to student discussions. The learning happens between sharing stories and experiences from each other. He tried mixing as many cultures, ideas, and perspectives together to provide an enriched collection of experiences. “Another enrichment was the use of music and storytelling…In fact, the history of Highlander could in many important ways be told by the music – traditional songs and songs of struggle – that was brought there by the people” (133). Music at Highlander connected to people through messages, memories and traditions which provided student’s with enriched experiences to grow from.

Some songs brought hidden truths to light, others inspired groups to come together. Church hymns were adapted and used as union songs (158). Every song brought with it some sense of tradition or culture to learn from. Before Highlander was established, Horton went to Denmark to get inspired by their folk high schools. He recalls an old director telling him that, “Through songs and poetry, students could grasp truths that might otherwise escape them, and that singing in unison was an effective way of inspiring people and bringing them closer together” (52). Music was a integral part of the Highlander education because it created student union and providing more enriched experiences to learn from.

Music nurtures self-esteem and encourages creativity, self-confidence, and curiosity. Horton tries to nurture and encourage the same from students at Highlander. Myles viewed himself as a gardener and his job “to provide opportunities for people to grow, to provide a climate which nurtures islands of decency, where people can learn in such a way that they continue to grow” (133). Music helped provide this caring climate by installing tradition and comfort. Singing in unison provided an opportunity for students to grow by encouraging self-confidence and self-esteem.

Group singing also help solidify a Highlander fundamental belief; trust people and believe in their ability to think for themselves. Empower people collectively, not individually. Bernice Robinson and Myles Horton learned early on in the first Citizenship School classes that, “You couldn’t just read and write yourself into freedom. You had to fight for that and you had to do it as part of a group, not as an individual” (104). Music lets students demonstrate the beauty and power of collective unison without actually leaving Highlander and protesting. This experience was invaluable in naturing and growing students.

Myles Horton reveals near the end of his book, “Other than encouraging others, I made no significant contributions to music at the school, unless you count the verse I added to “We Shall Overcome” – “The truth shall make us free” (158). This statement shows his compassion for justice and his awareness of the importance of music at Highlander. Horton’s wife, Zilphia, is described by him as, “The moving spirit in shaping the singing and music program at Highlander (158). Many pictures in the book display Zilphia leading striker’s in song or Folk concerts at Highlander by Pete Seeger & Friends (156,157,159). Horton seemed to be surrounded by music through out his life and the education structure at Highlander is influenced by this. Music played a vital role at Highlander by providing an enriched environment nurturing students to ‘learn in such a way that they continue to grow’.

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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 19 December 2016

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