Category Archives: Music

Trojans in my head? Something like that

There is a song on the radio that has been bothering me.  Not exactly like an ear worm, but sort of similar.  It is the Atlas Genius song “Trojans.”  The lyrics are provided, below, and in the video, above.


Take it off
Take it in
Take off all the thoughts of what we’ve been
Take a look
Take a picture you could never recreate
Write a song
make a note
for the lump that sits inside your throat
Change the locks, change the scene
Change it all but can’t change what we’ve been
Your trojan’s in my head
It’s ok if it’s gone
The thoughts that you had that it was the one
And oh what is left?
For all those times is that what you get?
Oh regardless
The walls get painted anyway
Oh you’re guarding
The gates, but it all got away
Your trojan’s in my head
Take it off
Take it in
Take off all the thoughts of what we’ve been
Take a look
Take a picture you could never recreate
Write a song
make a note
for the lump that sits inside your throat
Change the locks, change the scene
Change it all but can’t change what we’ve been
    Am I the only one who thinks the lads at Atlas Genius may have meant, “Your Achaean’s in my head,” or “Your Greek warrior,” or “Your Trojan horse”?  Perhaps my thinking is too cerebral for the song, and the guys from Atlas Genius are simply referencing condoms or computer viruses, but I feel there is a simple mistake being made, here, incorrectly identifying the soldiers inside the Trojan Horse as Trojans and not Achaeans invading Troy.
     Songs are in comparison to poetry often more abstract as they are complemented by the music the artists write and even the voice and emotions of the singer to help convey their meaning.  Having acknowledged that, I can’t help but wonder if they simply got the famous story of the Achaean (Greek) military deceit wrong.
     On the other hand, it is possible that the singer represents the Greek side and is deliberately revising the story to to turn it on its head and explain the relationship with his partner.  That would be a pretty interesting twist to the story.  And, perhaps I would do wrong to sell them short on literary knowledge–their EP was titled Through the Glass…  Or, the song could really be referencing the computer virus, which through shortened parlance has come to misrepresent the mythological tradition, itself.
    Whatever the band intended, I find myself wondering whether they are unintentionally corrupting the story for a generation (or two) that is more or less completely unfamiliar with Homer, Euripides and Virgil whose epics and plays have preserved the story for us, today (and, no, Hollywood reproductions do not count as familiarity).  For my own personal interpretation (and enjoyment) I choose to think of it as an interesting recasting wherein partner is Troy turning the traditional interpretation on its head.  I find it most interesting that way.
    For more about the band:
   And, for more of their music:


Filed under Historian's Journal, Music

A festive lesson plan (via Mental Floss)

antiques,Christmas,gifts,iCLIPART,illustrations,Kris Kringle,nostalgic,presents,quaint,retros,Santa Claus,seasonal,seasons,sentimental,toys,trees,vintages,yuletides

9 Holiday Characters From Around the World – Mental Floss is a quick review of the various other Christmas characters in the western world.  I teach Western Civilization and am well aware of the connectedness of European and American culture.  Given that fact, the variety of the theme is remarkable.

Sadly, Mental Floss is not in the habit of citing their sources on these lists.  Still, universities in this country teach about these cultures in their foreign language departments and may well provide some additional information.  I think it is worth it–this is a nifty cultural lesson.  It relates back to an old theme shared by Sam Weinburg and this blog, among many others, about the challenges of grappling with the familiar and the unfamiliar.

Below, I describe a lesson plan emphasizing these things.  It is written for a classroom, but easily adapted into a homeschooling lesson plan.

Suggested lesson plan (outline):

Introduction:  Have each student describe their family’s Christmas traditions (note, these do not need to be religious traditions, obviously, if you feel more comfortable you can phrase it based on what students’ families do on their winter breaks)–do this by having each free write for five minutes or break the class into small groups and have each share with his or her group, then have someone from each group describe someone else’s family tradition. (It is worth keeping in mind that a student may not have a family tradition for the Christmas holidays because of religion, personal tragedy, or different cultural background.  This does not mean you shouldn’t do the exercise!  This is as important and valuable a learning experience as the others!!!  The greater diversity in your classroom the greater the opportunity students will have to learn from each other!  Also, remember that Santa Claus is almost entirely secular in the U.S.)

Activity 1:  Assign the reading from Mental Floss, provided in the link above.  Ask students to each read the whole article, or break it down so that each student reads one of the descriptions, or make small groups in which they each group reads three of the character descriptions.

Activity 2:  If you haven’t already, break the students into small groups.  These can be the same as the previous activity or entirely new groups.  Unless they all read the same thing, have each student describe what they read.  Then have each group answer these questions (adjust as needed for age or experience):

  1. Which continents do these traditions come from?
  2. What religions celebrate Christmas?
  3. Is there a connection between the answer of question 1 and the answer of question 2?
  4. What do these characters have in common (how they look, how they act, time of year in which they appear)?
  5. How are these characters different  (how they look, how they act, time of year in which they appear)?

Reflection:  For either a brief reflective essay or a brief reflective discussion ask students to answer the following: Why do you think we have so many different traditions for the same holiday?

Santa on the sleigh

From here a homework assignment could be made for further research into the different cultures and the character featured–and other cultural Christmas characters could be added, perhaps even as the result of the student discussion of Christmas (or winter break) traditions.  Ideally, this results in a feast with information about the cultures represented and their winter holiday traditions, such as games, music and songs, etc.  One might also just as easily make the next assignment about the class’s research of itself by having each student share more about their own family traditions and history.

American culture came out of European culture and for all of their similarities this reading helps illustrate the limits of the cultural similitude while nonetheless emphasizing the cohesion in comparison with the rest of the world.  This is an important point to learn from the exercise though it will probably resonate more with older students who have had more history exposure or to a particularly diverse class that is roundly international.  The follow-up exercise options described immediately above will be more appropriate depending on the class age and level of exposure, so adjust accordingly.

This lesson plan is designed to work on the following skills:

  • reading
  • writing
  • oral and aural communication: speaking and listening
  • historical thinking: making connections based on history knowledge
  • cognitive thinking: drawing conclusions based on provided information, cause and effect

If you try this or variant of it, or if you have your own already existent lesson plan, please, share your experiences, below.

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Filed under Experiences, Experiencing History - Project Based Learning, Fiction, Food, Games, Music

My National Geographic Magazine project

In this post, I am sharing my National Geographic assignment.  This is especially useful in generating multi-disciplined assignments and projects.  I use it for home school, but it could easily be adapted to history, anthropology, English, social studies, language arts, or related subjects–the reading level is higher, obviously, so if you are doing it with younger kids, enlist the help of parents or reading coaches.  It also makes a pretty good extra credit assignment, if you do that.

The purpose is to get the student to read one of the articles and then engage in the content at a higher level.  Whether the student reads further, creates fiction based on the article, or is artistically inspired, he or she is reworking the content of the article into his or her own project.

This is a great way to expose students to science, history, sociology, travel, and culture beyond their classrooms!  Once they’ve tapped into the pictures and maps, the story becomes hard to resist.  Each article is a kind of field trip (almost) and it should capture students’ imaginations and fuel their curiosity–for life.

(Additional tip for history use:  Assign older Nat. Geo. magazines from a period you are studying–the old Life magazines work well, too–so, students could, for example, read about the Space Race as it was unfolding.  Now, you’ve advanced it to a primary source project!)

National Geographic Assignment

Directions:  Read the current issue of National Geographic Magazine and do one of the following activities using an article of your choice from that issue:

  • Write a short story
  • Make a board game
  • Write a play
  • Do a related experiment
  • Further reading
  • Write a short report
  • Make a travel brochure
  • Do an art project
  • Invent a product or service
  • Write a blog post
  • Write a letter to the author or someone in the article
  • Make an informative map or chart explaining an aspect of the article
  • Create a storyboard for a short movie or documentary inspired by the article
  • Draw one of the photographs from the article
  • Write a speech
  • Make a cartoon strip
  • Write a song or poem
  • Make a PowerPoint explaining the article or an aspect of the article
  • Create a glossary or encyclopedia entries for the article
  • Design a craft project inspired by the article
  • Create a non-profit/fundraising service idea to address an issue raised in the article
  • Prepare a meal inspired by the article

These projects also make good “show” projects when highlighting the class’s  work or an individual student’s accomplishments.  Stories, artwork, and other projects may be used for contests or projects beyond the school or home school.

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Filed under Drama/Theater/Cinema, Experiences, Experiencing History - Project Based Learning, Fiction, Food, Games, Music, Tech tools, Travel

Music as History Teacher – SAWAE’s Music

SAVAE’s Music – San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble.

I love music.  I like lots of genres–when I say eclectic I don’t mean rap and country; I mean classical baroque, bluegrass, new wave British invasion, blues, most subheadings under rock, R & B, etc.  As is the case with most of my hobbies and interests I love the old stuff, too.  Again, I am not just referring to Mozart, here, because I grew up with him, I mean well before his time, too.  My initial foray into pre-classical music came in the form of a Renaissance Christmas CD my parents purchased.  Not long after that, monks chanting in Gregorian Chant became all the rage!  Then I discovered the hauntingly beautiful music of the Middle East and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon opened the Far East (although, I am still not a big fan of Japanese opera).

Since then, my hobby has continued to expand somewhat haphazardly, aided occasionally by friends, NPR Tiny Desk Concerts and Pandora.  Recently, while looking for resources on a lecture for the Mayan ballgame I stumbled across the group above, SAVAE, short for San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble.  I have not, yet, been able to find much information on their methods or expertise, but much of their work has been directed towards historical reconstructions.  All of their early albums feature the music of Conquest-era New Spain and its fusion with Old World and New World instrumentation and language.  (I just got my first two CDs and think they are amazing on an aesthetic level.)  The idea I think offers some really unique possibilities for historians of the era, particularly in the classroom.

Students are already drawn to music.  I think a great way to use this in class would be to compare what SAVAE has reconstructed with today’s reggaeton a fusion of West-Indian music, such as reggae, and traditional Latin American rhythms and themes, such as salsa and bomba, with contemporary hip hop and electronica.  The result is a fusion, parts of which sound familiar to those acquainted to with any one of the root genres, but nonetheless strange.  This is frequently the case with SAVAE’s Conquest-era reconstructions.  If I had to describe the sounds, I would say they are something loosely like medieval European chant and the music we purchased in Taos, NM visiting the Pueblos.  But, that doesn’t really do it justice.  It would be a great introduction to the subsequent melding and blending of the two cultures in the wake of the Age of Discovery.

There are samples at the website link at the top of the post–check them out!  In addition, they as a group have continued to evolve (apparently, I am late to the game) and their repertoire has grown accordingly.

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Filed under Experiencing History - Project Based Learning, Music