LESSON ONE – THE CULTURE CONCEPT

Welcome to Cultural Anthropology

 

Overview:

This lesson introduces students to basic concepts and methods in cultural anthropology that were used to create Talk That Music Talk.
This lesson will introduce them to core concepts of culture that will help them critically engage the curriculum that follows.

Learning New Orleans culture: The Young Traditional Brass Band. Photograph by Bruce Sunpie Barnes.

LESSON PLAN

LESSON OBJECTIVES

 

• Introduce students to Cultural Anthropology.

• Introduce students to key terms in the study of culture.

•I ntroduce students to the stages of ethnographic fieldwork.

TIME REQUIRED

 

Two-three class periods of at least 50 minutes, depending on the length of the discussions.

MATERIALS NEEDED

 

•Introduction and Will Hightower’s chapters in Talk That Music Talk

•Handout of Will Hightower’s Stages of Fieldwork

SUGGESTED CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES

STEP 1:  Ask the class to take five minutes and do a quick “free write” on what comes to mind when they think of New Orleans jazz and brass bands. In a “free-write” you don’t have to worry about spelling or punctuation. You don’t have to edit yourself. You just need to get your first thoughts down on paper.

STEP 2:  After they brainstorm, ask the class to share some of their responses, and help them track their thoughts by writing them on the board. As follow-up questions, you can ask:

• Who has had a personal experiences with brass bandsand second line parades?

• When you think of the music, who listens to it? Whoplays it?

• Are there different kinds of brass band music and howwould they define the different styles?

• How are brass bands related to the history and cultureof the city? What can we learn about both by learningabout them?

STEP 3:  After the discussion, read the introduction in Talk That Music Talk, “Music for All Ages: Towards a Collective Voice” together. Each students can take a paragraph to read out-loud so there is a shared experience.

STEP 4:  The following set of questions will help the students understand how the book was put together and help them understand some of the terms used throughout the chapters:

• How are all the people in the book connected? Thepeople are connected through the partnership formed betweenthe New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park’s Music forAll Ages Program and the Black Men of Labor Social Aid andPleasuure Club.

• What did the older musicians and activists want toshare with the book project and what did the youngermusicians want to talk about? The older generation wantedto share how the history of civil rights was important to the music, what the traditional music and parading styles have been,and how you can make a life for yourself and your community inmusic. The younger musicians learned the traditional styles butare also anxious to expand their horizons.

How did the young people learn the music? By joinging aprogram that had them sit in with traditional brass bands organized by Bruce Barnes, a musician and interpretive park ranger.Once they learned how to play their instruments, Bruce helpedthem start their own band and play at the Black Men of Laborparade and other gigs around the city.

• What was the chosen method of teaching music andwhy was it important? Ear training teaches you to listen to apiece of music and figure out what key it is in, and how to playthe notes without looking at sheet music. It teaches musicianshow to work with others. It is the beginning of imporvisation.

• Why are parades a special part of learning music inNew Orleans? Second lines are participatory parades organized by African American benevolent societies called social aidand pleasure clubs. There are over 50 clubs in New Orleans,and each one hosts a parade with a brass band to celebrate theiranniversary. The parade moves through the neighborhood wherethe club was founded, and anyone is invited to join in behindthe band. This participation is called the “second line.” A largecrowd represents a successful parade because people in the community want to support it. Musicians say they learn a great dealby playing in the parades (which last four hours ) because theyare playing surrounded by dancers who are following their music.

STEP 5:  Explain to the students that the immersion process that the young musicians went through is similar to what anthropologists do to learn about a new culture. The book was written as a collaborative ethnography: a written and visual description of a culture that was created with the people who are in the book. Everyone had a chance to edit their own chapters and contribute new things to it. Explain to students that they will be introduced to some of the core concepts in anthropology before getting further into the book.

STEP 6:  Using the “Teaching the Culture Concept” guide, lead students through the class discussionto help them grasp some of the foundational concepts of cultural anthropology and its main method of inquiry, ethnography.

STEP 7:  Have the students break into pairs and read Will Hightower’s chapter in Talk That Music Talk. Afterwards, they can work together to answer the questions on the worksheet. If time permits, the class can discuss their answers together.

TEACHING THE CULTURE CONCEPT:

 

A Classroom Discussion Guide with Key Terms

Cultural Anthropology:  Ask students if they have eveheard of Cultural Anthropology, and get their feedback. Explain that it is a social science that studies cultures around the world.

Culture:  Ask students to share what comes to mind when they think of “culture.” Often times, students will say food, religion, music, festivals. Expain that these are products of culture—not culture itself. From an anthropological perspective, culture is a system of meaning that a group of people are taught and use to communicate with each other. The symbols that we use to communicate are arbitrary—they are given meaning by the people who agree upon them. This can be a difficult concept to understand, but students love to talk about it once they are given a road map because they realize they are participating in systems all the time.

You can begin by getting them to think about how sounds become words. As we know, there are thousands of different words for the same thing in languages around the world. One word is not better than another—they each develop in a different context and are understandable to the people who have given it meaning. Over time, word uses can change and be given other meaning. For instance, musicians often talk about the importance of “woodshedding.” Ask the students if they have heard of this before: What comes to mind when they think of a “wood shed”? A small building outside behind the house? What does it symbolize for a musician? Practicing alone. But it is more than this as well. Paul Klemperer explains:

It is a recognition of the need to sequester oneself and dig into the hard mechanics of the music before you can come back and play with a group in public. There’s something philosophical, almost religious, about the term. The musical treasures of jazz are not easily accessed. You have to dig deep into yourself, discipline yourself, become focused on the music and your instrument, before you can unlock the treasure chest.

When you start learning something new, you have to learn

the symbols that create a system of meaning. Ask students if they have ever done something like this before. Have they ever joined something new? What was it like? Have them give some examples and help them think about the way meaning is created. It could be the language used in aa sport, a dance, a club. At the beginning, everything is confusing and you have to learn about how to participate. You have to learn how to talk to people, what their gestures mean, why they wear certain clothing and jewelry, and what your role could be in the rituals that help bring people together. In short, they are doing some ethnography without even realizing it.

Social Construction:  Culture is learned behavior, and has nothing to do with biology. A baby born anywhere in the world could be relocated to another culture and learn the language, customs, dances, and music as easily as a child born to parents from that culture. We teach culture, and the categories we give to people are created by people. They can change.

Historical Particularism:  Another important concept that came from Franz Boas. It is the idea that we need to look to the past to understand what’s going on in a culture today. Cultures are not set in stone. Their rules, traditions, rituals, and music—to name just a few—change over time. We need to understanding their history, and how important events may have impacted people’s lives, to be able to gain a better sense of why they do what they do. It will help us have a better understanding of their current perspectives.

Code-switching: When we learn to move between cross-cultural settings, we learn to code-switch. We may talk differently to our grandparents than we do our siblings or friends, we may speak differently to people from different cultures and backgrounds. Learning to move from one way of speaking to another is called code-switiching.

Ethnography:  A form of qualitative research also known as participant observation. To do this kind of research, you have to directly participate in the culture you want to study, but you also have to take fieldnotes, talk to people, and develop more in-depth interviews to make sure that you are understanding what you are learning, and that your interpretations algin with what other people in the culture think they are doing. If you are studying a culture that you already belong to, you have to take steps back to defamiliarize yourself from what you take for granted. As Zora Neale Hurston wrote about studying her own culture: “It was only when I was off in college, away from my native surroundings that I could see myself like somebody else and stand off and look at my garment. Then I had to have the spy-glass of Anthropology to look through at that.” (Hurston, 1990/1935:1) You can lead the students through the steps of ethnography the culture of their school as an example, since everyone remembers what being at a new school is like.

•  Entreé: Your entrance into a culture. How did you learn about this culture? How were you able to participate in it? Who did you need to talk to? What did you need to do?

•  Culture Shock: Once you are in a new culture—or system of meaning—you may experience a disorientation based on a loss of familiar cues. The way people interact with each other may be different and you may not know

what is the “right” or the “wrong” way to do something. Your reactions to the disorientation can be subtle or very dramatic. People can experience shyness, homesickness, or anger. Often you have the feeling like a child because you cannot communicate on the level you are used to participating. You will notice the smells, tastes, sights, and sounds in greater detail because they are all new. If you are an anthropologist, your senses are important guides. They usually create powerful memories.

Developing Rapport: The next stage is when you begin to understand enough that you start to feel more comfortable participating. Your confidence will go up as other people accept what you are doing, and that you are making a contribution.To really develop rapport, anthropologists need to do their own form of woodsheding. They need to practice and they need to take notes on what is going on around them.

Understanding Culture: The final stage is when you have the knowledge to understand the meaning behind the culture. Why are people doing things this way? What does it say about how they see themselves as individuals and also as a group? You are able to share what you have learned with others.

When anthropologists are doing fieldwork, they have to be aware of the process of fieldwork, and keep an open mind to learn about the culture they are studying. This open mind is developed through practicing cultural relativity, a critical concept developed by an anthropologist named Franz Boas, who argued that each culture must be understood on its own terms, not on those of outsiders. This does not mean that we have to accept everything that a culture does, but we need to be aware of our own biases, and recognize that just because something is different does not mean that it is necessarily wrong. However, this can be a difficult to fully achieve because of ethnocentrism: Societies all over the world believe that their way is the right way. We may judge other groups negatively based on our own standards and want them to change their ways of doing things to fit our way.

Finally, there are two other terms that students can put in their anthropological tool kit to be able to be able to help them begin to unpackage ethnocentrism.

HANDOUT

WILL HIGHTOWER’S STAGES OF FIELDWORK

 

Directions: Find a parter and read Will Hightower’s chapter in Talk That Music Talk (Pages 104-113) together. You can alternate between the voices of Will and two of his mentors, Benny Jones, Sr. and Roger Lewis. While you are reading, pay attention to how Will’s experiences with music could fit into the different stages of fieldwork that anthropologists go through to learn about a different culture. When you finish the chapter, work together to fill out the questions below.

 

 

1. Where does Will live and what is he doing with his time prior to getting interested in music?

 

2. What was his most significant entreé into music and why?

 

3. Who have been important people in the world of music for him and where did he meet them?

 

4. What were his experiences of “culture shock?” How did he begin to overcome them?

 

5. How did Will begin to develop his own voice in music, or, in the words of anthropologists, begin to “develop rapport?”

 

6. How does his experiences with music influence how he sees the different schools that he attends?

 

7. On page 111, Will says, “If you go in thinking it’s just a piece of music, you are going to miss it becauseit’s an entire cultural entitiy of its own.” What does he mean?

KEY

WILL HIGHTOWER’S STAGES OF FIELDWORK

 

Directions: Find a parter and read Will Hightower’s chapter in Talk That Music Talk (Pages 104-113) together. You can alternate between the voices of Will and two of his mentors, Benny Jones, Sr. and Roger Lewis. While you are reading, pay attention to how Will’s experiences with music could fit into the different stages of fieldwork that anthropologists go through to learn about a different culture. When you finish the chapter, work together to fill out the questions below.

 

 

1. Where does Will live and what is he doing with his time prior to getting interested in music?

Will’s parents grew up in New Orleans and he visited his great-grandmother in the city, but he grew up in a suburb called Metairie. He was a shy kid who did karate to help with his coordination. He also played a lot of video games.

 

2. What was his most significant entrée into music and why?

Will decided to play music in the band at school to get out of P.E. but this was not because he had a love of a music. A love of music developed when members of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band lived with him after Hurricane Katrina. One of the members told his family about Music for All Ages, and this is where he began to learn how to play New Orleans brass band music. When he heard jazz clarinetists, he started had role models to follow.

 

3. Who have been important people in the world of music for him and where did he meet them?

Roger Lewis was a family friend. Like a lot of young people, when WIll was growing up he didn’t think that much about what Roger did for a living. It wasn’t until he started playing with other brass band musicians in the music program that he realized that the Dirty Dozen was a world-famous band. From these musicians, he gained confidence to take on some of his own schooling issues. He transferred schools and joined another brass band musician, Desmond Veneble’s, marching program. By this time, he understood enough about music to realize what a good teacher he was.

 

4. What were his experiences of “culture shock?” How did he begin to overcome them?

Will’s extreme shyness made it hard for him to play in a band when he first started out with Music for All Ages. He talks about how nervous he was to take a solo, but the other musicians continued to ask him to do it until he started to gain more confidence. Being around a diverse group of students helped him in other ways.

 

5. Will talks to Benny and Roger about developing your own voice in music, or, in the words of anthropologists, “developing rapport.” What does Will say helped him, and what do the other musicians recommend?

Will says studying with other clarinet and saxophone players helped him develop his own voice. He branched out to other music programs and participated in the New Orleans Young Traditional Brass Band where he played in the Black Men of Labor Parade. Getting to play alongside other professional musicians was disorienting but afterwards he realized he had learned a lot about how to develop his own sound. Benny says playing professionally is important, and that you don’t have to talk a lot to be the leader. Roger Lewis tells him the interaction between the musicians and the dancers in the parade is important in New Orleans music. The call and response pushes musicians to develop new ways of playing.

 

6. How does his experiences with music influence how he sees the different schools that he attends?

He realized that a lot of the problems he was having in other areas of his schooling were around the close-mindedness of his classmates. He decided to go to a public school that didn’t have as good of an academic reputation, but had a student body that was more accepting. Diversity became an important part of what he valued in education and in his social life.

 

7. On page 111, Will says, “If you go in thinking it’s just a piece of music, you are going to miss it because it’s an entire cultural entity of its own.” What does he mean? By playing music in brass bands in New Orleans, will also got to have a new relationship with the city. The music takes people through different stages of life. When a musician dies, they are honored by their community of musicians with a jazz funeral. Will talks about playing at Lionel Batiste, Sr.’s jazz funeral, which was one of the largest on record. The bass drummer for the Tremé Brass Band, he had become an icon of jazz music in the city, and was one of the mentors in the Music for All Ages program.