HS – Creative Arts

staff_paulswansonHarmony School has always embraced the arts, and many of the high school staff endeavor to incorporate the arts into the curricula of other classes.  As for me, I teach two different course sequences that deal with the arts.  The first focuses on cultural arts: learning about the various cultural contexts of music, storytelling, painting, architecture, and film.  The second is focused on performance art, primarily music and graphic design.

For a more detailed description of my classes, simply click on one below:
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Cultural Arts of the World

Every semester I teach a different installment of my course: Cultural Arts of the World. This course began as a two-year sequence of semester long courses focusing on the cultural arts of the Middle East/India, Africa, East Asia, and Latin America. Due to student request, I have expanded the sequence to be four years long and have expanded each of my semester-long classes to be full-year. This allows students to learn about specific regions of the world in far greater depth than most high school students. I structure each semester differently depending on the region and the types of cultural arts that are most prominent to them. In general, though, we look at the stories, religion, architecture, art, music, dance, and film of each region.

Cultural Arts from the Middle East to India
Spanning the range from Bedouins to Brahmins, from Turks to Persians, the area of Southern Asia from Turkey to India is bursting with history and culture. In this course we will begin by looking at some of the story telling traditions including the 1001 Nights of Arabia. We will then move to traditions that are both verbal and written such as the Indian epics and Persian poets. To better understand the cultural context of these arts, we will spend some time to learn about Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and Islam. From there, we will delve visual arts and iconography, music, and dance of several countries. Finally, we will wrap up the semester with more modern cultural traditions such as pop music and cinema. This is a course about “the arts” in their broadest sense as well as their role in shaping and defining culture.

Cultural Arts of East Africa
Africa is the home of the first humans, the first art, the first nation, as well as some of the most beautiful monuments, poetry, art, music, and dance in the world. In this course, we will learn about the land and people of Africa, as well as their ancient civilizations in the Sahara, along the Nile, and up into the highlands of ancient Punt. We will look at tales of the Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia as well as their ancient Coptic Christian traditions, at the rise of Islam and the Swahili city states, and finally at the monumental architecture of Great Zimbabwe. Along the way, we’ll be learning all about the people, art, music, dance, and religions of the many people in East Africa.

Cultural Arts of West Africa
During this semester, we will be learning about the people, arts, and culture of Western Africa. We will begin by learning about the land, the people, and some of their stories. Then we will look at Islam in West Africa and the role that it played in the creation of the three great empires of that area: Ghana, Mali, and Songhai. We will be investigating the visual arts of the area, in particular weaving, lost-wax brass casting, and mask making. We will also be looking at the music of Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia, and Mali. Finally, we will turn to the coming of the Europeans, the rise of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the downfall of the Yoruba kingdom. This course is either a Social Studies or a Language Arts credit.

Cultural Arts of the Far East
Whether it’s through Jet Li films, Iron Chef, or modern politics, we can’t escape the influence and importance of the Far East. This course will delve straight in to the ancient and modern cultural riches of China, Korea, and Japan. We’ll begin by investigating some of the prehistory and divination traditions of the Chinese. Then we’ll have a tea party with the ancient philosophers, and learn about the influence of Buddhism. As we trace China’s cultural influence, we’ll also look at the uniqueness of Korea, and how similar cultural ideas spread through Korea into Japan. Along the way, we’ll be studying the calligraphy, painting, music, dance, martial arts, and cinema of these three countries. If we plan it right, we may even have a chance to make a movie of our own… This class is a Social Studies credit.

Cultural Arts of Latin America
More than any other area, Latin America represents a cultural collision of peoples: Europeans, Africans and Native Americans. In this course we will meet all three, along with their stories, traditions, architecture, art, religions, festivals, poetry, music, and cinema. We will take a tour by land and by sea from the southern border of on the Rio Grande down into South America. This course can be a Language Arts or a Social Studies Credit.

Music History

I also teach two-semester sequence that focuses on music history.  The year begins with Traditions of Music, an ethnomusicological exploration from Indiana to India.  Then, in the spring semester, we turn to American Popular Music.  This class begins with commercial music from the late 1800s and early 1900s and then moves to ragtime, Tin-Pan Alley, blues, jazz, rock and roll, soul, funk, punk, heavy metal, hip-hop, and electronica.

Traditions of Music
Music has always been a part of culture, and we can both learn about a culture through its music as well as learn about music through its culture. This course is focused on learning about musics and cultures from all over the world. We will begin by looking at the music of Indiana and its roots; then we will trace those roots to Europe, Africa, the Middle-East and India. This is a course for those who love music and seek to expand their horizons beyond Top 40 radio and Bloomington Indiana. Studying world music gives you an appreciation for other cultures, a great reason to travel, and a better understanding of the human experience as expressed through music.

American Popular Music
What was “Rock ‘N Roll”? When did it begin, and what came from it? This story is the story of American popular music. We’ll begin with the roots of rock, covering everything from Tin Pan Alley and the blues to boogie-woogie and swing. Then we’ll look at the birth of Rock after WWII along with its twin brother, Rhythm and Blues. Finally, we’ll look at some of these parents’ offspring, including Punk, Funk, Metal, and Hip-Hop. Although we’ll be looking at many of the key musicians and music of these movements, we’ll also be digging deeper to look at what the past can teach us about our country and about the music to which we listen today.

Music Practice

In the afternoons I teach courses focused on actual practice rather than history and culture.  Some years I teach my music sequence, from rhythm to songwriting.  In the fall we study rhythm and percussion, focusing on hand and stick drumming styles from around the world.  In the spring we move to melody and harmony, dealing with music notation, chords, scales, and basic songwriting techniques.

Rhythm and Percussion
The rhythm of the heartbeat is fundamental to human life, and the rhythms of music are intrinsic to every culture. In this class, we’ll be beginning with a look at the rhythms of life within us and life around us. We’ll be learning a variety of musical notations that help us understand rhythms from other times and places. And most importantly, we’ll be making lots of music using our bodies, drums, bells, rattles, cymbals, and other instruments both close to home and from continents away.

Melody and Harmony
Last semester we learned about rhythm, percussion, and drumming from around the world. This semester we will turn to more melodic instruments. We’ll begin with some songs from folk, jazz, world, and rock traditions, and then dissect the melodies that go into them. We’ll learn about major and minor scales, pentatonics, as well as some basic chords and progressions. Students will get to study and practice a variety of melodic instruments including guitar and piano. This class is a Creative Arts credit.

Technology and the Arts

Other years, I teach my “Technology and the Arts” sequence.  In the fall we look at music and technology, and I teach my students how to create their own electronic music and music video.  Then in the spring we shift gears and focus on graphic and web design.  Not only do the students gain a solid grounding in principles of form, color, and layout, but we also learn how to write basic HTML and CSS code to build basic websites.

Digital A/V Production
Technology has been used in the arts for thousands of years, and in our digital era it plays an increasingly important role in both music and video production. We will begin with the basics of sound, rhythm and timbre, and will learn ways of representing music visually through wave forms, Western notes, and box notation. From there, we will learn to use Sony Sound Forge and Acid to manipulate and arrange these sounds into increasingly complex rhythms and songs. Finally, we will use Vegas Video to create our own music video montages incorporating a variety of still shots and video clips

Graphic and Web Design
This course is focused on the basic principles of graphic design and how they can be applied to the internet. Our main project for the class will be a complete overhaul and redesigning of the Harmony High School website. To achieve this task, we will be learning about form, color, type, and layout. We will be working on a number of exercises to build a basic knowledge of HTML, XHTML, and CSS. We will also be learning how to use some of the basic features of Adobe CS4, including Illustrator, Photoshop, and Dreamweaver. This course is a Science/Tech credit.