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May 15, 2009

"The Blues are the Roots; Everything else is the Fruits. Willie Dixon

As part of my series on music - and how it represents cultures - I'd like to let you know about a book I just stumbled into at my local library. With a focus on the indigenous music of North America...

...Stephen J. Nichols, in his book Getting the Blues What Blues Music teaches us about suffering & Salvation, addresses the gritty, unschooled, ragged roots of American Blues music.

This is the music of survival - of pain, loss and determination. This is music that is honest, unpolished and sometimes challenging.

This is music written by people who couldn't write music - in fact many of the early Blues singers couldn't write at all. Or read.

These singers used simple lyrics and basic rhythms to tell stories - mostly stories of hope in desperate times and situations.

One of the basic structures is the call and response that was also used in Black gospel music. This was where the singer would sing out a line and the audience would sing back a response. Again, this was because of the limited literacy of both the singers and the audiences of the 1920s and '30s in the Deep South.

This music would fun - as well as instructive - as a means of combined cultural and language learning.

For more background on the Blues and the roots of rock and roll, be sure to check out the great PBS historical sweep of American Roots music at http://www.pbs.org/theblues/.

And for a truly inspirational experience, look for the profile of Pete Seeger at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/pete-seeger/the-power-of-song/50/. Seeger wrote many of America's best known and enduring folk songs, including "Where Have All The Flowers Gone," "If I Had A Hammer," "Turn Turn Turn," and "Wimoweh."

I would love to host a radio series with a focus on these roots of where much of modern music came from. There is an old saying, "The Blues had a baby and named it rock and roll". If you like rock or Rap or Jazz, and you like stories, you'll love the Blues.

Take a listen, I think you'll like it.

I'll be posting notices of future ESL and other language conferences, let me know of any in your circle of influence.

Later this spring and summer I'll be hosting some contests where I'll be giving away books and CDs. Stay tuned here - and send me some of your suggestions for great books and music that help with language learning!

My best to you,


Listen, read and speak. Make your new language your own.

In May and June, I want to welcome readers to present thoughts on the ideal job. What do you most want to do? Where would you like to be? Who would you want to work with?

About the author of this entry:

Morf has a B.A.from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and an MAT (Master's in Teaching English) from the University of Washington (Seattle). Morf currently teaches English and writing for a local technical/vocational college with many international students. Morf prefers international and independent films, foods he can't pronounce, music no one else likes and riding his bicycle in unlikely and ridiculous situations.

Posted by mmorf at May 15, 2009 11:44 PM

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I would love to know of a book or further resources to help me to use music and song writing/improvisation via the blues in my lessons.

Posted by: sarah wrann at June 16, 2009 05:07 AM

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