The sound of protest

A new media studies and production course teaches students that music can be measured by more than just beats.

“Politics and Panpipes: Latin American Protest Music” is a new course started this fall which focuses on how protest music impacts the way people express themselves, particularly in Latin American culture.

The honors class is taught by Nancy Morris, a professor in Temple’s department of media studies and production. According to a press release from the department, Morris taught at the University of Stirling in Scotland for five years, in addition to spending semesters in Spain and Chile since she started teaching at Temple 15 years ago.

The course, which is held in the Tuttleman Learning Center on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, covers a range of materials like Latin American studies, music, history and Spanish, although the eight students currently taking the course are not required to know Spanish.

With an emphasis on the links between popular music and social processes, particularly in the mid-20th century, the course has students learning about how music is used to protest issues like United States intrusion in politics and environmental problems.

Morris was the one who introduced “Politics and Panpipes” into the MSP curriculum. She earned her masters and doctorate degrees in communication studies from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, where her research areas were globalization and international communication with a sub-specialty in Latin American protest music.

“When I was asked to teach an honors class, I proposed focusing it on my favorite topic,” Morris said.

In addition to learning about the music, the class studies certain musical instruments and how they are used to communicate messages in individualistic ways.

“So the choices of musical instruments, such as panpipes, reflect the musician’s desire to use Latin American forms to express their political ideas,” Morris said. “The musicians also sometimes use rock instruments such as electric guitars, and we examine their reasons for this and what sorts of messages are conveyed by that musical choice.”

During the 50-minute class, students listen to songs from a variety of Latin American countries and music genres, like classical and hip-hop. They read song lyrics to understand each country’s history, culture and diversity.

“We look at the messages expressed in the lyrics, the way those messages are affected by the political conditions at any given time, and also the way those messages are expressed through choices of instruments,” Morris said.

The class is structured as a discussion-based course that focuses on the characteristics of protest music. Although there are no major projects yet for this course, the goal is for students to use the musical concepts they are learning in class to experience the impacts of Latin American music and to understand how the cultures are identified through music.

Morris personally finds the history and music of Chile compelling, and is eager about all the lessons she has planned for the course.

“I hope it generates enough interest that I will have the opportunity to teach it again in the future,” she said.

Tatyana Turner can be reached at tatyana.turner@temple.edu.

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