Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lessons in Soul Music - Teaching the Next Generation of Mods?

For those who are not aware, I'm an elementary school teacher. I teach 5th grade in a French speaking school in Montreal. For a number of years now, every Monday morning, I've been conducting a short "musical discovery" session where I introduce my students to different musical styles. Over the past few months, we've explored such diverse genres as Trance, Salsa, Gregorian chants, Quebec folk, Reggae, Blues and Barber Shop Quartets.

One of the most memorable moments this year was when we discussed covers and the widespread use of samples in today's songs. I had them listen to Rihanna's SOS sampling of Soft Cell's Tainted Love. Their response was priceless when they compared it to the 1981 hit. But that was nothing if you look at how they reacted when they first heard Gloria Jones' original 1964 version. They looked stunned.

Lesson learnt: Before you critique another generation's music, be advised, you might be derogating the original version of one of your favorite songs.

Just before the summer holidays, it was time for them to learn about the ancient art of playing vinyl records. May I remind you that all of my students were born in this century? 45s are as foreign to them as getting up to change channels on the television or phones attached to the wall. So what better way of introducing them to those curious little black discs, with a huge hole in the middle, then to have them listen to sweet Soul music?

I gave a quick history lesson on the huge contribution of Motown and Stax to popular culture and the influence of cities like New York, Memphis, New Orleans, Detroit and Chicago. Soul music is not necessarily at the top of their iPod playlist but when I told them about a young black kid about their age and four of his brothers recording their first record at Hitsville USA, faces started lighting up.

My visit to Motown in August 2010
Stax - Memphis - March 2011

I then pulled out my mysterious little carrying case. "Is that your lunchbox?" one asked. As they started pulling out the 45s, you could tell some of them had never held one. They didn't even have the reflex of pulling them out of their sleeves. This is one of the reasons why I love my job. Children will sometimes have that sparkle in their eye when they experience something new. It's clearly visible in the following video.

When I asked how many songs could fit on a 7", Tristan answered without hesitation that it was 45. He had seen it on the label. They were also intrigued by the fact that you had a song on both sides of the record. Jessie thought that you had the English version on one side and the French on the other.

The most surprising moment was when I asked what we call the machine that plays records. No one had a clue. Out of 30 students, no one could come up with "record player" or "turntable". I did receive a slew of interesting and imaginative answers.  "Spin-O-Rama", "Vinylophone" are some of the most creative examples.

When came time to play the records, I was fascinated at how their intuition guided their logic. For one, the concept of putting the needle at the beginning of the record didn't occur to them. With MP3s nowadays, you simply have to push a button. When we got the turntable going, no sound came out. I had purposely hidden the speakers from them to see how they would react. The miniaturization of technology has also affected this generation's perception.

Another captivating moment for me was when I asked what the "33" button was for. Again, I couldn't have predicted some of the answers I got. Joey thought it was so we could hear the lyrics more clearly.  After a short demonstration, we quickly put that theory aside. Rainiel on the other hand thought it had to do with the type of music we listened to. Yasine came up with the most interesting answer: "It so we can dance slower."

I chose 2 classics to introduce them to soul music, Booker T and the MG's Green Onions and Stevie Wonder's Uptight (Everything's Alright). They were quite amused by the title of the first and happy to learn that Stevie Wonder had started his career at the same age they had. I invite you to view the entire video even if you don't understand French. Some of the reactions of my students are priceless. Who knows, maybe you are witnessing the birth of a new generation of Mods?


  1. Vraiment génial Pat! Tu es un bon prof :)

  2. C'est drôle que tu dises cela Michel car je trouve que j'apprends beaucoup de toi!

  3. One of the best Videos I'VE seen in a long, long time! Great post, cool Blog.

  4. Quelle belle expérience! Merci de la partager!

  5. What a great post (as always)! Students are fortunate enough to have a teacher like you who many will no doubt ever forget, and the video clip was priceless. You've inspired a post I think I'm going to write about my influental teachers!

  6. Fascinant! Un vinylophone! Merci de partager cette expérience, et quelle bonne de partager cette connaissance avec tes étudiants!

  7. To Dan, Jeff and Xenakiss, thanks for the kind words.

    To my fellow blogger Wilthomer, I don't think I deserve such praise. Thanks!

    Un compliment de toi mon cher Félix est toujours fort apprécié. Merci!

  8. I am happier knowing their are teachers like you in the world and 30 children who are wiser, than their counter parts. God bless you Patrick! I introduced to my siblings 15 years ago how to put a "needle on a record" when they were 5 and 7. I'm happy to report they both own turn tables at age 20 and 22 in the year 2012.

    1. I am truly touched by your comment and at a lost for words. Sincerely, thank you.