Active Learning – The Musical ‘Spectacle’

What’s the point in sitting the students down, tell them about the convention of the ‘spectacle’ as used by the musical genre and show them examples, when I can just say “Go find out what a spectacle is, and create one in this class before the end of the period”. To spice it up, I made two groups and gave them chocolate.

This was an enormous success. I loved the authenticity of the task. Group one immediately went for a camera and began creating a stomp version of the cell-block tango in a classroom context. They filmed a range of sounds being made in the classroom (gum popping, desk tapping, pencil sharpening, etc) and then gradually built up the sounds to make a classroom symphony.

Group two however too a much more individual approach. Some ended up on YouTube consider Busby Berkley choreography, others went straight for lights (I still don’t know where they got them), then there was the music track mix and the rap writers. They produced a spectacle of a media rap spectacularly.

The learning here was constantly evident. As they worked I talked with small groups. Learners were able to articulate the idea of awe and the purpose of impressing the audience with performances on a large or lavish scale. I inserted the idea of creating fantastical visual stimulation for the audience and tried to stretch their vocabulary as they described the effect of the spectacle. Prior to the performance, I ask searching questions around the context of early musicals. A student was able to make the link between the artificiality of the spectacle and the idea of escapism which had already been introduced. I pushed them further and claimed that performance spectacle is organised to facilitate an emotional investment in the musical number so that the audience will look beyond the artificiality. Our next step is to now use this language and these ideas when we watch some examples next term.

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