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Inspirational Music

Categories: Articles:Social Justice, BLOG | Published: 13/01/2017 | Views: 1981
In our blog, teacher, lecturer and musician Dr. Frank O'Hagan gives a personal view on the use of music to inspire work for social justice.


Justice is sweet and musical; but injustice is harsh and discordant (Henry David Thoreau).


For over fifty years I have held the view that music has the potential to deepen knowledge and understanding of social justice.

On my first CD, A Long Way from Home (2005) there is a range of materials drawn from my work and experience in the field of using music to enhance the learning experience of pupils. From my research and practice I found that themes such as the Civil Rights movement in America can be brought alive through the medium of music. 

Many pupils find melody, rhythm and lyrics just the sort of mix to provide them with a gateway to understanding such topics more fully and deeply. Both students and teachers have told me that songs related to issues studied in class have enhanced the learning experience for pupils. 

Songs from that CD include A Long Way from Home about the experience of asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants in their new home of Glasgow. A song called Leave This City Behind addresses the issues of vandalism, graffiti, and violence. It has been used by schools studying the novel Divided City in conjunction with local art projects to discourage anti-social behaviour.

I have songs about past and present activists, such as Rosa Parks whose actions  led to a turning point in American civil rights : Montgomery, Alabama (1955)  - see This song has been used by a number of teachers during human rights week when pupils were involved in making posters, and creating drama activities, silent protests, music and debating. The School of Education in the University of Glasgow and in a number of primary and secondary schools throughout Scotland have also used  this song as have Howard University in Washington, D.C. in its Black History course.

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Rosa Parks being fingerprinted after being arrested for boycotting

In order to inform and develop attitudes about Myanmar activist Aung San Suu Kyi and the political situation in Burma, I used my composition The Jasmine Lady from the album Green Light To Freedom:

And What did we ever learn from History?  -  -  is a song concerned with a range of issues, such as women’s right to vote and racism. It asks what have we learned from groups like the suffragettes and people like Martin Luther King. 

I have found that the medium of music acts as a powerful stimulus to social conscience in students, as well as deeper understanding of the issues and the development of attitudes and values. 

I have observed from the enthusiastic reaction of pupils that when I have the confidence to share the products of my own musical creativity, this motivates them to be more confident in their own creativity. They are enabled to share their poetry, lyrics, compositions, artwork and other examples of creativeness with me and their peers. 

To promote independent learning and self-directed study, I have given responsibility for the learning to individuals and it was their remit to create a series of visuals to accompany the songs. The result was most encouraging and facilitated discussion and debate around concepts such as freedom, democracy and human rights. The pupils said they enjoyed and benefitted from having ownership of the topic and that their intrinsic motivation was inextricably linked to the extrinsic motivation provided by the finished product and the peer assessment of that product. 

I am sure that music has the potential to deepen knowledge and understanding of a variety of topics, as well developing attitudes related to social justice in an engaging, imaginative and intrinsically motivating way.

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