I used to listen to a lot of ska (two tone) music during my youth. It was time well spent. Hearing the steady rhythms and upbeat lyrics from the Specials, the Skatelites, and Madness always put me in the right headspace. Now, before you think I have overlooked another key group, look back at the title of this piece, and know that the cornerstone of my record collection was occupied by the English Beat.
Wha’ppen was just one of the many albums to frequently spin on my turntable. While listening, I would read about how this band formed and who played which instruments, arranged the melodies, and crafted the lyrics. I learned that wha’appen was patois for what’s happening? This was my first time hearing a different dialect of English, and it came with a sonic introduction to a whole bunch of new vocabulary too. I also learned that The English Beat formed as a response to a great deal of socio-political and musical upheaval happening in England and around the world at the time.*
As a teenager, it was really cool to listen to music that wasn’t being played on the radio, and to listen to the collaborations of this group who did not outwardly resemble the lineups of most rock or punk bands that I had known before.
The English Beat looked and sounded differently than others. They incorporated ska, rock steady, roots, along with reggae and infused it all with thought provoking lyrics which were anchored by upbeat tunes and creative instrumentation. This music was unlike anything else I had heard before; with the exception of Peter Tosh or The Wailers.
So what does a memory lane visit about the English Beat have to do with helping teachers at all phases of their careers? Well, it’s about taking time to remember what motivates you. Regardless of who was blasting out of my speakers these artists provided a soundtrack to my life that lifted my thoughts and spirit at a time when I was making decisions that would impact the future.
40+ years later, these songs still bring me joy. It’s not that there haven’t been other musicians and genres to achieve similar revered status because there are dozens that comprise the soundtrack of this teacher’s life. So far. I also love sharing these songs with my students.
In her P3 Podcast, Noa Daniel asks guests to pick 3 songs (nostalgia, identity, and pick me up) that best represent them. This project was actually inspired by a classroom project Noa shared with her students. Participants picked their songs and then had a chance to discuss them with Noa. I loved sharing my 3 songs with her.
Music has this way of breaking down barriers and opening up our minds to experience the thoughts and melodies of others. Music is ageless, timeless, and boundless. I can’t think of a better medium or time to remind others that music allows us the chance to listen. And when we listen, we gain understanding, knowledge, and joy. We also gain a chance to process wha’appen each time we put on some tunes.
Teachers experience a lot of sounds throughout their days in the classroom. Not all of them are soothing. Some sounds are downright dissonant, while still others are reflective of the emotions being felt in our classrooms. After a hectic month of report prep, instruction, and parent conferences, I am thankful to have so many tracks that help to steady my heart and mind from day to day.
One more thing: I was thinking about walk-up songs. You know the upbeat samples that come on at sporting events when a particular player is introduced. I was wondering what your walk up song would be? What came to mind first might not even be your favourite song, as if anyone could pick just one. Even after much deliberation, I still struggle to decide, but the first song that came to mind was Sabotage by the Beastie Boys. I am sure that a completely different song will pop into my head next time.
Please share your song in the comments below. Happy listening.
*Nothing has changed but the day, month, and year on the upheaval front. Sigh.