Apprenticeship in Teaching

Jazz and Human Relationships

Doyle Faculty Project

I used this opportunity to take some risks, which put me in a somewhat similar situation as my students, many of whom had never performed music in front of an audience.

Ben Harbert

For the revision of his Jazz History course, Ben Harbert wanted to create opportunities for his students to make connections between their personal experiences at Georgetown and some of the major influences of jazz music. Harbert found that students feel considerable pressures around conformity and individualism, and struggle with issues related to stereotypes, self-esteem, and collaboration. Since these are also issues that have been a part of the history of jazz, Harbert developed assignments and readings to try to draw out these common themes.

The major change Harbert made to address his Doyle goals was the addition of student group performances. Three times during the semester, students worked in groups to arrange and perform their own music, and then wrote a reflection paper about the performance. The groups were formed according to their musical backgrounds. Some groups had jazz performance experience; some had musical but no jazz performance experience; and some had no musical experience at all. Harbert found that the process of preparing and performing their own music was powerful for all of the students, regardless of prior musical experience. In the paper, students were asked to reflect on the performance and how the experience connected with issues related to Georgetown and to American society more broadly. This experimental reflective exercise helped students see connections between music and wider social phenomena. Several students reflected on the idea that musical collaboration requires trust. The performance assignment thrust students into a situation where they had to depend on each other and work together, regardless of similarities and differences, which led them to question stereotypes. Students were surprised by what they learned about one another in this context. Students understood through their own experiences that music, and especially jazz, is entangled in human relationships, and can therefore become a particular way of examining many contemporary social issues. Perhaps more importantly, their experiences with their performance groups also gave them new ways of thinking of themselves and their peers.