YourClassical Children

Listening Lesson: Protest Music

Crowds gather at a recent protest rally at the Minnesota State Capitol.Courtney Perry for MPR News

June 08, 2020

LISTEN — Audio Instructions

Target age range: Grades 2-6

A protest is when people gather to express disapproval of something that is happening. Listen to music that was written to protest and the unequal treatment of black people.

Here are some questions to think about:

• What do you do when you don't agree with something?
• What issues are important to you?
• When you don't agree with something, how do you express those feelings?

Tens of thousands of people around the world have protested the unequal treatment of black people. This issue is often referred to as "civil rights" or "human rights." Protesters are demanding equal treatment for everyone, regardless of the color of their skin.

In addition to attending protest gatherings, some people express their thoughts and feelings through art, including through songwriting and music.

There is a long tradition of protest songs, or songs that were written to protest a certain topic or issue.

Listen to and sing a few songs that were written in protest of police brutality and racial discrimination.

1. Listen to What's Goin' On, with lyrics by Marvin Gaye, Renaldo Benson, and Al Cleveland. This song was composed after one of the songwriters witnessed some police brutality.

I Lift My Voice
I Lift My Voice
Andrea Ramsey/Creative Commons

2. Next, try singing this song, called I Lift My Voice, by Andrea Ramsey. As you read and sing the words, think about how you might use your voice to make a difference about issues you care about.

If you can't read notes, watch this video a few times and start singing along. You can find more songs like this by going to the Justice Choir page.

3. Here is another song you can sing along with. It's called Ella's Song, and it's performed by Sweet Honey in the Rock and VocalEssence. In the introduction, one of the musicians explains a little background about the song.

4. Sometimes protest music doesn't have words. In response to recent events, Clarinetist Anthony McGill decided to perform this rendition of American the Beautiful. He made some changes to the melody to make it mournful. Notice happens at the end. Why do you think McGill chose to end the piece this way?

5. Finally, watch this choir sing a mash-up of two songs: a traditional spiritual called Amen, and a famous civil rights anthem, We Shall Overcome.

6. This is just a small sample of protest music. Many others have used music to protest many issues throughout history. Do a little research on an issue that's important to you. Try to find any protest music that has been written in response to that issue.

7. Want some kid-friendly resources to help with conversations about racism, current events, and social justice? Here is a short list to help you get started:

• The Brains On! podcast has an episode about understanding the emotions behind protest and injustice.
Talking to Kids about George Floyd, from the Child Mind Institute
How to talk about race, justice, and equality with your children from Time Out

A special thanks to contributors to this lesson: Ahmed Anzaldua, Rachel Bearinger, Karen Benson, John Birge, Emily Condon, Melissa Dundis, Tamara Gonzalez, Jodi Gustafson, Theo Jodzio, Vaughn Ormseth, Steve Staruch, Tesfa Wondemagegnehu.

Have a question or suggestion? Contact Katie Condon, music education specialist.

More: View all of our YourClassical Music Lessons