Before I start the music, those who are already in the classroom are usually silent. At best, there may be some hushed conversation. When the music begins, the room starts to buzz with conversation. Hurray! That means my students have an opportunity to get know each other.
In my class of forty students, I rely heavily on discussion. Discussion helps students process their readings, my presentations, and words of guest speakers. It also helps me gauge their learning before we get to exam days. When students converse with each other informally before class, they are more comfortable speaking in small and large groups during class. Familiarity prompts students to respect and listen to each other during class.
I choose music based on the topics we are studying that day. For example, for our first class, I play “La Bikina,” one of my favorite traditional Mexican tunes. I use it to introduce the fact that we use Mexico and Romania as focus countries during the semester. When I teach about Fair Trade and microfinance, I use a recording by my friend Oscar Santillán, an indigenous leader from Agato , Ecuador. (Here is a link to his words about his music. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGnULTwQmSw.) Oscar hosted me for a research trip, and he has visited my classes on his trips to the U.S. I choose a variety of types of music, because I do not want students to think only of folk music associated with a country. So, my choices range from folk music, to classical, to current popular and Indie music, and beyond. On at least one day, I play a recording of the Jackson Symphony Orchestra. (I am a violinist in the orchestra.) Sharing our music gives students a chance to know something about me and opens the door to conversation after class about shared interests and experiences in music. (Here is a link to our March 26, 2022 concert. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXJNYX-SjeI&list=RDTXJNYX-SjeI&start_radio=1&rv=TXJNYX-SjeI&t=1 .)
By playing music before class, I open the door to informal conversation that sometimes leads to friendship. At a minimum, conversation lets students start to get to know each other so that they will be more at ease and participate actively in class discussion. Music also brings a cultural element to our study of international law and foreign law (the laws of other countries). In short, music helps us develop our learning community each semester.
Copyright ©2022, by Paulette L. Stenzel, Professor Emerita of International Business Law and Sustainability, Michigan State University