IB music class looks at song origins

As part of Seth Bedford’s International Baccalaureate music course, students are looking more deeply into well-known songs, researching them and writing their own tunes.

Bedford, the Odessa High School orchestra director, said he thought they could start with songs because it’s something they all know, interact with and relate to. They started talking more about the origins of the songs and why they were important.

Among the songs were “You Don’t Own Me,” “Und Was Bekam Des Soldaten Weib?” (Ballad of a Soldier’s Wife) and “It Might As Well Rain Until September.”

Three of Bedford’s students are Zachary Rivera, a 17-year-old senior who plays the guitar, Savannah Muniz, a 17-year-old senior who plays flugelhorn and Emari Johnson, who plays clarinet, but was singing the day the Odessa American visited.

Muniz said the flugelhorn is part of the trumpet family. “It’s just a more mellow version. They use it in jazz,” she added.

Bedford said the students are “super serious” about their music and they are all in band, mariachi or guitar.

The students made presentations on songs that were meaningful to them and did their own research. Muniz chose “Everything I Wanted,” by Billie Eilish.

“We looked at how it was written, the influences by the person who wrote it, the history, the form of the song and the rhythmic variations to see if it influenced any particular style of writing,” Rivera said.

He added that they took into account everything that made the song what it was and then retroactively broke it down to see the different parts as it came together as a whole.

“We broke it down. We went line by line and explained what the artist had intended to say … what we thought about it,” Muniz said.

Then they started working on an original song. They struggled with a topic because they were somewhat overwhelmed.

To make it more manageable, they broke it into the lyrics and the music. Once they decided on a topic, they brainstormed ideas to get a feel for what they were trying to do, Rivera said.

“… First we started trying to write music and put lyrics to music, but we found that to be more difficult so we went the other way, wrote almost a pseudo type of poem and then from that we decided okay, well this what we have. This is what we want it to sound like; this is the feeling we’re going for. So for now, we started putting in some chords or different ideas … to fit what we wanted to convey through the music,” Rivera added.

The song is about Zach’s dog, Bleu, and the song is called “Bleu’s Clues.” When Bleu was a puppy, he had blue eyes. Now he has brown eyes.

“It was derived from one time I was cooking outside and he just hopped up and stole a steak and took off with it. That was collectively an idea that we really wanted to keep within the song, so from there we almost built entirely around that idea. … We were determined to put that in there somehow. Emari put together a long list of ways that we could integrate that and from there we just made it work,” Rivera said.

He added that the project has given them insight into the song writing process.

“It definitely allows you to kind of see some motives that you might not have been able to discern before, whether it be just little things we did with rhyme scheme or rhythms, inflection of the voice. It gives you a new perspective on what a song has the potential to mean,” Rivera said.

Bedford said they got into “You Don’t Own Me” from an NPR broadcast from a few years ago. It talked about the song’s connections to the civil rights movement as they writers were involved with that.

“… Quincy Jones is the first Black executive producer basically in the pop music world and how basically this team of producers and he and these writers came together and they said you know what, we are really kind of fed up with the vision of love and the relationship between boys and girls that pop music sells kids. That’s not for real. And basically they said what happens if we write a song where the girl is telling off the guy and so when they played it for Leslie Gore she knew she immediately connected with it,” Bedford said. “When she talked about it years later she said … I never saw it as this feminist anthem. She said I saw it as a humanist anthem. She said I saw anyone could sing this to anybody else who they just needed to assert themselves and be this is who I am. She was always very proud of it being a feminist anthem. But … when she recorded that as a 17 year old, that wasn’t where her head was.”

Bedford said the IB course is a year long and they will be diving into all forms of music.

The melody of the song is very straight forward.

“When we started we knew we wanted two things: We wanted a light, uplifting song. … We wanted something pretty straightforward, upbeat,” Rivera said.

They went through rock and jazz ideas, but decided to stick with a format that was simple to understand, playable by everybody and that allowed them to incorporate all their ideas, he said.

Muniz said when they were asked to write a song, it was “like a new spectrum of music was introduced to me.”

“The one hard thing that we had to do was collaborate with each other and never had I ever thought about having to collaborate with someone when trying to make a song or writing music. … I’ve never had that struggle. I just thought someone wrote it, you played; it was simple as a form. That’s all I used to see …,” Muniz added.

Asked whether they found anything surprising about the origins of the songs they’ve looked at so far, Rivera said he thinks there’s something extraordinary in every song.

“… There’s always more … than meets the eye, but when you really get down to it whether it’s Leslie Gore singing about a perceived feminist anthem that turns out to be more about us as a human race, or if we’re looking at songs that are seemingly about the soldier sitting next to his wife and in the underlying tones we have this feeling of remorse and death and loss. If you look under the cover of every song, you’re destined to find something that you didn’t expect,” he added.

As for what’s next, Bedford said they are deciding as they go along.

“… As we are touching our topics and we’re getting a lot of theory, we’re getting lots of history, really, the material and what we do is more or less up to us. We get some freedom with it. I definitely want them to do … some instrumental music. I want them to explore different periods and styles of music and … one of the things I hope by the end of this is that they have a really strong grounding in music theory before they’ve finished for the year. It’s really kind of music theory and history through doing,” Bedford said.