Voices Across Time

Teacher's Resource Guide

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description| audience| research methods

Voices Across Time, the Teacher’s Guide, is designed to help teachers use historic American songs as primary sources to supplement any secondary American Social Studies, Language Arts, and Music curriculum. Created at the Center for American Music at the University of Pittsburgh by a team of teachers and scholars, it has been successfully tested in regional and national pilot studies, presented in workshops in Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, and utilized as the basis for a Social Studies curriculum course in the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Education.



The Voices Across Time Teachers’ Resource Guide is an ebook available through showevidence.com that contains an introductory essay, recommended techniques for using music in the classroom, and nine units that can be used together or separately. Each unit covers a different historical era that corresponds with the divisions used in most U.S. history texts and the U.S. History Standards. Each era is organized into six themes drawn from state and federal Social Studies Standards, such as diversity, politics, war and peace, and faith and ideals as well as how music reveals the everyday world of work, family, and home life. Scholarly experts selected authentic songs from each period that represent the major events, concepts, or figures from that era reflected in the national U.S. history standards.

Each unit contains a background essay describing what was going on in U.S. history and music during that time; a visual timeline to connect the songs with historical events; and a bibliography of print and web resources for further information. Each song has a brief background essay on its history, its meaning, and its composer; lists of suggested classroom discussion questions and activities; lyrics; music score (a facsimile of the original edition, whenever possible); and links, whenever possible, to an online recording. (For works without recordings available online, the guide offers recommended recordings and other sources that are commercially available.) Sidebars identify links between songs in different units, define vocabulary terms, and suggest connections with American literature.  Many of the pages are downloadable PDFs that may be reproduced for distribution to students.



Potential users of Voices Across Time include any Social Studies or Language Arts teacher interested in incorporating music into lesson plans, and any Music teacher interested in contributing to the core educational curriculum. These include, but are not limited to, K-12 teachers of United States history, civics, geography, economics, sociology, or language arts, and music teachers working in conjunction with instructors in those subjects. In addition, the project team has received expressions of interest from Education faculty, teachers of music courses in General Education, and college History and Music faculty.

While the guide is designed primarily with middle- and high-school students in mind, this broad spectrum of topics can also be adapted for different age groups. Teachers from elementary school through post-secondary school have attended our workshops and have expressed a high level of enthusiasm for incorporating Voices Across Time into their lesson plans. Additionally, Voices Across Time encourages a cross-curricular approach. For example, while a history teacher may focus on the historical events described in the text, a language arts teacher could be discussing the lyrics and literary connections, while a music teacher instructs the students on how to sing the song. This collaborative approach reinforces concepts in the students’ minds as it encourages relationships among the teachers and their disciplines.

Unlike other teaching resource guides that have been created for music in American history, Voices Across Time reflects national history standards, and addresses the full U.S. history curriculum. In addition, it uses only music that is authentic to the period, not songs composed several decades or even centuries later. Teachers and scholars, not researchers and publishers alone, jointly created it. And it provides teachers with discussion questions to guide the use of music in the lesson, and it offers or recommends specific recordings. Voices Across Time is thus the first comprehensive and historically accurate resource guide for its subject, and is adaptable to a variety of curricula and age groups.


Research Methods

Voices Across Time was compiled through the combined efforts of master teachers, musicologists, education specialists, and performers. A teachers’ advisory panel helped construct a rationale for the teaching materials and a blueprint for its contents, assuring that the resulting guide would assist their work and help them teach more effectively, rather than add an additional burden to their work. Using the national history standards as a starting point, the project staff and consultants identified major historical events and circumstances, and then selected historically authentic songs as source documents that successfully communicate these concepts to students. In addition to meeting criteria for authenticity, songs were chosen for their appeal and accessibility; students should enjoy listening to the songs while readily comprehending their messages.

Experts in American music history provided data on the songs and their composers to ensure authenticity. Musicologists selected because of their backgrounds in particular eras, cultures, or styles of music (e.g. Colonial era, American Indian, African American, Hispanic American) verified the appropriateness of the songs and provided material for the song histories. All of the songs included in Voices Across Time were composed at the time the events were taking place and were performed during that period. This adherence to genuine songs and their sentiments ensures that the students receive an unfiltered message from the historic period, of voices from that era reaching across time to the present. Consistent with this approach, contemporary sheet music, when available, is also included. (Particularly in the 18th and early 19th centuries, many songs were published as words only, to be sung to a pre-existent tune.) The incorporation of historic music scores and lyrics will further provide the student with a sense of being transported back in time.

The recordings were chosen for their historical accuracy and their appeal to students. When appropriate recordings were unavailable, new recordings were commissioned from historically informed performers. For the 20th-century units, the guide recommends specific recordings performed by the original artist associated with that song.

An education specialist in arts integration and curriculum design wrote the discussion questions and suggested classroom activities with the objective of directing students to the intended curricular purpose. The questions are meant to draw specific answers, but also open-ended to allow for further discussion, to help the students understand general concepts and consequences of historical events rather than rote memorization of facts.

Experts in the fields of musicology and education assisted in the compilation of bibliographic and web resources. This companion Website for Voices Across Time communicates changes and maintains updated information on these resources for teachers who have purchased the resource guide.

For examples of the songs used in each unit and for further information on how the guide is organized, please select a topic from the menu on the right.

More topics under Teacher's Guide:

Frequently Asked Questions

Unit walkthrough:

Timeline & Table of Contents

Background essay & planning  


Song pages


1. Worlds Meeting

2. New Nation

3. Expansion & Reform

4. Civil War & Reconstruction

5. Development of Industrial


6. Emergence of Modern U.S.

7. Great Depression & WW II

8. Post-War U.S.

9. Contemporary U.S.

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Copyright 2007-2008 Center for American Music, University of Pittsburgh Library System