Archives For Fab Four

There are waves from England that reach America’s shores.

There are literary waves.
George Orwell’s Animal Farm was published in America in 1946.

There are musical waves.
The Beatles came to America in 1964.

George Orwell used satire as a commentary on Communism in the USSR and the rise of Stalin in his allegory Animal Farm.

John Lennon used the lyrics in the song Revolution as a response to the increase of protests against the Vietnam War, specifically student riots in Paris in May of 1968.

Satire, politics, protests….so many connections. Why not share them in class?
Why not share the Beatles’ song Revolution while students read Orwell’s Animal Farm?


You say you want a revolution
Well you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know you can count me out

Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright
Alright, alright

You say you got a real solution
Well you know
We don’t love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well you know
We’re doing what we can
But if you want money for people with minds that hate
All I can tell you is brother you have to wait (Revolution lyrics continued…)

After we read first chapter of Animal Farm aloud in class, I played the video of the Beatles performing the song Revolution. For some, this was the first time they had ever heard the song; for some, this was the first time they had seen the Beatles perform.

After watching the video, I posted an assignment to use the power of music – “to write a song for your cause.” The directions given to the students were:

You say you want a Revolution….?
Well, you have to write your song!! (for extra credit)

Step 1: Identify your cause. What makes you angry? What do you see as a problem in society? What is your Pet Peeve? What would you like to change about your world? This can be something big or little.

Step 2: The power of music! To persuade people to join your revolution, (like Major’s Beasts of England) you have to write a song.

Step 3: Share your lyrics, and we will join you in song (karaoke tunes preferred)

Their protest songs came in. In their songs the students protested: homework, English class (*sigh*), the school parking lot ban on underclassmen, bad weather, cafeteria food, Twilight movies, dirt clods in the hallways from steel-toed boots, the ban on cupcakes in class, and (and there were several of these), Justin Bieber.

While their songs were unlikely to inspire a revolution, they did appreciate the power of music in communicating a message. Their reactions to their own songs of protest were positive, but they admitted that their songs did not have the same power as the Beatle’s Revolution. They recognized Orwell’s statement on the power of song in Animal Farm “The Beasts of England” sung at the end of Chapter One. That song (sung to the tune of My Darling Clementine) was a take-off on the famous socialist anthem, The Internationale:

Beasts of England, Beasts of Ireland,
Beasts of every land and clime,
Hearken to my joyful tidings
Of the Golden future time.

Soon or late the day is coming,
Tyrant Man shall be o’erthrown,
And the fruitful fields of England
Shall be trod by beasts alone…….(continued )

 “…The singing of this song threw the animals into the wildest excitement…. And then, after a few preliminary tries, the whole farm burst out into Beasts of England in tremendous unison….” (Ch1:Orwell)

Orwell was demonstrating how the lyrics in a song could motivate. The student protest songs, however, were more entertaining than motivating. The Beatle’s song Revolution is both entertaining and motivating, a song written four years after their momentous arrival in America.

From the moment the Beatles disembarked from Pan-Am flight 101 on February 7, 1964, they were a force in American music. Yet, according to TIME magazine’s story, Beatlemania Begins: The Beatles First U.S. Visit to Play Ed Sullivan, the Beatles were surprised by how their music had made thousands of frenetic fans:

Just before 1:30 p.m., Flight 101 taxied to a stop outside the terminal and the aircraft door popped open. An explosion of cheers and screams rang out as the crowd stormed forward….

“We heard that our records were selling well in America,” George [Harrison] noted, “but it wasn’t until we stepped off the plane … that we understood what was going on. Seeing thousands of kids there to meet us made us realize just how popular we were there.”

Their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show (February 9) featured a set list that set fans shrieking:

  • All My Loving 
  • Till There Was You (Sue Raney cover)
  • She Loves You 
  • I Saw Her Standing There 
  • I Want to Hold Your Hand

Those five songs began the domination of pop music charts, coined the term “Beatlemania”, and changed the culture of a generation. The Beatles proved the power of music, so our protest song assignment capitalized on student awareness of this power. The students shared what they would protest if given the opportunity. They had a chance to make connections between two genres, between a set of music lyrics and a set of lyrics from a novel-both of which were penned by Englishmen.

This was also an opportunity for me to highlight the Beatles. Students watched and listened to a recording of the “Fab Four” who created a revolution in music here in America; they saw those “lads from Liverpool” who invaded America from England many Yesterday’s ago.

 “for we are the only love-gods...”( Much Ado about Nothing: 2.1.386)

Every generation has them, the “love gods”, the cultural icons who capture our minds and our hearts.  They are musicians, actors, playwrights, authors, or poets.  They are artists with a stamp so firm on a culture that the mere mention of their names can call forth an image; artists, for example, like Shakespeare or maybe The Beatles. They are artists whose images need no text to explain who they are, like Shakespeare or maybe The Beatles.

These paperAnd because these artists have messages that transcend time there are educators who are committed to teaching their students how best to discover an artist’s message through a study of an artist’s craft. There are even educators so committed that they would spend an entire Saturday, (January 24, 2014) learning new strategies to help their students understand and respond to the messages of cultural icons. These are educators who spent the day at the Yale Repertory Willpower!Workshop centered on the upcoming production of These! Paper! Bullets!.

These! Paper! Bullets! is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy play Much Ado about Nothing, with the setting transported to London in the turbulent 1960s. The play’s adaptation is by Pulitzer Prize and Emmy Award nominated writer Rolin Jones, and the promotional synopsis states:

Meet the Quartos. Ben, Claude, Balth, and Pedro. Their fans worship them. Scotland Yard fears them. And their former drummer will stop at nothing to destroy them. Can these fab four from Liverpool find true love in London and cut an album in seven nights? These Paper Bullets! is a rocking and rolling version of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing with a serious backbeat.

Many of the teachers attending this Saturday’s workshop will be bringing their classes in early April to the daytime productions of These! Paper! Bullets!, a series of performances offered through the WILLPOWER! program. This program is the brainchild of James Bundy, dean of the School of Drama and  artistic director of the Yale Rep. According to a 2013 Yale News article “‘WILL POWER!’ gives city students a ‘visceral’ introduction to theater,” Bundy’s concerns about having students see live theatre was the motivation for beginning the program 10 years ago since, “studies show that people who attend the theater before the age of 18 are much more likely to attend later in life.”  

The WILLPOWER! Workshop for educators is coordinated by Ruth M. Feldman, the Yale School of Drama’s director of education and accessibility services, and is usually offered several weeks before a production in order to improve classroom instruction and prepare student audiences for the play they will see.

Feldman’s jam-packed line up this particular Saturday included a preview of sets and costumes with the production’s director Jackson Gay. The costumes brought “aahs” from the audience who obviously appreciated the retro-look of white go-go boots on Twiggy-eque models. There were also musical snippets from the production’s musical collaborator, Green Day lead singer and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong.  Listening to clips of these original songs that echoed the sounds of the 60s, composed in tribute to the Fab Four, had all the heads in the room bopping up and down.
“Is there going to be a CD soundtrack?” one enthused teacher asked.

After the question/answer session with the director, Feldman packed off the teachers for a visit to the Yale University Art Gallery, a short brisk walk across the street, to participate in a thematically linked presentation on “adaptations” organized by Museum Educator Elizabeth Manekin and Elizabeth Williams, the John Walsh Fellow at the Yale University Art Gallery.  Teachers were briefed on the Pop Art movement as they studied a series of nine panels of Andy Warhol’s Mao (a screenprint of one similar is available on Amazon). The discussion asked teachers to consider how a cultural icon is adapted for new audiences. Next, teachers gathered around Manet’s Reclining Young Woman in Spanish Costume and continued the discussion on adaptations before heading to the workroom to make collages that were adaptations on Manet’s other reclining female, Olympia.

Andy Warhol Mao 93, 1972 Screenprint sold by RUDOLF BUDJA GALERIE. $200,000.00 + Free Shipping

Andy Warhol
Mao 93, 1972
Screenprint on AMAZON through RUDOLF BUDJA GALERIE.
$200,000.00 + Free Shipping!

Édouard Manet, French, 1832–1883 Reclining Young Woman in Spanish Costume

Édouard Manet, 
Reclining Young Woman in Spanish Costume -Yale University Art Gallery

Returning to Yale Rep, teachers also had the opportunity to try reading and writing strategies aligned with the Common Core using informational texts, short commentaries about social media and cultural icons. Rachel Sexton, an educational specialist at ACES, engaged teachers by having them participate in a reading strategy that asks students to organize an article that had been cut-up. “Don’t look for matching cuts like a puzzle,” she warned, knowing how some students might look for a short-cut. The next strategy involved reading that text and other short commentaries in order to write a personal response incorporating three ideas they found significant. Dutifully, teachers took pencils in hand. The sounds of scribbling were slow at first but became steadier, and Sexton had to interrupt teachers as her session time was drawing to a close,  I overheard teachers:

  • “This is a great way to introduce a topic”
  • “I cannot believe how much I am getting out of this exercise…”
  • “I know how my students have trouble getting started with writing; this [strategy] solves that problem!”

The last session was dedicated to the lyricism in Shakespeare’s play offered by Dr. Matthew Suttor, Director of the Laurie Beechman Center for Theatrical Sound Design and Music at the Yale School of Drama. His session was  titled, “Let Music Sound…”, a presentation designed to have teachers “examine and experience the creative process for drawing both lyrics and music from a play’s text. (full disclosure: Sadly, I could not attend this last session because of impending snow.) 

As she has in the past, Feldman organized seven hours of first-rate (FREE) professional development through the WILLPOWER! program that was both practical for classroom application and powerful enough to encourage educators to explore new possibilities for bringing the messages of adaptation in culture. Exploring the elements of These! Paper! Bullets! before the opening of the show helps educators prepare students for the experience of Shakespeare performed live.

In addition, knowing adaptations can be made from works created by a cultural icon some 400 years ago is an concept that students today, with their ability to create mash-ups and Internet memes coupled with their  fascination with today’s cultural icons, should appreciate or even (hopefully) try themselves.

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