SNIPPET LESSON PLAN FOR:
Music as a Human and Cultural Right
Using Clips from Dr. Sarmast's Music School
Subject: Music and Social Studies (World/Afghanistan; Human Rights of Artists; Women's Rights);
Ages: 12+; Middle School and High School
Length: Film Clips: 26 minutes for the introductory short subject The Bolero; 57 minutes for two clips from the movie; and fifteen minutes from the ANIM performance at the Kennedy Center. This lesson plan is expected to take two 55 minute class periods.
The movie, Dr. Sarmast's Music School, is available in the U.S. and Australia from Itunes. DVDs are available from Circe Films.
Learner Outcomes/Objectives: Students will learn that there are places where it is a crime to play or sing music and that some people take great risks to keep musical traditions alive. Students will be introduced to the Afghanistan war, the concept that the right to play and hear music is a basic human right, the traditional music of Afghanistan, the orchestral composition Bolero by Maurice Ravel (a piece that is part of the Western Classical repertoire), and to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C.
Rationale: It is helpful to expand the horizons of students, to show them cultures and places that are different from those they have experienced, that freedoms which they take for granted, such as the right to hear and play music, are not available everywhere, and that sometimes basic human rights can only be secured through tremendous effort and great risk.
Description: The Taliban forbade music from 1996 to 2001 when they ruled Afghanistan, except for religious songs and Taliban "chants". As the movie opens Kabul has been freed from Taliban oppression and Dr. Ahmad Sarmast, the only Afghan ever to earn a doctorate in music, returns from exile in Australia. His goal is nothing less than to revive the musical traditions of Afghanistan. He also wants to re-introduce Western music. To fulfill these goals, Dr. Sarmast establishes the Afghan National Institute of Music (ANIM). Dr. Sarmast insists that some of the students come from the population of disadvantaged young people who make their living selling small items on the streets of Kabul and that as many girls as possible come to the school. This inspiring documentary recounts Dr. Sarmast's efforts. The two suggested videos from other sources set the musical context and show a concert by the ANIM orchestra on its tour of the U.S. in early 2013, after the film was completed.
Location: Clip #1 runs from the beginning of the film to minute 49:15 (through the scenes with teacher Shefta playing the flute). Clip #2 starts at 1:20:32, from the scene after the peace song in which the children are playing in the yard and runs for just short of 8 minutes until 1:28:15 ending with teacher William Harvey's statement about what keeps him in Afghanistan.
WORKSHEETS: Consider having students approach the film through TWM's Film Study Worksheet for a Documentary.
Want to go deeper or in a different direction? Additional excellent ideas for using this movie in class can be found at the Australia Teachers of Media Study Guide for this film.
Using the Snippet in Class:
1. Read the Helpful Background section of this Guide.
2. Check the Internet to make sure that Dr. Sarmast, who is risking his life to develop the music school, has not been assassinated and that the school is still in operation. The lessons from this film, though still extremely valuable, will be very different if Dr. Sarmast becomes a martyr for the cause of music.
3. Obtain the DVD for The Bolero. Obtain Dr. Sarmast's Music School and make sure it can be played on the equipment available. Watch the film to decide how much of it to use. TWM suggests the first 49:15 minutes (through the scenes with teacher Shefta playing the flute) and then 1:20:32 from the scene after the peace song where the children are playing in the yard until 1:28:15, teacher William Harvey's statement about what keeps him in Afghanistan.
4. Test the set-up for showing the excerpt from performance by the school at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. on February 7, 2013. (Note that the concert starts 11.5 minutes into the video.) Decide how much of this clip to use. The class will be interested in picking out young performers that they've seen in the film.
5. Check students' knowledge of the Afghan War, the Taliban and Bolero. Develop an introduction that will supply any gaps in student knowledge of these topics so that they are aware of the information provided in the Helpful Background section. In the alternative, assign students the task of researching and presenting to the class five minute presentations about (1) Taliban suppression of the arts; (2) Taliban suppression of women; (3) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in particular Article 27; (4) the attack on Malala Yousafzaim (including her position on education and her survival); (5) attacks on education of girls by the Taliban; and (6) the Taliban Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Suppression of Vice.
6. Select the discussion questions and assignments that you will use with the lesson.
Step by Step
1. Show students The Bolero using appropriate discussion questions and activities from the Learning Guide to that film. There is no need for the viewing of The Bolero to be close in time to the presentation of Dr. Sarmast's Music School. Do not tell students that The Bolero relates in any manner to Dr. Sarmast's Music School. If the class is already familiar with Bolero this step can be skipped.
2. Show students the location and size of Afghanistan on a map or a globe. Provide them with a brief description of the recent history of the country and the censorship of music within Afghanistan (see Helpful Background section above) and/or have the presentations described in Preparation Step #5.
3. Show students the two film clips from the movie.
4. Show students fifteen minutes of the film clip from the performance by the school at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. on February 7, 2013 starting at minute 11.5.
5. Lead a class discussion using some of the discussion questions suggested below.
6. Follow up with appropriate assignments.
1. Is access to music and freedom of musical expression a basic human right, like the freedom to express an opinion, the freedom to chose work and a profession? Suggested Response: The discussion should include a reference to Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
(1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
(2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.
2. What would your life be like without music? Suggested Response: There is no one correct answer to this question.
3. One of the persons shown in the film states, "Music is a pure thing that helps you reach God." Do you agree or disagree? Explain why? Suggested Response: There is no one correct answer to this question. A strong answer will mention: (1) the strong feelings that music evokes; (2) its timeless quality; (3) its capacity to remove one from the cares of daily life; (4) its universal quality (most everyone can understand the emotions evoked by music).
4. One of the people shown in the film states, "When speech ends, music begins" Please explain what he meant. Suggested Response: There is no one correct answer to this question. A strong answer will refer to the universal power of music to communicate feelings.
5. What would your life be without dramatic presentations as we can see in movies, on television, and on the stage? Suggested Response: There is no one correct answer to this question.
6. ANIM receives significant support from foreign donors, but some money comes from the Afghan government. Do you think it's a good idea in a society that is as poor as Afghanistan and which is engaged in a war with foes like the Taliban to spend money on arts education? Suggested Response: There is no one correct answer to this question.
7. One of the people shown in the film states, "Religion is not something that should separate us." Please explain what he meant. Suggested Response: There is no one correct answer to this question. A strong answer will refer to the fact that people should look for those beliefs that they have in common, not those that are different.
8. The American violin teacher says that he believes that it is the responsibility of Americans to come and help rebuild Afghanistan. Do you agree or disagree. Explain your position. Suggested Response: There is no one correct answer to this question.
9. Does watching this film change your perception of the role of the United States and the other allied countries contributing troops to the NATO effort in Afghanistan? Suggested Response: There is no one correct answer to this question, but it is clear that the liberation of a country which was deprived of the human right to play and listen to music, and whose musical culture was being strangled by adherents of a fundamentalist ideology is a good thing. Whether it is worth tens of thousands of lives, tens of thousands of injured and maimed people, and the expenditure of billions upon billions of dollars, is a different and more complicated question. But then again, the main reason for NATO involvement in the Afghan civil war was not primarily or even partially an effort to support freedom of artistic expression.
Any of the discussion questions can serve as essay prompts. Additional assignments are set out below:
1. Dr. Sarmast says that, "Bach, Beethoven, Mozart are universal and do not belong only to the West." Find a piece of music from another culture that you believe is so good as to be universal. [Teachers should consider allowing students several months to do the research on this assignment. Students should bring five to ten minute excerpts of the music to class and share their selections. A class or two can be set aside to hear them, or they can be played one at a time over a longer period of time.]
2. As a follow-up to this film have students research and present to the class any of the reports described in Preparation step #5 that have not already been given, or presentations any of the following topics:
Other Helpful resources
2013 - Australian of the Year Award Given to Dr. Sarmast
Possible Problems for the Clips Used in this Snippet Lesson Plan: None.
Check out the Trailer for the movie
What about using the whole movie? This movie is well worth watching but at 127 minutes it seems a bit long for classroom use. TWM suggests that better educational value would be to take that time to show the class The Bolero and a clip from the school's performance in the U.S.
Give us your feedback! Was the Guide helpful? If so, which sections were most helpful? Do you have any suggestions for improvement? Email us!
This Snippet Lesson Plan was written by James Frieden. It was published on November 19 2013.
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