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  • Hearing across Party Lines: Music in U.S. Presidential Commercials
  • Joanna Love (bio)

Pedagogical research confirms that instructors can facilitate meaningful student engagement with assignments that allow students to apply course materials, concepts, and discussions to work that is challenging and collaborative and that holds them accountable for their own learning, that is, assignments that promote “active learning.”1 The following pages provide a model for an active learning project designed for undergraduate students in courses related to American music, popular music, music and media, and music and politics. More specifically, the assignment is a final project for nonmajor, general education classes with small enrollments. Individual instructors may, however, adapt any portion of the project to fit the needs of specific classroom situations, objectives, and abilities.

“Hearing across Party Lines” asks students to work in pairs to create two sixty-second television commercials for each of two opposing U.S. presidential candidates. Students have the opportunity to create commercials for any recognized political party, and the project can include not only candidates who challenged one another on final election ballots [End Page 517] but also those who vied for the nomination from within the same party. Individual instructors may decide either to allow students to choose the candidates themselves or to assign them. Students should obviously develop commercials for campaigns that fit within the years, genres, and topics discussed in that particular course. The instructor may also determine if the entire class will create commercials for one election year or if each pair of students will work on different campaign cycles.2

“Hearing across Party Lines” both assesses and strengthens a variety of student competencies. These include general skills such as writing, research, and verbal communication, along with discipline-specific proficiencies. By requiring students to create short television commercials, the assignment challenges students to be creative and effective in how they organize, synthesize, and communicate their research and knowledge to their peers. The project therefore meets an array of possible course objectives, including the following examples:

  1. 1. Students will interpret recordings and performances using correct musical terminology and rudimentary analytical skills.

  2. 2. Students will identify differences among performances and styles of popular music and interpret the meanings of such differences.

  3. 3. Students will describe how popular music reflects and influences changes in gendered, sexual, racial, and class identities and attitudes.

  4. 4. Students will strengthen critical and conceptual skills by engaging with interdisciplinary primary and secondary source materials.

  5. 5. Students will analyze the changes in musical techniques, technological innovations, and social values over the historical periods examined in the course.

  6. 6. Students will research and identify relevant interdisciplinary sources on music and cultural discourses, including primary sources, leading scholarship, media, and trade press articles.

This assignment works best for students who have spent considerable time learning about various facets of American, vernacular, and political campaign music, as well as music’s role in advertising and promotional media. The project is specifically designed to follow the essay “Political Pop and Commercials That Flopped: Early Lessons from the 2016 Presidential Race” and its accompanying lesson plan, “Popular Music in U.S. Presidential Advertisements,” created for the Trax and the Trail website.3 In order to provide students with a broad historical perspective, this lesson should be supplemented by other lectures and readings that cover a variety of campaigns.4

The description below divides the assignment into four parts that can be spaced throughout the term. This structure allows students to work [End Page 518] consistently and ensures their successful completion of the project while improving the overall quality of their final commercials. Instructors may combine or cut these steps to meet specific course objectives or time constraints. Prior to the first due date, instructors should introduce students to the school’s library and computer lab. Instructors should also take time to familiarize students with the technology necessary to create their commercials.5

Hearing across Party Lines: Assignment Description

Each student will partner with a classmate to create two sixty-second television commercials, one for each of two opposing U.S. presidential candidates who campaigned during one of the historical periods covered in this course. After receiving instructor approval for your choices, you and...


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pp. 517-523
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