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Webquest About Grades 6-12

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Railroad companies regularly issued their employees passes for free travel and many southern blacks used their passes to migrate north. Once north, ninety-percent of southern migrants worked as unskilled laborers. Many worked long hours on the railroads. The jobs available to southern migrants were often backbreaking, monotonous, low-paying, and offered little chance for advancement. Because they were excluded from labor unions, blacks had few means to rectify their working situation.

One of the central themes of Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series is the train. Elements of the railroad are prevalent throughout the series. He used the tracks, the interiors of trains, and train stations to remind viewers of the constant movements of migrants and their reliance on the railroad for their transitions. Trains can often be found as a theme in music. African Americans sang about the train, not only as a place where they labored, but also as a symbol of passage.

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In this webquest you will:
  • Examine how Jacob Lawrence has portrayed labor in his Migration Series.

  • Explore the theme of trains through the history of music, such as blues, bluegrass, and jazz.

  • Make connections between the work that people do and the music they make.

  • Collect and listen to downloaded sound files.

  • Create a musical score based on a work activity or a repetitive gesture.
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They also worked in large numbers on the railroad.

The Migration of the Negro, panel 38, 1940-41
Casein tempera on hardboard
12 x 18 in. (30.5 x 45.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York; gift of Mrs. David M. Levy
© Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, courtesy of the Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation
  1. Look at  Jacob Lawrence's painting, panel #38 from The Migration Series. Move your mouse over the painting and find questions to discuss with your classmates.

  2. Read the information about Jacob Lawrence's painting, panel #38 from The Migration Series.

  3. Find a selection of train and railroad music using the web resources below. Listen for the sound and rhythm of the train itself in "Bald Eagle Train."

    Listen carefully to the music clips.
    What rhythms do you hear?
    What mood(s) does the music create?
    Can you identify the instruments that the musicians are using?
    What do the lyrics tell you?

  4. Do this project on your own or in small groups. Think about the rhythms that you create throughout the day, at school, work, or play. For example, the sound of your feet as you walk up and down stairs or along a hallway, the sound of the keys as you type on a computer, or the sounds at the beginning and end of a class. Use your hands, feet, musical instruments or invented instruments, or a computer with sound software to create a sound piece and/or a song based on the rhythms that you make. You could also invent lyrics and use your own voices as part of the piece.

    Perform and discuss your sound pieces.

    What sounds did you record?
    How did you arrange them?
    Can your classmates identify the "instruments" that you used?
    What mood does your piece evoke?
    Can your classmates guess which activity you referred to in your sound piece?

  5. Make a collaborative sound collage. If you have access to CD creation software, use it to record your sound pieces onto a CD, or record your sounds onto a cassette tape.
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Go to this website. Click on "sound recordings." Type "train" or "railroad" in the search box. Click on "SEARCH."

Type "train" in the search box. Click on "search." Listen to a selection of train music!

Go to "LIQUID AUDIO." Select "song." Type "Bald Eagle Train" in the search box. Click on "find it." Listen! Do a search on Liquid Audio for more train music.


History of electronic music.

To listen to Steve Reich’s Different Trains go to the Barnes and Noble music site and type Steve Reich into the search box. Click on "Search." Different Trains is the third CD. If you click on the underlined title, then scroll down and listen to different tracks on the CD.

This site tells the story of Reich’s childhood experiences that inspired him to compose Different Trains.

Urban rhythms by D.J. Spooky.

Techno music.

Cabaret Voltaire. Click on sound samples.

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You will be evaluated on the music piece that you create. Your teacher may also choose to create rubrics for evaluation.
  • What kind of mood or message did you convey? Does your piece show evidence that you understand how different kinds of rhythms, tones and sounds effect the mood or message?

  • What creative genres or technical elements did you use to create your piece? Did you use a combination of sounds, and what interesting decisions did you have to make to arrange those sounds?

  • If you were trying to mimic an existing piece of music or sound, were you successful in recreating that piece based on your methods and techniques you used?

  •  Learning Standards Addressed
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Play your sound pieces for a larger audience, such as your peers and teachers, and invite their responses. Can they find connections between the rhythms of work and the sounds that you created?

Use the websites above to research and listen to some experimental, industrial, and/or techno music.

Can you find connections between the work people do and the music they make in contemporary culture?

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©2001 Whitney Museum of American Art