Recently, in my Introduction to World Music class, we were discussing the relationship between music and identity. I mentioned that although we tend to each think of ourselves as complex individuals, we often paint others with broad strokes and put them into simple categories. The World Music survey itself is a class that usually links one—sometimes two—musical styles or genres to entire countries, supranational constructs ("The Middle East"), or even continents. Some of the chapters in our textbook have ONE SONG that represents a region. That's just crazy. (At the same time, is it that much better to have five or six selections? Ten? It's still nuts. Gotta figure out a better way to do this ...) As an offhand remark, I asked them to think about how hard it would be for each of them to represent themselves with just one song.
Later, a student told me they had been thinking about that remark and thought that we should try it as a class. I substituted this for another homework assignment, asking them to think about the decision-making process as much as the actual song. We had many interesting results: songs linked to family history and heritage, songs linked to ethnicity, songs linked to place and hometown, songs linked to adolescence. When we were done they asked me what I would pick. I had no idea. I said I'd think about it.
When I tried to do the assignment later, the most interesting thing for me was how quickly I started thinking in terms of authenticity, something I always ask students to be highly skeptical of. Several meaningful, favorite pieces of music came into my mind, but in many cases I'd imagine representing myself with it and then feel ridiculous. Another interesting part of the experiment was how quickly the "answer" came into my mind. Make you sure you stay for the kid getting down with the unicorn.