This unit tells the “long history” of the destructive, deadly, and divisive U.S. war in Vietnam. Students examine the war’s long-term origins, investigate its complex history, and explore its lasting legacies.
This lesson is part of the full Choices curriculum unit The Vietnam War: Origins, History, and Legacies. However, you do not need the unit to do this lesson.
- Learn and apply basic musical terminology to a wide selection of global music.
- Analyze the music and lyrics of a song.
- Discuss the meaning of late-1960s global music within its original historical context.
- Assess the benefits of studying popular music as a way to better understand the global revolutions of 1968.
- Assess the political power of music in the late 1960s and early 1970s and consider the political power of music today.
Students should have read Part II of The Vietnam War: Origins, History, and Legacies and completed “Study Guide: Facts and Information—Part II” (TRB 27-28) or “Study Guide: Analysis and Synthesis—Part II” (TRB 29).
Practice Song: Trinh Cong Son’s “Rebuild People, Rebuild Home” (1968)
Analyzing a Song
Song Lyrics: Global Revolutions of 1968
For Teachers: Additional Song Information
YouTube Playlist: Songs of the Global Revolutions of 1968
Who was Trinh Cong Son and what was his cultural impact during the U.S. war in Vietnam? (Professor Nu-Anh Tran)
This lesson will be most effective if students are able to listen to the songs provided. While not necessary, you may also wish to work with a music teacher from your school in order to aid students’ understanding of the musical elements of the lesson.
In the Classroom
1. Set the Stage: Pose the question “Why do people make and listen to music?” to the class. Invite students to brainstorm ideas and record their answers on the board. Ask students what elements make up a song. (Prompt students as needed and introduce the concepts of lyrics, tempo, instrumentation, and rhythm. See “Analyzing a Song” for definitions.) Invite students to think of a song that is meaningful to them. What makes it meaningful to them?
Show students the video, Who was Trinh Cong Son and what was his cultural impact during the U.S. war in Vietnam? (Professor Nu-Anh Tran). Ask students to note the reasons Professor Tran says Trinh Cong Son’s music was popular in South Vietnamese cities.
2. Form Groups: Divide the class into groups of four. Distribute a copy of Analyzing a Song and Practice Song: Trinh Cong Son’s “Rebuild People, Rebuild Home” (1968) to each student. Tell students that the class together is first going to analyze a song by Trinh Cong Son called “Rebuild People, Rebuild Home.” Instruct each student to read “Analyzing a Song’’ to familiarize themselves with the questions and key terms. Then play the recording of “Rebuild People, Rebuild Home” without stopping. Lead the class through the questions on the worksheet, replaying excerpts of the music as needed. After completing the questions, ask students for their interpretation of the song’s meaning. See For Teachers: Additional Song Information for one interpretation. (Keep in mind that song lyrics and music can contain abstract elements and that a song’s reception can be subjective for each listener. Students may offer entirely valid interpretations that differ from those provided here.) How does learning about the historical context of a song help students interpret the song’s meaning?
Distribute Song Lyrics: Global Revolutions of 1968 to each student. Assign each group one of the seven songs from “Song Lyrics: Global Revolutions of 1968.’’ (Alternatively, you could assign each group more than one song.) Remind students to listen to their song at least once without stopping before beginning the worksheet. Remind students that in addition to the war in Vietnam, 1968 was a year of dramatic social unrest and upheaval throughout the world. As groups fill in the “Analyzing a Song’’ worksheet for their assigned song, you may wish to circulate the classroom to offer assistance, drawing from “For Teachers: Additional Song Information” when needed.
Note: Song lyrics and translations were drawn from the same original source when available, and different sources when necessary. Depending on the song edition you play in the classroom, lyrics may differ slightly from those transcribed here in this lesson. Original Czech lyrics for Song #2 (“Rusové jdete domu!” [Russians, Go Home!]) were not available.
3. Share Findings: Invite each group to share its findings with the class. Each group should begin its presentation by providing a very brief overview of their song’s title, artist, and country of origin. What was happening in this country that might have led the artist to write this song? Then, in one to three sentences have the group summarize the meaning of their song. Which elements (lyrics, tempo, instrumentation, etc.) of the song helped students reach this conclusion about the song’s meaning? Have students play a short excerpt of the song that shows these song elements at work. Does this song remind students of other songs they know? If yes, what elements does this song share with those other songs?
4. Make Connections: Ask students to put their songs “into conversation with one another.” What has listening to and analyzing these songs revealed about 1968? What are some of the main issues and concerns revealed in these songs? Are there common issues revealed in more than one song? How do these songs differ?
Ask students to think back to the first song they analyzed as a class: Did any of the other songs touch on similar themes or ideas to Trinh Cong Son’s “Rebuild People, Rebuild Home”? Did any of the other songs touch on themes or ideas relevant to what they have studied on the U.S. war in Vietnam?
How does understanding the historical context of a song affect the understanding of the song? What do students think about the “power of music” to effect social, cultural, and/or political change? Challenge students to identify both music’s power and music’s limitations to effect change.
Can students think of songs from their own lifetimes that are effective forms of political expression or protest? Have these songs ever led to political or social change? Why do political or social movements use music to convey their messages? Do students believe that music is a valuable source for learning about history? Are there limitations to using songs to understand history?
Students should read Part III of The Vietnam War: Origins, History, and Legacies and complete “Study Guide: Facts and Information—Part III” (TRB 49-50) or “Study Guide: Analysis and Synthesis—Part III” (TRB 51).
1. Research and Comparative Writing: In the United States, many popular songs were written about the Vietnam War, both for and against the war. Have students research and identify a song that supported the war and one that opposed it. Using the “Analyzing a Song” framework, students should write an essay that compares and contrasts the two songs. Students should write in the third person and cite evidence from their song analyses and research to support their statements.
2. Design an Album Cover: After each group has presented their findings on their assigned song, tell students that they are going to work with their groups to design an album cover for a compilation album containing all of the songs in the lesson. Provide students with all of the materials they need to design an album cover—either via software or on paper/posterboard. Encourage students to be creative, but also emphasize that their album cover should reflect key themes and ideas covered in the songs. Once complete, have groups present their album covers to the class and explain their design. For assessment purposes, you may wish to grade students’ presentation of their original findings and their album covers.