‘Little symphonies for the kids’: Reflections on the Wall of Sound's applications for teaching

By Morgan Appel, director of UC San Diego Extension's Education Department

In advance of the British Invasion of the early-to-mid 1960s, an independent record label called Philles was fabricating ‘three-minute masterpieces’ that its owner and legendary producer Phil Spector would eventually characterize as ‘little symphonies for the kids’ (Richard Buskin, 2007). These rather Wagnerian pop singles left the listener to experience aurally what one might experience visually when confronted by a tidal wave or kinesthetically when wrapped in a flannel blanket straight from the clothes dryer.

The "Wall of Sound" has been described by Buskin thus:

…an assembly of crack session musicians that drummer Hal Blaine dubbed the Wrecking Crew, Spector applied massive amounts of echo to multiple instruments and fused the individual components into his unified 'Wall of Sound': a brilliant, seamless amalgamation of guitars, bass, keyboards, drums and percussion with woodwind, brass and string orchestrations that reached its apotheosis on such classic tracks as the Crystals' 'Da Doo Ron Ron', the Ronettes' 'Be My Baby', the Righteous Brothers' 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' and Ike & Tina Turner's 'River Deep, Mountain High', as well as the landmark album A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector. 
So, what of the "Wall of Sound" and its application to education? Prior incarnations of this blog have championed the pursuit of contextually grounded interdisciplinary work driven by the whimsical spirit that frequently accompanies experiential learning.  These are concepts empirically well aligned to findings from research in andragogy, pedagogy and the neurosciences. In very real ways, the porous boundaries and interweaves that characterize what we know about teaching and learning closely resemble the sinewy connections between nerve endings that serve as physical representations of sensemaking and memory.

A rudimentary understanding of these precepts underscores the magnitude of using multisensory data to divine patterns, metacognate and to solve problems — versus our more basic inclinations to fill heads with names, dates and events. The brain, we find, is an emotional and aesthetically engaged organ that innately thrives on engaging in process—particularly those processes involved in discovery, manipulation, application and eventually, abstraction.

Despite the advent of the Common Core State Standards and similarly colored movements, one might intuit that there is basically nothing new under the sun. Seminal works by daVinci; the early German modernists (such as the Bauhaus collective); denizens of the modern age (Charles and Ray Eames, among others); figures in the positive psychology movement (Csikszentmihalyi, among others). The Education Department’s own latest releases make compelling cases for the personalization of curriculum and instruction — but divining their precise and palatable forms has proven elusive.

Finally, in the wake of new personal technologies that enable individuals to access an abundance of informal learning resources, we have become ever more aware of the need to advance the cause of differentiation toward personalization. In other words, valuable educational experience should inspire emotion through careful and changing balances between skills and abilities. The experience should take care in monitoring the equilibrium in the use of formal and informal learning resources and tools as part of an ongoing continuum of teaching and learning activities. Practical neuroscience suggests that these experiences are better undertaken as easily digestible yet robust ‘chunks.’ Hence, the need mini-educational symphonies for the kids — lush learning landscapes that resonate throughout the disciplines and across grade levels.

Over the coming academic year, the Education Department will explore these concepts in greater detail, including their application across sectors of education. For more information about this post or the content therein, please contact Morgan Appel, director of the Education Department at mappel@ucsd.edu.


Blog post currently doesn't have any comments.

What's your story?

Share your accomplishments, advice, and goals for a chance to be featured.