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How music helps students struggling to separate patriotism from politics

Published: Sep. 10, 2021 at 6:24 PM EDT
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CASTLETON, Vt. (WCAX) - Some Castleton University students are learning about Sept. 11 through music. Many were babies when the terror attack happened or were not even born yet. But the discussion can be difficult when some classmates associate patriotism with politics.

Heidi Welch teaches music appreciation at Castleton University. Before the anniversary of 9/11, she has her class analyze lyrics of songs written as a way to grieve during the early 2000s. The first song-- “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning” by Alan Jackson.

“I think, Alan Jackson was trying to encompass what everybody was feeling,” Welch said.

Welch’s class interprets other songs by Bruce Springsteen, Ray Stevens, Melissa Etheridge and Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.”

“Sometimes people are like, history is boring, but music, you start to realize all music has a story to it,” said Jacqueline Nash, a freshman.

Even Congress used music to unite us on the night of the attacks, gathering together on Capitol Hill hours after the 9/11 attacks and singing an impromptu rendition of “God Bless America.”

“After we went through the first stage of grief, then we got mad. And as an American culture, flags were everywhere and we were very patriotic for a period of time,” Welch said.

But that unity didn’t last. Sept. 11, 2001, was a day that united our country, but because of partisan issues, today’s students struggle to discuss patriotism, afraid it may affiliate them with a specific political party.

“If you do have an American flag, sometimes it gets perceived the wrong way, that you were trying to support things that you’re not necessarily, or you’re un-supporting other groups,” said Danielle Solomon, a junior.

At least one patriotic student really wanted to talk to me but was afraid to go on camera because of how they would be perceived on campus.

Sam Steinman considers himself patriotic and acknowledges it’s tricky territory.

“You just use good judgment, you can be patriotic and sort of convince other people who are not as patriotic to be more patriotic,” Steinman said.

Meanwhile, Welch will continue to use music to help her students understand patriotism without the partisanship.

“I love that I can look at these without politics,” Welch said. “We have to look at as many sides as possible and then figure out who we are and what we want to be.”

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