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    West Point teaches how music, sound influences politics

    West Point teaches how music, sound influences politics

    Photo By Jorge Garcia | Retired CIA intelligence officer and former chief of disguises, Jonna Mendez, spoke...... read more read more



    Story by Jorge Garcia 

    United States Military Academy at West Point

    Cadets listened intently as Sgt. Maj. Dill Denver, an instructor of American Politics at the U.S. Military Academy, played Woody Guthrie's rendition of “This Land is Your Landˮ on YouTube.

    “What did you guys think?ˮ he asked cadets.

    “It’s not grandiose or super awe-inspiring like ‘God Bless America,’ˮ one cadet responded. “It evokes the same type of appreciation for the country, but the tone and approach is catered toward a certain audience.ˮ

    Denver smiled at the remark and continued listening to other cadets as he taught his course, “How Music and Sound Influences Politics.ˮ

    Through research material, personal experiences and an innate talent cultivated through the love of music, Denver and other instructors leading the course have worked to craft a creative course unique to the academy.

    “Our ability to understand and identify the impact that music can have is going to be vital to us,ˮ Denver said. “So, when weʼre teaching this class, weʼre listening to Russian propaganda, weʼre listening to Ukrainians making music. Weʼre studying other countries and the nature of their sounds.ˮ

    For Denver, it’s about being culturally astute. The class broadens a cadetʼs perspective on the importance of music and sound across the globe and how it influences our emotions and decisions.

    “Let’s say I go to Ghana and witness a form of traditional drumming. If I’m not prepared and trained to understand what Iʼm looking at, I could pick up a drum and imitate them, but they’ll be wildly offended,ˮ Denver explained. “I don’t need to listen to African drumming and put inept American ears on it. I need to listen to the drum playing from the context that the musicians present it in.ˮ

    During the course, Denver dived into the origins of the telegraph and how instrumental the contraption was in President Abraham Lincoln winning the Civil War.

    Essentially, Lincoln communicated with his generals through the transcribed telegraph signals.

    Then, fast forward to the 20th century, and radio replaces the telegraph as the new and novel form of communication. Suddenly, sonic branding, which refers to music and sounds associated with a brand, exists, and we now have the nationally recognized NBC chimes still being used to this day.

    “MasterCard recently redid their Sonic branding and spent several million dollars so that you could hear this little click that reminds you that ‘oh, Iʼm using MasterCard.’ American Airlines uses the song ‘rhapsody blue’ to remind people what airlines they are flying on,ˮ Denver explained. “Coca-cola does this, Disney does this, every company does this to plant that subconscious idea.ˮ

    During the early and mid-20th century, telecommunications started evolving. Cables were getting installed all across the country, and people began communicating through telephones.

    “Do you remember there was a time when you had to pay to make long-distance phone calls? Well, you didnʼt if you were a good musician,ˮ Denver said.

    Essentially, one would hack the phone lines through music. In fact, the origins of hacking could be traced back to music, which started from a crackerjack box. There was a whistle in the box, and people figured out they could either use the whistle or whistle themselves. Through this hack, they could navigate and make free long-distance calls up until the emergence of fiberoptics.

    “Another interesting aspect is I work in the West Point Music Research Center and weʼre looking at how music can synchronize heartbeats and teams,ˮ Denver said. “We’re also looking at group and team performance optimization at the Center for Enhanced Performance.ˮ

    Part of what makes the course distinct from others is the guest speakers. Retired CIA intelligence officer and former chief of disguises, Jonna Mendez, and “Supermanˮ comic book writer, Master Sgt. Phillip Kennedy Johnson, provided insight to cadets on how leading the nation's Soldiers with a creative mind can lend itself to efficient decision-making and a deepened sense of situational awareness.

    They also talked about the nuances and emotional impact music has on stories, people and work performance.

    “Music can back up your narrative extremely effectively,ˮ Johnson explained. “Narratively, music is completely unspecific. But emotionally, it's completely specific.ˮ

    Mendez delved deep into her past work as the chief of disguises at the CIA and noted how vital creativity and music were during her covert assignments.

    Whether she was in a hotel room or the darkroom developing photos, she'd bring her music along to help concentrate.

    “The music kept me focused, and if you heard what I’d listen to back then, you’d cringe,ˮ Mendez said jokingly. “I’d listen to big band music from Woody Herman, the Stepkids and a little bit of Duke Ellington.ˮ

    Through these course lessons and guest speaking events, Denver said he hopes to make cadets more influential when they commission as second lieutenants. Part of building that influence comes with teaching the cadets how music can affect Soldiers.

    Denver went over two lessons from the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention office that covered music that inspired sexual assault or other terrible acts.

    Furthermore, Denver said there is a potential danger of future leaders being too passive regarding the music young Soldiers listen to.

    “That type of music is not acceptable in any squad. It degrades our team value and our team identity,ˮ Denver said. “We’re in this together, and we’re not going to have that type of division.ˮ

    As the semester comes to an end and cadets ready themselves for graduation, Denver hopes the future leaders understand music’s innate value and the influence sound has on the masses.

    “I think what we’re teaching is essential to West Point, and in order to build tomorrowʼs leaders of the nation, they need to have this information. And, if I don’t teach it, who will?ˮ Denver concluded.



    Date Taken: 04.19.2022
    Date Posted: 04.19.2022 15:54
    Story ID: 418814
    Location: WEST POINT, NY, US

    Web Views: 117
    Downloads: 0