Wall Of Fame
DSU Student/Faculty Profile
Dr. Carolyn Burns Assistant Professor of Music Education
Giving Music a True Voice
By: Jessie Scofield
There is a woman at Dickinson State University who sings. This woman teaches, travels, performs, learns and has a mission to give music a true voice.
After 26 years teaching elementary and high school, Dr. Carolyn Burns, assistant professor of music education, came to DSU with a mind open to the impact music has on different cultures.
With a focus on curriculum and multi-cultural music, Burns traveled to South Africa to complete her doctoral work, which focused on the relevance of African singing games to Xhosa children. There she worked with local children, learning their traditional singing games and comparing them to singing games we know in the United States.
And when her study was complete, Burns wanted to learn more.
“Out of what I learned came a parcel I wanted to re-visit,” Burns said.
So this summer, Burns went back to South Africa with her husband, who followed her with a video camera as she worked with Xhosa students to record their singing games, something no one has previously captured.
“Sometimes it takes an outsider to take the time to view and document the importance of a culture,” Burns said.
In addition to her work with the children, Burns also interviewed women about what it was like to have participated in freedom marches during the anti-apartheid struggle and asked them to reflect upon the songs they sang.
What she found was a true lesson in how music helps us tell our story—how it links people, places and struggles.
“These women were empowered during that time and the women are still empowered today,” Burns said. “They use the same songs, but they incorporate different lyrics; lyrics about poverty, aids, abuse, unemployment.”
Within the year, the couple is hoping to have a documentary film that tells these women¹s stories and will serve as a teaching tool.
And this study also piqued Burn¹s interest in the unique culture out her backdoor.
“There are rich ethnic groups here in Dickinson and I would like to find out how music is being transmitted, how it is going to carry on,” Burns said.
In the meantime, Burns is using what she learned during her travels in her own classrooms with the hope that the music will help students expand their global knowledge.
“It is a great exchange,” she said. “It teaches students that there is a whole wide world out there waiting for them.”
A world full of music.