Close-up of Black people's raised, clasped hands

Songs of Hope

A Fall 2020 First-Year Tutorial

Songs of Hope

A First-Year Tutorial offered fall 2020, taught by Tony Perman, associate professor of music

“Hope is a good thing,” says Red in The Shawshank Redemption, “maybe the best of things.” It is unique among positive emotions in that it often emerges during times of struggle, trauma, and hardship. But hope doesn’t just happen. It must be cultivated and nurtured.

Erik Levine’s Glial Axon (2001) sculpture with summer flowers blooming around it
Playfully poised before the entrance to Bucksbaum Center for the Arts, Erik Levine’s Glial Axon (2001) seems, to many students, to echo the shape of a musical note. Photo by Justin Hayworth.

Historically, music has played an important and productive role during times of personal and social crisis in shaping feelings of hope and realizing its aspirational desires. Whether massive crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, the Holocaust, South African apartheid, and the U.S. civil rights movement, or personal ones tied to grief and depression, songs of hope help shape change for the better. In exploring the relationship between music and hope, students will examine the kinds of research that can be done and questions that can be asked. We will address the psychology of the brain, anthropological studies of successful social responses to crisis, or creative explorations of the power of music and artistic practice to projects of human flourishing. Students will shape the content of the course as they examine their own interests and experiences in how music can make us hopeful and hope can help us thrive.


Why I Chose This Tutorial

I chose to participate in Songs of Hope not only because of my recently reignited interest in music, but also because more than halfway into 2020, I thought it could be useful and interesting to discuss the concept of hope with a group of classmates. This class allowed my peers and I to share in discussing personal experiences with hope, emotions, and music while we enjoyed wrestling with how or whether or not to conceptualize and/or quantify such ideas.

This class was a creative space where tangential questions were welcomed, and any and all ideas could be shared to further an ever growing, increasingly complex, and interesting conversation that we all had. Working to find the connection between music and hope was tricky, but the results yielded a wild range of songs that all held different capacities and ways to promote and generate love, empathy, and hope through song.

– Malcolm Galpern Levin ’24


Tony Perman
Tony Perman

Why I Taught This Topic

As 2020 descended into the chaos triggered by an ongoing climate crisis, political instability at home and abroad, the global COVID-19 pandemic, and an uprising against entrenched systemic racism and police brutality against Black Americans, I needed to feel hope and felt compelled to offer hope. I needed to interrogate the morality and utility of these feelings of hope by exploring the topic with Grinnell’s newest students, who have yet to arrive on campus. Through the music we each relied upon this year, we examined hope as a call to action, as an act of courage, as a companion to fear, and as a necessary initial step in creatively and collectively shedding the status quo in the name of something better. As James Baldwin said, “Hope is invented every day."

– Tony Perman


Class Playlist

For a class project, the students used the following songs:

“Mary Turner Mary Turner” by Xiu Xiu
“Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey  
“Freedom” by Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar
“No Hard Feelings” by The Avett Brothers
“Black Parade” by Beyoncé
“I Am America” by Shea Diamond
“Wakanda Forever” by Ludwig Göransson and Baaba Maal
“Lockdown” by Anderson Paak
“Be a Light” by Thomas Rhett
“So Will I” by Ben Platt
“Believe” by Meek Mill and Justin Timberlake
“Everything” by The Black Skirts

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