Archive for January, 2011
Amy Burvall is a History teacher with a passion for pop music. She’s also a video star on YouTube.
I’ve known Amy, I mean Mrs. Burvall, since our early days in grade school. Take a look at this cute retro picture of us in front of our “Sweden Project” at school. Note the word HISTORY poised above her head. She was the one with the costume ideas. I brought my mom’s Swedish inspired Spritz cookies.
Amy is still displaying her creativity & historical knowledge but these days she’s showcased via the walls of cyberspace with her Historyteachers videos on YouTube. Amy teamed up with friend and fellow teacher, Herb Mahelona to merge video design, pop music, costumes and 80’s eyeliner with World History. The result has teachers, parents, and most importantly students singing historical lyrics to favorite pop tunes.
Here’s my interview with Historyteachers frontwoman, Amy Burvall.
HIH: We hear about the importance of Math, Science, & Language Arts in school but what about History? Why do you think History is a vital subject to explore?
Amy: History is everything! The arts are what makes us human, the maths and sciences help us make sense of the world and our place in it, but all of those are subject to and incorporated into History! In my classes we look at how History affects all of those subjects and how changes in those areas can influence History. Everything is connected, really, and that is the beauty and relevance of it.
HIH: Your enthusiasm for History & passion for pop music come through in every video. Were you always interested in History or did someone or something point you in the direction of becoming a History teacher?
Amy: Yes, I think I’ve always been “into” the past and the fascinating people who populated it. I don’t know if it’s my romantic nature or what. Growing up in SoCal, nothing is really that “old”, but when I travelled to Eastern Canada and later to Europe I was so moved by the History of everything – I remember being 12 in Quebec running my hand against the stone wall of the old city and being overwhelmed by the the sense of History. As for pop music, it’s always been a big part of my life…going far back to listening to my mom’s Mamas and Papas or Beach Boys records, or getting ecstatic with the new Abba album (later it would be Thompson Twins, Blondie, and Culture Club). I never really wanted to be a teacher, per se…but in the end it felt natural, because I love school and learning and come from a family of teachers.
For some reason, I always thought I’d be a newscaster or spy.
HIH: Do you have any ideas or suggestions for teachers on ways they can incorporate your videos in the classroom?
Amy: Sure! The best way is to either use them as a “hook” to spark interest and introduce a unit, or for review of important terms and concepts. If they really want to get into it, they can analyse the topic a bit more and decide what I left out or how I present something and postulate why. For even more higher order thinking they can have their students assess the value and drawbacks of teaching and learning history through music and/or pop culture. That’s a unit I do with my students each year.
HIH: What does your family think about your Historyteachers videos?
Amy: My husband is from Sweden, and he doesn’t get very emotional. That said, I think he is secretly tickled about our endeavors (he’s involved in tech) and as a creative, artistic person, can appreciate what goes into making a quality video. He’s not a big fan of History or ‘80’s music, though. My 6 year old daughter is now worried there will be paparazzi hanging out at our front door waiting for autographs, but she really loves our songs and digs singing them every chance she gets. We play them in the car and she always asks me questions about the lyrics (some a tad inappropriate, like “What’s illegitimacy?”) I think she’s got her friends hooked on them now, so at least they are exposed to some good 80’s New Wave. The first time I appeared in the newspaper pretty much sealed it for my mom (to her that was better than French TV!)
HIH: I know you literally wear many hats in your videos but you also wear many hats in a figurative way being a mother, teacher, and now a video star. Any tricks or ideas for managing job, home, and interests?
Amy: Time is really the enemy. I used to write all my songs while experiencing insomnia due to my chemo treatment for cancer. However, now that I am well again I find it difficult to get everything done for work, plus take care of my family, and pursue this hobby. When I hit a creative wave I just go – just shut myself in my room with my laptop and write away. After that it’s up to scheduling time with my creative partner, Herb, to record and film…then he basically takes over the rest of the production. What’s taken up a lot of time recently is responding to fans and interviews, as well as keeping track of all our press (it has been a whirlwind in the past month). I try not to get too pre-occupied, but it’s so much fun, it’s hard not to. Plus, the pressure is on to create even more.
HIH: Most of your videos are about World History, will we be seeing any American History videos in the future?
Amy: That is a popular query. When we first started with the World History (albeit mostly Western History) vids I started researching similar things on the Internet. I couldn’t really find anything similar to what we were doing (especially geared to high school or college students), but I did find quite a few music-related sources for American History. Surprisingly, so many of our viewers request for or ask if we are ever going to do American History topics. That shocks me a bit- isn’t Schoolhouse Rock good enough? I will never say never, but if anything I’d start with the explorers and perhaps work my way forward from there…I have to really have a passion for the subject and my passion lies in World History.
HIH: Speaking of History, we met each other way back in grade school. Even as a young girl you were artistic and creative with an eye for fashion. Do you create most of the costumes in the videos? What about hair and makeup?
Amy: ha ha Thanks! And you always had the most enviable blonde tresses! That’s the funny thing, I’ve always, no matter where I live, had a “costume closet”. Now it’s getting bigger and bigger! I have certainly purchased items for the videos but really most of the looks come from my own closet or costume collection. The hair is a funny story. Most of the videos we have now were shot when I was going through chemo and thus, bald. I amassed a collection of interesting wigs – most of which appear in the videos! In the ones where you see three of me (Aquinas, Civilization, Martin Luther), I sport 3 different wigs- blonde, brunette, and cherry-cola. Herb said I seemed so different in all of them we decided to name the “characters” after the wigs- and Bambi, Vicki, and Angelica were born! A lot of people really think those are 3 different history teachers. It amuses me greatly. I pretty much do all the make-up and organizing accessories myself – but Herb can make anything look good after messing with the software program. Wasn’t my pseudo-punk look funny in Beowulf? That was lipstick on my cheeks!
HIH: I don’t know if you remember this but when we were kids we did a lot of singing along to Beach Boys music. Do you have any ideas using their tunes to teach a History lesson?
Amy: Of course I remember! But they are the masters! It would take a lot to do those perfect harmonies. If anything I’d like to do “In My Room” or “Do it Again”, just because I love them..but I have NO clue what topic I’d do. I have a running list of songs I’d like to cover and topics I feel affinity for…sometimes the match just comes to me instantaneously. A lot of things have to work- the feel of the music, the tempo, the syllables, etc.
HIH: If you could do a Historyteachers duet with any pop music artist, who would you choose?
Amy: Hands down Debbie Harry, my idol – the ultimate. But if she wasn’t up for it maybe Brian Setzer or Billy Idol.
HIH: In the last couple of months you’ve experienced a blitz of media interest. You’ve been on the news in France, Taiwan, & done numerous interviews online. Has this attention altered the future of Historyteachers in any way?
Amy: Blitzkrieg is more like it! It’s been crazy- and unexpected! I couldn’t believe the French liked us, let alone featured us on TV! The Taiwanese news spot was pretty cool, too. I was worried they’d get touchy about my non-historically accurate costumes but they seemed to not care. I don’t think it’s altered us, except to build our confidence a bit and encourage us to create more –as in new songs/ videos and build our upcoming web site (www.historyteacherz.com) We hope to have all kinds of fun features like bloopers, lesson extensions, behind-the-scenes trivia, and interactive games, plus of course all the videos and lyrics. I am still astonished that a lot of people write that Youtube is blocked in their school disctrict. Who knows, we might even have an ironic tee-shirt line!
Visit http://youtube.com/historyteachers to see more fun History videos.
Be sure to Like the Official Historyteachers page on Facebook, click here.
Photo of Amy Burvall by Cara Pyle.
Back in the 80’s day, there was a song called Five Minutes of Funk by Whodini. It wasn’t very funky, but it was five minutes of a great rap/ hip hop tune.
I caught myself singing the lyrics to 5 Minutes of Funk the other day, which led to the idea of 5 Videos of Funk. For those of you not familiar with Funk as a music genre let’s get a breakdown from Wikipedia:
“Funk is a music genre that originated in the mid-late 1960s when African American musicians blended soul music, soul jazz and R&B into a rhythmic, danceable new form of music. Funk de-emphasizes melody and harmony and brings a strong rhythmic groove of electric bass and drums to the foreground. Funk songs are often based on an extended vamp on a single chord, distinguishing it from R&B and soul songs centered around chord progressions….
…many of the most famous bands in the genre also played disco and soul extensively. Funk music was a major influence on the development of disco music and afrobeat, and funk samples have been used extensively in genres including hip hop, house music and drum and bass. It is also the main influence of go-go, a subgenre associated with funk.”—Wikipedia
As Whodini would say, “…separate the good stuff from the junk…” Here are 5 of my favorite funky videos:
I play this video whenever someone gets on my nerves. It helps me remember how to behave on this planet. The YAY at the end of this video & The Dating Game style groovy music is fun too!
I love this video, not only because the Ohio Players really know how to get funky, but because Wolfman Jack introduces them.
If we’re gonna get funky, we’ve got to Get Down with the Soul Train dancers.
It’s not only the guys that can get down and get funky. Here’s Chaka Khan with Rufus telling us something good.
Good God! Give us those funky horns! James Brown says… “Get Up Offa That Thing”
Remember these are 5 of MY favorite funk videos. What funky songs get you up offa that thing?
It’s been four months since I took my hiatus from posting random pop culture thoughts. At first I felt a sense of euphoria not being attached to something that was feeling like a “have to”. Then as time went by I started to feel a bit sad for my website sitting stagnant like a cyberspace time capsule.
Just when I thought time had set me free, those thoughts of my digital alter ego kept taunting me. Those memories of trivial nonsense and interesting interviews came crashing through. Just when I thought I was over posting on HIH, just when I thought I could stand on my own…Wait a minute… I feel a song coming on…
So here I am posting again on housewifeinhollywood.com
Just remember, those voices in your head don’t always mean you’re crazy. It could just be your creative voice trying to get out and create something fun.
What creative voices are taunting you these days?