Money & Careers

Sandy Wilbur, a Woman Who Is Making a Difference


Sandy Wilbur is a forensic musicologist—a sort of musical private eye. She spends her workdays evaluating whether Composer A has (or hasn’t) taken passages of Composer B’s copyrighted music. Sometimes she has to make her case in court, as she did most recently on the side of Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke in the “Blurred Lines” v Marvin Gaye case. We described the expertise and capacity for painstaking research needed to do this detective work a few years ago, in our profile.

We also offered a glimpse of the creative and joyful part of Sandy’s workday—the part where she gets to write the music. This is an update on the project she began a few years ago called “Learning History Through Music”—to inform American students, through music, about critical moments in their country’s history that still resonate so powerfully today.

It’s no secret that American children—and adults—don’t know much about history. In 2011, The Manchester Union/Leader reported on a Newsweek poll of randomly selected adults: “Only 30 percent knew that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land; 43 percent did not know that the first ten amendments constitute the Bill of Rights; and two-thirds could not identify America’s economy as capitalistic or market-based.” Only 62 percent could pass the simple citizenship test given to immigrants, though 90 percent of immigrants pass it.

“I strongly believe that in order for kids to learn history, we’ve got to make it relevant and contemporary and from a kid’s point of view,” Sandy says. “Funny thing is, as a kid I didn’t care about history. It didn’t have any relevance to my life. It was only when I was adult that I realized, ‘Wow, if we’re going to keep this democracy, we’d better understand it and be a part of the process. Music is something kids relate to, and seeing kids in a historical context can help make it relevant.  Then discussing how these historical moments resonate today really helps kids understand how important these principles are.”

Sandy’s passion for getting schoolchildren informed about, and proud of, their country’s democracy sprang from an experience she had in her fifties.  “I got involved in a political situation that was extraordinarily important to me—preserving nature and wildlife,” she says.  “There was going to be mass destruction of wetlands, birds, bats, important wildlife habitat, and wildlife corridors. There were strong beliefs on both sides of the issue. I was opposed to this, but I’d never had a situation where I had to stand up and passionately defend something in a room where some people would consider me their enemy because I did so—never had to talk in front of a group that booed me. I was so dismayed by what I found, and so passionate about opposing it, that I thought, as Churchill once said, ‘So you have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.’

“The more I researched this particular subject, the more I understood about politics, laws, and corporate power. I realized how special interests and corruption are a natural result when the majority of people are not involved in our democratic process. I very quickly realized that our kids (our future leaders) must learn the basics and founding principles of our democratic way of life so that they can be engaged at an early age and be lifelong participants.  That is where ‘Learning History Through Music’ came from—my passionate belief that ALL citizens—We the People—need to be engaged in the process for democracy to survive.”  Read More »

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  • Sandy Wilbur April 6, 2016 at 6:44 pm

    Thanks, Suzon. That’s a great suggestion. I will look into it! Sandy Wilbur

  • Suzon Schulz March 3, 2016 at 5:40 pm

    Great story, great song! How about looking into Susan B. Anthony and the early Women’s Movement to get the vote for another song , boys can sing about that too.