Honolulu Teacher Becomes YouTube Sensation

History Remixed: Local teacher becomes YouTube sensation.

Amy Burvall, in costume for her educational video “Napoleon (‘Gone Daddy Gone,’ by the Violent Femmes)”

photo: courtesy cara pyle

Amy Burvall, a teacher at Le Jardin Academy, and Herb Mahelona, at Kamehameha Schools on the Big Island, teach history via music videos. Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” becomes a lesson on the French Revolution and Attila the Hun’s story gets retold to Eurythmics’ “Here Comes the Rain Again.” Their YouTube channel, History for Music Lovers, with 50 videos, has attracted more than 6 million views. Each song is recreated from scratch. Mahelona, who has also composed for the Honolulu Youth Opera, composes the music, layers and mixes the tracks, while the lyrics and singing are left to Burvall, who also stars in some of the music videos, often in costume. We asked her about her process for these movies.

"I like writing about people, more like biographies, or maybe a particular battle or event like Pompeii. I like the empathy that you get when you’re close to a person. Recently, I’ve been writing songs in the first person.  I like that even more. One coming out soon is about Marie Antoinette, a ballad that’s totally from her point of view."

"I have a really eclectic closet, I kind of dress like I’m in costume all the time. The wigs are important. If you have a really great wig, it’s going to make a big impact. A few months after we started making the videos, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I lost all my hair. The only thing that would keep my mind occupied was making songs … and I could wear a lot of wigs."

"You’re talking about something that happened so long ago, you think probably nobody cares, but really they do. This year, in France, during the presidential election, the conservatives and liberals were arguing over Joan of Arc—if she were alive today, who would she support? The French news had a special on it and they played our whole Joan of Arc video. People have written me—“I can’t believe we have to learn about French heroes from an American.” I’m learning all kinds of things about people around the world."

Amy Burvall isn’t your average history teacher. Learn more about this “edupunk” on her website: amyburvall.com.