Music

Students carrying instrument in front of Paine Hall

The Music Department trains thinking musicians. A number of its courses are concerned with the connection between detailed music analysis and performance, others with performance, with musics of the world, or with the exploration of the connection between compositional styles and the wider intellectual movements in the arts and humanities such as sound studies, creativity, or politics. Undergraduates may pursue a Concentration or Secondary Field, as well as Joint Degree Programs with New England Conservatory and Berklee College of Music.

Director of Undergraduate Studies: Richard Wolf
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Gateway Courses

Spring 2022

ARTS 27R: How to be a Tool: Storytelling Across Disciplines
Davone Tines and Isaac Winokur

How to be a Tool: Storytelling Across Disciplines. Presenting data, advocating policies, and offering personal or historical narratives — is storytelling. Compelling storytelling requires tools. No matter the story, whether it be a personal narrative, a math problem, or political demands, how one tells a story is crucial to move ideas toward action. This course gives you a tool kit to do so.

How to be a Tool is co-taught by visiting lecturer-mentors, Davóne Tines and Zack Winokur, who work in music-theater, opera and dance, along with guest performers, thinkers, scholars, and creators. This course is for students interested in these performative fields, especially those in the social sciences and fields outside the humanities, and engages capacious cross-disciplinary exchange. Each student will work on an independent project of their own initiation that pushes the boundaries of critical and scholarly presentation, performance and messaging. Project development will be bolstered by lively collective conversation, in-class studio time, and sustained one-on-one dialogue with the faculty mentors.

MUSIC 1: Introduction to Western Music, from Bach to Beyonce
Michael Uy

This course introduces you to a variety of Western art music repertories, and a range of ways to think, talk, and write about them. While we explore some of the great “classics” of the Western musical canon, including works by male composers such as Bach, Beethoven, and Stravinsky, we also discover the critical roles played by renowned female performers, patrons, and writers, as well as the significant impacts made by artists of color, such as Pulitzer-prize winner Kendrick Lamar, and Beyoncé. Ending in the present day, we investigate what music means in a global context, and a world increasingly shaped by new technologies and digital networks. During the semester, you will build a robust vocabulary to analyze music and talk about it. You will gain an understanding of social, political, and cultural histories of art music, and deepen your awareness of the role of music in your life. Finally, by the end, you’ll possess a strong command over a substantial repertory. No prior knowledge of music history or musical notation is necessary. Students are graded on the improvements they make in engaging with the material. By the end of class, you’ll be more prepared for a lifetime of informed and hopefully enjoyable music listening.

MUSIC 2: Foundations of Tonal Music I
Joseph Jakubowski

Seeks to develop a greater understanding of music, musical analysis, and critical listening. We will study some of the organizing principles of musical works (from a range of styles) by means of composition projects, score analysis, and aural skills. While reading knowledge of simple musical notation is helpful, there will be at least one section for students with no previous experience.  Additional sections required on Mondays and Fridays, 10:30 - 11:45 am

MUSIC 20: Opera
Carolyn Abbate

This  lecture course will explore opera, a theatrical genre with a 400-year history, which is still a living and vibrant art.  Opera has always been multimedia: Its marvelous singing, and its music, is shaped by drama, by characters, visual spectacles in staging, and theater architecture and machinery.  Operatic performance, by engaging and even overwhelming multiple senses, challenges us to question intellectual truisms like critical detachment, sober analysis.  Opera has always inspired intense passion in audiences. For some, it is the most beautiful and moving musical genre that has ever existed.  For others, it can involve tedium and acoustic strangeness.  Opera’s special acoustic is defined by its singers, who are often called “gods” (“divas” and “divos”), with voices that are the most powerful unamplified human sonic force in existence.  We will look at opera as it evolved over time from its origins in Italy into a global phenomenon, considering works by famous composers (including Mozart, Wagner, and Verdi) as well as obscure corners and byways.  Students will be experiencing live opera performances (in class and on field trips), and opera as technological art in recordings, film, and other media.  No previous music courses, no expertise in music theory or ability to read music, are required.

MUSIC 170R: Songwriter's Apothecary Lab
Esperanza Spalding

‘If one of my friends is ill, I'd like to play a certain song and he will be cured’  -John Coltrane

Half songwrighting workshop, and half guided-research practice, the Songwrighters’ Apothecary Lab (SAL), offers a structure for the collaborative development of new compositions designed to offer enhanced therapeutic benefit to listeners. The course is rooted in a transdisciplinary station, orienting itself towards archives and literature that study healing strategies drawn from a diverse range of music-based creative and therapeutic practices.

 SAL asks that students come prepared to (a) identify particular ailments that they seek to understand and address (b) delve into literature that studies music-based healing methodologies that would be applicable to the particular ailment, and (c) participate each week in the creation of songs and sonic structures that incorporate the research reviewed.  

 As members of the lab, students will alternate each week between the roles of researcher (surveying fields related to psychology, music, neuroscience, and health; identifying repeatable musical phenomena associated with specific therapeutic benefits), and songwrighter (where the aforementioned findings will be synthesized into new musical works, compositional/performance practice). Guest lecturers and senior scholars from the fields of neuroscience, music therapy and music, will regularly review our process and work, to offer feedback and guidance.

MUSIC 194R: Special Topics: Proseminar
Joseph Jakubowski

Music and Cognition. This seminar provides a broad introduction to topics in music psychology and cognition, a field that seeks answers to fundamental questions about music, mind, and culture. How does music make us feel things, remember experiences, and empathize with others? Why do we want to move to music—to dance, tap feet, and bob heads? How do our minds make sense of the complexity of sounds as coherent music? What roles do biology and culture play in music psychology? What goes on in the embodied mind when we perform, improvise, compose, listen, or dance? 

We will survey four main areas of inquiry: pitch and timbre perception; musical time and movement; meaning, emotion, and interpretation; and creative practices (performance, improvisation, composition, imagination). Crucially, we’ll also explore challenges to mainstream music cognition, including how to address cultural differences, animal musical abilities, and the question of what music is and what it can do. 

Students will gain familiarity with the main questions and arguments of the field. Beyond theory, we will explore how ourselves and others can apply psychology and cognition to performance, composition, and appreciation of music in our lives. 

A background in music performance, music theory, musicology—and/or psychology and cognition—are advantageous but not required. Likewise, fluency in music notation is not required but won’t hurt. Experience with an instrument, singing, or dancing will be helpful: individual interests will inform our discussions and activities as the course goes on.