Wednesday, July 01, 2009

With a little help from my friends...

This fall, I will be teaching a class that is part of the larger First Year Seminar program at my school. These classes, though topical, are intended to serve as an introduction to college academics. My class will be a writing intensive course, satisfying one of the writing requirements in the Liberal Arts Foundation sequence. I will serve as the students' academic advisor, and we will address a number of topics like balancing academic life, comporting oneself professionaly in an academic setting, transitioning to a more individually responsible life, the nature of scholarship, and academic honesty. I am, needless to say, very excited about this class.

The topical side of the class deals with music, since that is my area of expertise. The class is called Really Listening: Thinking and writing about the music in our lives. Here is my catalog description:

Music—of all kinds—is everywhere. We hear it in our cars, grocery stores, coffee shops, while we study, while we work, and now with our iPods, even as we walk. Our lives have an almost constant soundtrack, a condition both ubiquitous and relatively recent. In a world with so much music, what does it mean to listen, rather than just hear? What do we really know about music, and what tools do we need to be better listeners—why do we need to better listeners, anyway? What does good writing about music look like? How can we open our ears to musical styles, genres, and traditions with which we have little or no familiarity? What is the role of silence in music and in our noisy culture? How is our musical taste formed? What effect do new media have on the way we listen to, talk about, and consume music? How are communities, cultures, and identities affected by music? Ultimately, how can we make our experiences with music more meaningful, more powerful, and more relevant?

These are the questions (among many others) that we will discuss throughout the course, often prompted by our reading of various kinds of writing about music, including scholarly writing, music journalism, music criticism, and weblogs. These conversations will happen around a playlist that spans genres and cultures—think Basie, Beyoncé, Boulez, Blondie, B-Real, Badu, Beethoven, Bowie, Baez, B.I.G., Bechet, Björk, and boys both Beach and Beastie.

No prior formal training in music is required. This will be a seminar-style class, with our discussions centered on assigned listenings and readings, exchanging ideas and posing questions as we explore a complex and vast musical world.

Because this class is intended for non-musicians, we are going to explore how a non-musician (the largest group of music consumers) can write and talk intelligently and insightfully about music (getting past "it's got a good beat and I can dance to it"), without bogging them down with a great deal of technical jargon. The first book we are going to read is Daniel Levitan's This is your Brain on Music. This is a fantastic book that contains a primer on music (with just enough technical information) and a great deal of discussion of musical cognition, taste formation, etc. Levitan is a psychologist who also worked for some pretty impressive recording studios. I have a reading list that includes a number of appropriate scholarly articles as well. Other books that I am considering are What to Listen for in Music by Aaron Copland, Sing Me Back Home: Love, Death, and Country Music by Dana Jennings, Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation by Jeff Chang, and one of the many great books on jazz.

The idea is that the topical lectures become about exploring genres and helping students find ways into styles of music that they haven't listened to heavily. From there, we will do some exploration on how to write about music, and the different kinds of writing about music. Most of the music that I am using for the class playlist is popular, which isn't exactly my strong suit. I'm also having a hard time finding really good music journalism to use in the class, and I'd like to balance out the books and journal articles with some popular press writings.

So, the point of this post is to solicit ideas for music, writings about music, etc. that I could use in the class. The Alterdestiny community is a musically saavy outfit; I think utilizing you all would be a great help.