Wednesday, January 27, 2010


This term, for 8 weeks, I am teaching a general education course to liberal arts (not music) students at Wheaton College. Three days a week I get to step into a classroom with about 40 students, and introduce them to music through an historical and chronological survery of western art music. My goal in the course is to help the students articulate their perception of music (all music they hear) in objective terms, not necessarily technical terms. To understand the main elements of music, how to hear them, how to understand the ways they interrelate and are perceived. And how to tell others more about music than "that's boring" or "it's so cool!"

And it's a good exercise for me, as well. To think about these things in ways that I often take for granted helps me also better prepare for my weekly choir rehearsal. To go back and listen to music that is no longer part of my daily diet, is a treat. We are now in the Baroque era, which is about where most of my listening begins. So to have spent time, in preparation and in class, with earlier music was a lot of fun, and refreshing.

The text I'm using highlights a few composers from each historical era. Rightly so, even if that is limiting and a bit misleading. In the Baroque, it is Vivaldi, Handel, and Bach - the big boys. How fun to introduce the names, the music, the stories.

Of course, the class is mixed. There are students there who have played piano for 14 years, and came up through choirs and orchestras. And there are students who have never seen a printed piece of music. Some are of course there only because it is a requirement, and mine is the time it fits in their schedules. They have my sympathy - I also had the gen ed hurdle to clear as an undergraduate. So I try to make it interesting for a widely disparate crowd, and that too has some bearing on my work as a planner of public worship.

I wouldn't (I can't) take on a course like this on a regular basis. But it has some merit for re-orienting in my "day job." And it is a lot of fun. Today I get to play Vivaldi and Bach for the class, walk them through the Contrapunctus I from "Art of the Fugue," and ask the question, "what does music mean?" If it fails to enrich the students' lives, it will mine, and my work.

No comments: