Here are some descriptions of the courses that I’ve developed at both the University at Buffalo and Brandeis University, accompanied by some rather marvelous vintage news headings from the Musical Courier (1901).
University at Buffalo, SUNY (2016–)
Understanding Music: A Global Opportunity
This undergraduate lecture course invites students to explore the many ways in which music contributes to our shared human experience while also developing their skills as active listeners. Understanding Music is structured around three guiding questions, the first of which is perhaps the most basic of all: “what does it sound like?” We therefore begin with a participatory introduction to the stylistic elements (such as melody and rhythm) from which all music is created. The ability to analyze almost any style of music according to these principles allows students to articulate how music relates to particular cultural circumstances later in the semester, when the discussion turns to the questions of “when do we hear it?” and “what does it mean?” Students do not need any prior musical training as a performer to approach these topics as a thoughtful listener. We consider musical examples drawn from a broad range of historical and geographical milieux in order to understand why music remains one of the most sublime and powerful expressions of human culture throughout the world.
Beethoven and the Economics of Genius
Trained from a young age to serve as a court musician, Ludwig van Beethoven instead spent much of his career navigating a treacherous new world of public concerts, sheet music sales, and contract negotiations. Beethoven and the Economics of Genius begins with a look at Beethoven as a businessman, and considers how the composer’s professional decisions influenced not only his financial situation but also the style of his music itself. This undergraduate seminar investigates the reasons why the public’s fascination with Beethoven’s life and music increased following his death in 1827, and how the composer’s legacy influenced both the development of nineteenth-century style and the growth of the modern musical marketplace. At the end of the semester, we explore Beethoven’s ongoing role and importance as an icon of classical music in contemporary culture.
Music and Money
Is great music the product of inner genius, or divine inspiration? Whatever the answer may be, many of our most celebrated composers and songwriters also use their talents to earn a living. To discover how the basic principles of capitalism can influence both the creation and reception of music across a variety of genres, this undergraduate lecture course takes an objective look at the historical circumstances that have shaped the development of the modern musical marketplace. Through a series of case studies, students first evaluate the kinds of economic decisions faced not only by composers but also by performers, publishers, and audiences. Students then explore the professional and artistic consequences of such decisions for musicians and for the music that they produce.
Music History Survey: Ancient to Baroque
This survey course for music majors introduces the people and institutions who shaped the history of Western music from antiquity through the Baroque period. Important topics of discussion include the origins of Western musical notation, the development of polyphony, the shift from modal to tonal theories of harmony, and the invention of opera. Throughout the semester, we focus on understanding how even the largest of these developments came about through the decisions of individual musicians and their patrons in response to an ever-changing mosaic of historical circumstances.
Genres of Music: The Mass
The Mass is one of the oldest vocal genres in existence, providing a unique lens through which to observe many of the most important developments in the history of Western music. In some Mass settings we may discover the origins of compositional innovations that have influenced both sacred and secular traditions, while in others we may encounter contemporaneous styles reflected in ways both startling and yet utterly familiar. Throughout the semester, students develop methods of score-based analysis and historical inquiry.
Story, Word, and Song
From American folk singers to the griots of West Africa, and from Italian opera to Korean pansori, our world is rich in narrative traditions of musical performance. Reaching back into history as well as across the diverse genres through which musicians give meaning to our lives today, this undergraduate seminar explores the spectacular variety of musical narratives to be found throughout human society. During the semester, students investigate through writing and discussion not only the relationship between words and music but also the complex social and psychological phenomena that attend all forms of narrative performance. The course even considers how music without words holds the potential to convey elements of the human story with no less immediacy.
Brandeis University (2015)
Making Art, Making Money: The Economics of Creativity
Is great art the product of inner genius, or divine inspiration? Whatever the answer might be, many of our most beloved painters, poets, and composers have also used their talents to earn a living. To discover how economics can influence both the creation and reception of all kinds of art, this seminar first considers the realities of professional art making through a close reading of the writings of Haruki Murakami. We then explore conflicting social and legal perspectives on the values of imitation and originality in the arts by analyzing an accusation of musical thievery through one such lens. Finally, we investigate art in the marketplace, leading to a research essay on the approximate market valuation of a painting or sculpture to be chosen during a class visit to the Rose Art Museum. Students develop their academic writing and research skills throughout the semester.