First-Year Seminar - MUSIC PIGEONHOLING & PREJUDICE
Much of what we think we know about anything is shaped by the categories into which blocks of information are crammed. The process of stereotyping whole expanses of human activity by means of convenient categorization, both in musical and, more generally, cultural history (what we sometimes call “pigeonholing”), can bring about a clouded, even wildly distorted perception of the work of an individual composer; a specific genre; an entire style; or an entire group of people. Once these perceptions are sanctified by official acceptance and repetition over time they prove almost entirely resistant to reconsideration, spreading and self-perpetuating like some stubborn invasive species. We’ll examine four such long-standing misperceptions in music history over the course of the semester. Along the way we’ll learn to hear past them, and develop a flexible, musically sensitive and evidence-based approach to the understanding of musical style and practice. Our four areas of study will be: Classical vs. Romantic style from Haydn to Beethoven; Debussy and “Impressionism”; riots, the Rite of Spring, and modernism; and the fight for the soul of hip-hop. Weekly listening, reading, and viewing assignments along with wide-ranging class discussion will inform both a midterm paper and a final paper or creative/analytical project. While each topic will be treated in analytical depth, methods and terminology will be accessible to first-year students with no prior training in musical analysis.