Friday, July 9, 2010


Heading out this morning to a meeting with the Rider Sustainability Across Curriculum group at the Lawrenceville campus. Last fall I started teaching a Freshman Seminar at The College of New Jersey then titled Music and Environment (now Music and the Natural World). The idea was to increase sensitivity to environmental concerns by showing the intricate relationship of this aspect of human culture to our natural surroundings.

The idea for the course came out directly out of a discussion on sustainability and music theory curriculum on a Society of Music Theory list. The very beginnings of this discussion on SMT raised the hackles of many theorists and I certainly don't blame them.

As all music majors know, music theory courses are routinely jammed with information. They are notorious for shoe-horning in every possible technique of historical Western music theory plus a handful of ethnomusicological bric-a-brac. On top of that they also usually entail some ear-training, sight-singing and often a piano keyboard mechanics component. While they may have become more condensed, music theory has been taught more or less the same way for hundreds of years.

So the very thought that you could rejigger the music theory curriculum to fit into an all-of-a-sudden academic trend like sustainability just seemed a bit outrageous. Further, the topic itself seems pretty removed from any direct connection with sustainability--what is there to be sustained in music? How does music theory affect the physical environment and how can recycling or solar energy improve it?

I point all this out because the discussion actually did become useful, once we began to brainstorm and talk about intersections of environmentalism and music that interested us. And the course, so far, has turned out to be one of the most exciting that I've taught.


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