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Music & Politics: From Mozart to Arcade Fire

This course is expected to run but has not yet been scheduled.

Course Description

So you like listening to music, but have you ever stopped to consider its meaning, even its political significance? In this class we explore the relationship between music and politics, from classical music to indie rock. Through the practice of listening critically to music, this class illuminates past and present political events and demonstrates music’s crucial participation in political debates.

The class is part history, part musical appreciation, and part cultural criticism. Students will learn to hear larger meanings embedded in both the instrumental music and lyrics of songs. As the phrase "from Mozart to Arcade Fire" suggests, we will investigate both "classical" and "popular" artists, including (among many others) Beethoven, Wagner, Dvorak, Shostakovich, Louis Armstrong, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Sex Pistols, Grandmaster Flash, U2, Nirvana, Radiohead, and Lady Gaga. As students will learn, music engaged all the major events of modern history from the French Revolution and national unification's, to fascism, communism, the Civil Rights Movement, and anti-globalization protests. However, as the relationships between music and politics are not always obvious or identical, students will develop their skills in critically analyzing and discussing complicated and ambiguous academic questions.

In many ways, this class functions as an introduction to the humanities at the collegiate level. Students are exposed to artistic movements, political ideologies, historical events, and readings that are foundational to all fields of the humanities. Moreover, students learn to not simply regurgitate facts, but dissect and interpret texts and works of art, as well as gain the analytical, discussion, and writing skills necessary for success in college.

The objectives of the course are:

  • To become more familiar with the Western canon of music. This includes being able to identify different forms and genres.
  • To learn the basic characteristics of major political movements since 1789.
  • To cultivate one’s ability to hear the social significance of music.
  • To learn to express one’s views clearly in conversation and especially in writing. The class puts considerable emphasis on improving the argument of each paper.

The primary prerequisite for this class is that students love music. There is no expectation of understanding music history or theory. However, given the amount of reading for this class, a high level of reading comprehension is preferred.

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