This year in the Harvard Music Department, we're undertaking a year-long process to examine and reimagine our undergraduate curriculum. We're holding meetings every couple of weeks, to brainstorm among faculty and graduate students, as well as host guest speakers from outside the department, who will share their thoughts on curriculum design, and on current issues in the field (today, for example, is Aniruddh Patel from Tufts, talking about cognitive science and the arts).
Last week, our meeting ended with a call to think up some "dream courses" that we might want to teach if time, resources, and curricular requirements were no object. I thought I'd share mine here before taking them into this afternoon's brainstorming session. The prompt was organized around three different constituencies: a course for non-majors, an introductory course for majors, and a course for advanced majors.
For non-majors, I would propose a course called "Adventurous Listening," which would have an open syllabus driven almost entirely by student input. The course would involve listening to music of many genres and time periods. The professor would provide guidance throughout the semester. Individual weeks or class periods (or multi-week units) would be organized around a specific theme. Each week, students (and the instructor, as an equal participant) would submit recordings, to be listened to outside of class, or occasionally in it. Some weeks might be organized around styles (jazz, rock, baroque, film scores, etc.), while others could be broadly conceptual/topical (musical responses to war, religious music, etc.), and still others autobiographical (music of your childhood/favorite songs/styles of music you've never listened to before). Under the guidance of the instructor, and with students sometimes as peer instructors, these selected recordings (which will obviously vary each semester) will serve as the jumping-off point for teaching the basic concepts of music theory and some current topics in musicology, using readings as necessary, and as driven by the class's collective listening.
For first-year majors, I would teach (or more ideally co-teach, perhaps with a rotating cast) a year-long course that would combine several elements from typical undergraduate courses in music history and music theory, and other disciplines. The course would teach the repertoire and theory of various styles of early music (chant and organum, moving into polyphony up to the 16th century or so) alongside both historical contexts (structure of the liturgy, systems of patronage, styles of notation, print culture, etc.) AND an emphasis on the physical objects and processes involved. This latter area would emphasize not only the study of manuscripts and early printed books (when available), but also their *creation*. Students would study relevant practices of inscription, copying, bookmaking, etc. by creating a class manuscript as a group, over the course of the year. Aided by consultations with relevant faculty from other departments, such as art, English, or history, the class would assemble a book (or books), and fill it with their counterpoint exercises and model compositions, using historical techniques of medieval scribes. The class would thus emphasize the materiality of the artifacts of early music, and more closely unify the study of music history and theory by bringing them together inside the same, comprehensive course, rather than distributing them across different classrooms, or even different semesters or years of a student's college career.
For more advanced majors, I would like to teach a course that would introduce students to the basics of digital recording, and basic techniques of computer-aided music analysis. Since these are only dream courses, I've not thought carefully about repertoire yet, but conceivably the course could encompass any of a number of styles, possibly varying across section, or determined by student interests and background. The class would integrate various styles of computer-aided music research, including corpus studies, the study of performance practice (using tools like Sonic Visualiser), and the analysis of audio files and studio techniques. The class would also emphasize the creation of multimedia art and scholarship; as many projects as possible would be in multimedia form, from digital texts that embed sound and video files, to podcasts, remixes, recordings of original music, and short form video documentaries. A selection of practical readings dealing with studio techniques, and theoretical readings (i.e. sound studies) would also be used.