A year ago today, Mary-Lu Zahalan-Kennedy of Ontario became the first person in the world to earn a master's degree in The Beatles. I'm not quite sure what she's doing now, but I do know she could probably kick anyone's ass in Beatles trivia.
This little anniversary of her graduation got me thinking: What kinds of crazy music courses are popping up at colleges and universities across the US? Even with the economy in the shitter and tuition costs rising, students are still lining up to take classes like Philosophy and Star Trek and Zombies in Popular Media. But we'll save those for Art Attack. This is a music blog.
At Texas State, I took Sociology of Popular Music, which was a welcome break between Logic and Calculus, and others were offered like History of the Blues, History of Country Music and History of Mexican American Music in the Southwest. Today, however, I was on the hunt for more unorthodox courses, the super-weird and random ones, and found some real gems. While they probably won't help you get a job (unless you plan on writing scores for video games), they might help you dominate the music categories during Geeks Who Drink.
The Class: Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame Where: University of South Carolina
The gamecocks love Gaga. According to the course overview, the class "focuses on societal elements in the rise of Lady Gaga's popularity to her global status as a pop music icon. The central objective of this course, then, is to unravel some of the sociologically relevant dimensions of the fame of Lady Gaga." No extra points given for coming to class in
an egg a vessel.
The Class: The Textual Appeal of Tupac Shakur Where: University of Washington
This course "explores the literary-historical influences present in the work of late poet and hip hop artist Tupac Shakur"... and seeks to "situate Tupac's thinking about race, culture, economics and national belonging within a larger historical framework." Instructor Georgia Roberts, who got the idea while teaching a course on hip-hop, said "I wanted to show students there is something to be gained from taking a closer look at why so many people consume a figure like Tupac and why he is important." Students read texts like Sun Tzu's The Art of War, Machiavelli's The Prince, and excerpts from some of Shakespeare's works and the Bible to get a better understanding of Shakur's art and inspiration.
The Class: The Music of Radiohead Where: Syracuse University
This Summer class is described in the catalog as "an exploration of the music of one of the most influential rock bands of the past decade. In-depth study of Radiohead's music; historical and cultural influences surrounding it." A former student posted, on his personal blog, his experience in the class, complete with notes, audio excerpts from the first day of lecture and his final paper. This sounds like a pretty interesting class, but then, I might be wrong. Ugh. Sorry.
The Class: Changing Times: The Music and Lyrics of Bob Dylan Where: Willamette University
Unlike Dylan's lyrics, the lectures are quite clear. Dylan's musical career is examined at length in this writing intensive course on the singer-songwriter, musician and poet. It seeks to "raise pertinent questions about how artists create and what connections exist between an artist's work and the society and times in which s/he lives through reading, careful listening to his music, and engaging in critical reflection on his lyrics."
The Class: Elvis as Anthology Where: University of Iowa
Elvis lives!...in the English building at the University of Iowa. In this English course, students learn about The King, his music, films, his cultural influence, specifically his relationship to African American history. Professor Peter Nazareth says it's no blow-off course. Students have to write three ten page essays or a final thirty page paper before receiving full credit. I can just imagine all the curled lips and "Thank you, thank you very much" -es that go on in that classroom.
The Class: Sociology of Hip-Hop: Jay-Z Where: Georgetown University
Michael Eric Dyson,professor, author, radio host and television personality, facilitates this course with Jay-Z as its headliner which focuses more on African-American studies than on Hova's bio. Here, Dyson explains the inspiration for his course:
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The Class: History of Electronic Dance Music Where: UCLA
This history class is described in the course catalog as a "survey of groove-based electrified dance music from its origins in 1960s' pop and soul to the present, covering disco, house, techno, ambient, rave, and jungle. Emphasis on interaction of technology, musical structures, psychoactive drugs, and club cultures to induce "altered states" of musical consciousness." The instructor, professor Robert Fink, says each semester, students make assumptions about him before the class begins. "He must totally be a raver. And he must have dropped ecstasy all over the place." But it's totally not true. I've been to some underground parties, but it's not part of my lifestyle. I was too old by the time I actually got interested in it to be able to do that." ,says Fink. The course was named "Best College Pop Music Class" of 2002 by Spin magazine. There's no mention of a dubstep on the syllabus so there's hope for humanity, yet.
The Class: Introduction to Turntablism Where: Oberlin College and Conservatory
This course, taught in 2009, was designed to be an aspiring DJ's first stepping stone. According to the class description, students were able to "survey everything a beginning DJ needs to know; turntablism, sampling, beatmatching, laptop DJing and of course how to scratch. At the end of the semester we will have a party and DJ battle between everyone in the class." Classroom DJ battle, what? Best. Final. Ever.
The Class: History of the Broadway Musical Where: College of St. Joseph, Vermont
The History of the Broadway Musical seeks to "examine the history, the development and emergence of the Broadway Musical as a major contribution to American music. Beginning with the Minstrel Era, the course will study the development through The Ragtime Years, Vaudeville, Tin Pan Alley, The Revue and The Book Musical. Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, George Gershwin and Rogers and Hammerstein were the giants of musical comedy and their influence is the essence of this genre." Musicals are all fine and good, but attendance would be...um...up if it were a History of Burlesque class. Oh wait, it's a Catholic college. N/M.
The Class: Video Game Scoring Fundamentals Where: Berklee College of Music
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Not a class on how to get the highest score (but those do exist, like Starcraft Theory and Strategy at Berkeley) this class seeks to prepare students for careers creating the musical scores for video games, which can make or break a game. This intro course is described as "a short history of interactive music, the content includes typical game music workflow and approaches to scoring video games. Assignments include scoring projects using different interactive music techniques. Students will be able to write simple to moderate interactive scores using the most commonly used methods in the industry."
The Class: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Perspectives in Pop Music Where: UCLA
Does sexual orientation have anything to do with music preference? How did gay music icons become gay icons? This course, described as a "survey of English-language popular music in 20th century, with focus on lesbians, gay men, and members of other sexual minorities as creators, performers, and audience members", explores how music may actually sound different based on sexual preference, both of the composer or musician and of the listener.
Did you take any weird or unorthodox classes at your school? If so, did you sign up for the course thinking it would be an easy A but ended up being quite challenging? Would you sign up for any of these courses if they were offered? Let us know in the comments section!