Last month after delivering a pre-performance lecture on Dayton Opera’s recent production of Madame Butterfly I lingered in the hall for a good twenty minutes chatting with patrons about all sorts of things related to the opera and my talk. A couple, maybe in their 70s, wanted to voice their opinions on the destructive forces of American imperialism and I was happy to listen. Another older gentleman shared with me his uneasy memories standing in front of a replica of the bomb that flattened Madame Butterfly’s hometown of Nagasaki, and Bockscar, the actual plane that dropped it at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, just five miles away from the opera house we stood in. For the past few years I have been delivering pre-performance lectures and schmoozing with patrons for the Dayton Opera, and I have thought of these engagements mostly as “public musicology”: an extension of my music history classroom, albeit for a slightly older audience. I have only recently thought about my teaching in the classroom as a form of public musicology, albeit for a slightly younger audience.
Public humanities projects, like The National Endowment for the Humanities’ Common Good initiative, seek “to bring the humanities into the public square and foster innovative ways to make scholarship relevant to contemporary issues.” These projects are also usually broadly framed and interdisciplinary, bridging fields such as history, political science, and music as many fine contributions to this blog demonstrate. Shouldn’t music classes for undergraduate music majors and non-music majors alike strive toward similar goals? As I switch hats from the opera stage to the classroom I find myself asking the question: what differentiates public musicology from institutional instruction in musicology? Once we see these two spaces as connected (public and classroom) we can use public musicology as a pedagogical tool to help students think interdisciplinarily and to make connections between the study of music from the past and the performance of music in the present. It thus becomes an opportunity to create dialogue between and across disciplines, time, and individuals.
|Homepage for the National Endowment of the Humanities Common Good Initiative|
Dr. Laura Sextro, my colleague in the History Department, and I worked under the supervision and guidance of Dr. Ellen Fleishmann, another historian who serves as the Endowed Alumni Chair of Humanities at our university, on a public humanities project tied to our teaching. We collaborated with other faculty across campus to commemorate the anniversary of The Great War through a series of curricular and co-curricular activities and used two of our courses as models for an interdisciplinary and collaborative public humanities project. My colleagues and I paired music majors in Music History II (Beethoven to Björk) with students from The History of Modern France. Music and history students engaged with the material analytically and experientially. Students stepped outside of the classroom to learn about the history and culture of this period by attending a series of co-curricular out-of-the-classroom events organized by the teaching team. After all, learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom. Public musicology is not just about the musicologist engaging with the public, but it is also about engaging students and the community together outside of the classroom.
So, on a brisk February Friday evening, over a hundred students, faculty and community members gathered dressed in glittery flapper gowns to dance two-steps, rags, and Charlestons for a World War One-era Social Dance Party. Most of the people in attendance were not enrolled in either course. They were not forced to be there, they weren’t earning extra credit; they were just there to dance, maybe learn something new, and to have a good time. We provided snacks, vintage recordings, dance instruction and a roundtable discussion. What better way to get college students engaged then by having them dance with each other? But we didn’t just get them to dance; we got them to reflect on that dancing experience. Facilitated by historians and philosophers they were able to apply their experiences to the present state of social dance at an American University: to twerking, grinding and other booze-fueled house party gyrations. The idea was to get them engaged: engaged with the material, the historiographic problems, the lives of people involved, but also engaged with each other.
|Marquee for The Neon Movie Theater's special showing of Paths of Glory on March 2015|
The final project was a public lecture/recital where students of history and music worked in teams to present on music, history, culture, and war in WWI for the whole university community. Students spoke on topics including trauma in the trenches, emotion and memory after the war, nationalism, race on the battlefront, and the gendering of the homefront. The event included performances of Ives, Debussy, as well as popular songs of the period. In many of their final papers, students brought the music and culture of WWI into dialogue with current events through the comparison of nascent music therapy practices in the years after the Great War to current trends in treating PTSD in veterans of the Global War on Terror.
|Music and History students at the Dayton Philharmonic performance of War Requiem, Schuster Center on March, 2015.|
|University of Dayton History Department faculty members dressed up for the WWI-era Social Dance Party on February, 2015.|
Samuel Dorf is Assistant Professor of Musicology at the University of Dayton.