A department teeming with opportunities, the music department at Brandeis has a particularly special course offering next semester: Risk and Experimentation in Music, MUS 33B.
Taught by Victoria Cheah, a Ph.D. candidate in the music department studying music theory and composition, the course will “look at works that question genre, comment on things besides music, like politics, extramusical issues and kinds of music that help us think about what we mean by music,” Cheah explained.
The class will look at many works on the meaning of music and is perfect for anyone looking for a deeper understanding of what they are listening to on a daily basis.
Perhaps the most appealing part of the course is that it assumes no prior knowledge of musical training. People from all musical backgrounds are encouraged to enroll. “You don’t need to be a trained musician to take this class. You just need an open mind to what you listen to and be willing to question what you hear and think more deeply about what you hear,” Cheah said.
The course will look at music composed from the 1960s until today. Unlike other music classes, there is a shorter list of chosen works on the syllabus, which will allow students to spend more time focusing on each work.
The class begins with a study of a seminal 1966 work by noted composer Steve Reich, called “Come Out.”
“It is a very important piece from a technological point of view and also a social point of view. It was one of the pieces that launched his career and other pieces to follow,” Cheah said. Other famous composers to be studied in the class include Morton Feldman and pieces such as “Black Angels.”
The class is organized into three different units. “The first unit talks about music that is very clearly in the classical tradition but extends it in some way.” Some pieces would include electronic music, work by composer George Crumb and also pieces that discuss the concert form.
The second unit deals with “different kinds of sound works that provide commentary on situations besides music. Some of this work involves appropriating older pieces and what kind of commentary that uses.” Jennifer Walsh and Janet Cardiff are among the composers studied in this unit.
Cheah also commented on the fact that there are quite a few female composers listed, which brings gender diversity to the class. “I think that it is important to try to look for good music written by people who may not be the most obvious people. Diversity for diversity’s sake I don’t think is an artistic reason to program something, although I can see why somebody would do that,” Cheah said. She mentioned that it is the “responsibility of concert programmers to look beyond and try to find voices that haven’t been heard that deserve to be heard.”
Some of the assignments in the class will include keeping up a journal and making sure to do deep listenings of the assigned works.
For any students deciding whether or not to enroll in the class, Cheah’s words of wisdom are to be open to “being challenged and listening to challenging music.”