To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Interviews with Brandeis University’s academic leadership: The music department

The Brandeis Hoot invited Professor Erin Gee, the chair of the music department at Brandeis and also a composer, and Katie Ball ’22, the program administrator of the music department as well as an alumna, to join an interview. Gee and Ball gave an introduction about the three tracks for the music major, the upcoming opportunities for students, and the popular career tracks students will choose after graduation.

As the course registration date for the Spring 2023 semester is around the corner, Gee introduced the courses she would teach next semester. Gee will teach two courses. One of the courses she mentioned was MATH/MUS 121B: Math and Music, which she will be teaching with Professor Jonathan Touboul from the math department. This course will focus on how music concepts can be expressed in mathematical terms. Another course is MUS 196B, which is about sound installations and movement staging. Gee said: “This one is about creating your sound installation, so it’s a combination of art, you know, creation, construction.” A special guest will also engage in this class: Colin Gee, Gee’s brother.

Gee also mentioned the three tracks for music major students, which are Composition & Theory, History & Culture and Performance. For the Composition & Theory track, students are asked to think about how music works and different possible ways of putting music together. There is also the possibility of studying with one of the professors in one of the composition lessons, and students can put on a concert with peers.

The History & Culture track is about understanding music in different contexts. Ball demonstrated: “You can learn about the history of different kinds of music, the different meanings of music in different cultures, and that’s also a great lead-in for students who are interested in musicology.” Due to the structure and the way classes look, the History & Culture track will look a little more like other academic programs at Brandeis. Students are asked to do a lot of readings on music of different cultures.

There are also many graduate studies, writing and publishing opportunities in the field. The Performance track attracts a lot of students who have an interest in instruments. Ball added: “People who come in with an instrument or they’re a singer and they take lessons and they put on recitals.”

The music department is also combined with lots of other majors at Brandeis. Psychology, mathematics, sociology and computer science all can be combined with music, even if students are not pursuing music as a career. Gaining interpersonal skills, research skills and using the creative part of oneself helps make students pursue a well-rounded career in the future, according to Gee.

For career opportunities provided by the music department, it could be art administration, organizing arts events, teaching in music, etc. Ball gave an example: “We have students who graduated that were interested in the connections between music and illness.” Areas like music therapy are also fields that students can pursue.

As Ball used to be a Brandeis student, her identity is now changed into a staff member, which she has spent many years on the Brandeis campus. Based on this shift of identity, she has understood different elements of students’ academic experience at Brandeis. Ball said: “Yes, I am not the only student to be taking on staff positions after graduating. I do think that students going into these roles and getting more involved with the university is a great way for us to help bring things to fruition that we wished we’d had in our undergrad careers.”

Gee recommended that students can get involved in performing opportunities towards the start of the spring semester by signing up for an audition course. Gee demonstrated:  “We have a collection of early music instruments that students gain access to, and pretty much everyone is starting from the beginning.” Though the music department does not officially affiliate with any clubs, there are many different music-based clubs that often perform and have events with the music department. The radio station and the acapella groups are some good examples. Ball told The Hoot: “ I can tell you that many of our students participate in those groups and really love them.”

The music department also set up lots of concerts and performance opportunities in this fall semester. Ball gave some examples: “We have the Garra Collective. They perform Afro-Indigenous music from Belize and Honduras … and they have a concert this Saturday at 8 p.m. and there’s a pre-concert talk at 7 p.m. Before that. From there, pretty much every weekend until the end of the semester, we will have concerts.” More importantly, for Brandeis students, all concerts are free.

At the end of spring semester, the music department will do three concerts in one day. Ball demonstrated: “Students will have senior recitals in addition to the spring concerts for all of the groups I just mentioned. And we bring a different group from all around the world each semester for Music Unites Us.”

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