Encore? Western Classical Music in America
Like great works of visual art and literature, there has always been an important place for Western Classical Music (WCM) in American culture. Yet, today, many in America, especially its youth, feel that this music does not speak to them. Why is that, and what can be done to foster greater appreciation for WCM? We will begin by looking at several of the ways that WCM is ubiquitous in modern society -- as an integral feature of weddings and other ceremonies, as an accompaniment to such popular media as films, TV shows and video games, and as background music at receptions. In doing so, we will explore the many different surfaces that characterize much WCM, indeed all music -- including volume, velocity, texture, instrumentation, and overall mood. Next we will begin to examine the grammar of this music -- how it communicates as a temporal art form, and in doing so parallels verbal languages. Along the way we will look at more popular musical genres and discover traits they share with WCM. Once we have developed an understanding about what makes WCM distinctive, we will examine the current situation in the concert world. Many of the traditional institutions that disseminate WCM -- orchestras, opera companies, and chamber music series -- are struggling to survive, while others have come up with innovative ways to thrive. How do the latter do it? What audience-building techniques really work, and how might they be applied by more musical organizations? The final project for the course will be an individual oral presentation to the class of a WCM work of the student’s choice. The student may wish to employ techniques used by some of the inspiring educators like Leonard Bernstein, who have uncovered the magical and exciting qualities of WCM for listeners of all ages. The ability to read music is welcomed but not required.
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