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Music to more than their ears

Every other week, the 25 students in St. Catherine University’s “Music in the Twin Cities” course spend class time with the artists whose music they are studying.

For example, it was classical musicians at Orchestra Hall their second week, and Argentine tango dancers four weeks into the course. Enthusiasts of the Sacred Harp tradition of full-body, shout-it-out singing is on tap for the sixth week.

MUS 2994: Music in the Twin Cities is an eight-week course introduced this spring through the Weekend Program at St. Kate’s. The class, which meets every Friday from 6 to 9 p.m., blends in-class discussion and short lectures with concert experience and fieldwork to explore four different scenes in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. (The in-class sessions are held in the odd-numbered weeks.)

“The Twin Cities has such a vibrant music scene,” says Allison Adrian, an ethnomusicologist and assistant professor in St. Kate’s music department. “I want to show students what they could enjoy or support here in their own community.”

Students don't have to buy any textbooks for the course. All reading and listening assignments are posted online. The students must, however, pay admission cost to concerts and other off-campus events.

Recently, Adrian and her students, as well as friends and family they were allowed to invite, paid $7 for an hour-long Argentine tango lesson at Four Seasons Dance Studio in downtown Minneapolis. The cost also covered entry to the regularly scheduled Friday night milonga, or tango dance party, at the studio — giving the group the chance to observe local tango dancers in action.

“I needed a core requirement for art, and this class intrigued me because it’s about local music, not music in general,“says Michelle Henry ’12, a business and accounting major. “We also get hands-on experience; it's not just about sitting in a class and getting the information. “

Henry enjoyed her tango lesson, adding that their field trips are a plus because it gives them ideas for activities they can do in town with friends and family.

“This class is really different from anything I've ever taught,“ says Adrian, who grew up in St. Paul playing regularly in piano concerts at Jean D'Arc Auditorium on St. Kate's campus. “And it’s been a challenge to teach a course in eight classes and to find music scenes that match up on Friday when the class meets. “ So, students will either go to a hip-hop or indie rock concert Week 8, depending on what Adrian finds.

“I wanted to have a mix of different styles and show Minnesota’s strengths, “ explains Adrian, when asked about her choice of musical styles for the class. “We have a large classical community; the Argentine tango scene is unexpected but pretty substantial; there's a pretty active Sacred Harp scene; and with the Indie rock and hip hop scenes, we have different record labels. “(Adrian will offer the course again in spring 2011, and the music styles they study might change.)

Students are graded on a variety of written responses and reports. They also have to turn in a final project—ethnography, or participant-observation research paper, on anything local and music-related, such as a band, a record label, and a church or dance teacher.

“I hope that my students leave this class with an understanding of what it takes to be part of a musical community and that these communities are more complex then they seem,” she says. “In the tango community, for instance, the people have different viewpoints about how it should be danced—whether it's Argentine or ballroom, which differ in the embrace.”

May 18, 2010 by Pauline Oo

See also: Arts, Liberal Arts, Students