At Cornell, music teaching pitches for diversity

At Cornell, music teaching pitches for diversity


norman lebrecht

April 04, 2016

Some parts of this music degree course appear to be interesting and innovative, others dispense with essentials of literacy and structure.

Read on:

In Andrew Hicks’ new class, students build instruments, learn the science behind sound waves and investigate how human ears “hear” sound and relay it to the brain.

Judith Peraino approaches the study of music through diverse repertories of sound and music, including Qu’ranic recitation, Gregorian chant, punk rock, hip hop, and more. “We’re equipping the students with critical tools to understand the music they know as well as the music they are encountering for the first time,” Roger Moseley said.

Peraino, who specializes in popular music as well as medieval music, said the new classes also reflect the diverse ways current student engage with music.

“I don’t think you need to be able to read music to be a musician or to be a keen interpreter of music,” she said. “You have to have a good set of listening skills and technical vocabulary, but if you can hear the 12-bar blues and understand the blues structure, you don’t have to read it, you just have to be able to hear it.

“Remember that none of the Beatles knew how to read music.”

Read the full article here.



  • Andrey says:

    UK institutions have an unhealthy passion for all-inclusivity, all-things innovative, crossing boundaries and other stuff like that. Probably might be good for composers and soon-to-be agents and mangers but… let poor violinists just play their scales for heaven’s sake!! They are overworked and tired already in your institutions.

    …but no one seems to be in a positions to argue for less innovation. It’s like saying ‘I don’t like contemporary music’ or ‘I don’t like women conductors’ – unfashionable or more like unsafe.

  • Peter Freeman says:

    Beautifully written, as usual, but no mention is made of the inescapable fact that most classical concerts nowadays play to very low attendances, leading an observer to suspect that there are way too many of them for the level of interest. A sold out house is the exception rather than the rule, and has to do with a complex mix of factors: day of week, programme, who is performing and weather. A public transport strike doesn’t help.

    By contrast, provincial cities, especially those which have no resident orchestra, fare much better as regards attendances. A classical concert is viewed as a local event of some rarity value.

    Given that London was recently declared the world’s most popular tourist city, one wonders what is done by orchestras and other promoters to encourage general managers of hotels to arm their concierges with information as to what is on offer on a given day, or even push an event card under guest room doors each night, with a 24-hour telephone booking option direct from the bedside. That could benefit the hotel in terms of booking fees generated while relieving travel-weary guests in need of sleep of the chore of online booking.

    It has long been debated whether London has too many orchestras, and with so many empty seats it is hardly surprising that they tour both nationally and abroad, to be heard where demand is greater. As for hope, the answer lies in attracting school parties to sow seeds of greater future interest, their teachers provided with information packs well in advance. Music appreciation should be a compulsory curricular feature, especially for those students not opting for music as a subject who need no conversion.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    This blogpost quotes some excerpts from the article that will provoke strong reactions among the readers. But it conveys only part of the picture.

    Reading this excerpt below made want to be a teenage Cornell undergrad:

    “Students in Andrew Hicks’ “Elements of Music” (MUSIC 1101) might come expecting a traditional music theory class. But they soon find out that they’re in for something different. One day they’ll be experimenting in class with an ancient instrument, the monochord, to figure out how pitches can be calculated using mathematical ratios. Another day may find them examining medieval music books (from Cornell’s own collection) to explore the history of musical notation. They’ll even do the Twist and Sweat to the Oldies as they think about how music has related to dance and physical fitness throughout history.


    During the semester, students learn about pitch, timbre, harmony, rhythm and form, but rather than focus on perfecting a set of performance or technical skills, students deconstruct these five ideas to explore the cultural, technological, and commercial pressures that have shaped these basic concepts and the ways that we experience them.”

  • Haydn 70 says:

    And the politically correct crapola continues…

  • Haydn 70 says:

    My original post should have read: And the decay of high culture continues thanks to the insanity of political correctness…

  • Doug says:

    I look forward to starting my Phd program in Thermonuclear Engineering. I’ve watched Homer Simpson do it. Hey, are you RACIST?

  • William Safford says:

    I love how they incorporate into the curriculum experiential learning that goes way beyond rote repetition and practicing of an instrument.

    I wish I were an undergrad at Cornell and could take that course. What brilliant ideas!