Music History Creates Mental Images

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World of Music is a history class; a survey of all the different periods of classical music from the beginning to the present day.

"When people first begin to listen to music, they don't really listen, they just let it drift," said instructor Victoria Harris. "They don't think, ‘I'm hearing this in a minor or major key. Is it fast? Is it slow? What instruments are playing?' All that sort of thing."

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College music instructor Victoria Harris demonstrates an "arpeggio," a broken chord. To perhaps understand it better, she explained that it comes from the term arpe for harp and when you run your fingers across the strings (or play keys on the piano within say, a C chord) it is a broken, yet pretty, sound rather than a specific set of notes.

So the first part of MUS 101 teaches students how to listen to music before they study the lives and the era a composer worked in and how he or she used music as a form of creative expression and entertainment.

The text Listening to Music by Craig Wright has an introductory CD with samples of all the different kinds of classical music.

Harris said that this type of class makes a lay person "more literate" and able to "listen in a more hearing sort of way."

Just like knowing the names of the constellations in the sky can make looking up at the stars more pleasurable and interesting, learning to really hear music makes a person "more literate" in that way, she said.

"It is like learning how to read," Harris said. "Why is it important to learn how to read? So you can read. If no one ever taught me, then I would be denied the privilege of literature."

Music has a language of melody, rhythm and harmony. There is texture to it.

Students identify form -- hearing the different instruments of the orchestra and being able to identify them and how they form the beginning, the middle and the end of a piece of music.

Classical music is outsold by pop and rock CDs 10 to one but while popular music can be as artful and serious as classical, it "rarely contains multiple levels of musical activity and for this reason does not require" or "reward intensely active listening" according to the textbook.

Once her students become accustomed to listening to classical music, they study the lives and the culture surrounding the musicians.

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Students listen to the opera "Carmen" during a recent World Music class at Gila Community College.

They just finished studying opera, which means "total art work."

Wagner (1813-1883) was a master German composer who wrote and scripted his music. He also orchestrated and conducted it when possible.

Harris described him as an "ego maniac," who went to the extreme of designing his own opera house, which his family still operates in Germany.

His music was dark and full of symbolism and mythological history, she said, comparing his work to that of film composer Howard Shore.

Shore is one of the composers Aaryn Hauptman has chosen for her research paper.

"The Phoenix symphony performed "The Lord of the Rings" as a symphony because that is what it is," Hauptman said. "It's like 12 hours of music but they cut it down."

Hauptman, like many in the class, is taking it to fulfill her humanities credit.

"There has been a lot of music that I liked but didn't expect to like. I will hear one of the little pieces and think, ‘I really like that composer.' We have music at home so I go and listen to more. I don't know if it will make a deference to what kinds of music I'll listen to in the future but it has given me a better appreciation for it."

Does she think one day in the distant future music history students will still be studying modern film composers as classics?

It's music and it's talent, so maybe," Hauptman said.

Is music infinite? was the question another student brought to MUS 101 from her biology instructor.

"Yes, that is my opinion," said Harris. "Once a sound starts, that vibration is going out into the universe."

Next semester, GCC is offering music theory and aural perception classes taught by Harris.

"They are an introduction to learning the basic materials of music, how to write music, how to analyze music," Harris said. "The music theory class is a first level music theory class that a music major could take as a beginning class, but it is for non-majors too. They would use it to make themselves knowledgeable in how to read and write music, how to analyze chords, rhythm, melodies and so on. Aural perception would be ear training, learning how to recognize passages and melodies, patterns and rhythms, and how to write down chords if you heard a chord. To take harmonic dictation."

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