Professor Mandarano teaches his course remotely in the Music Building.

The smartphones in our pockets and backpacks serve as our maps, cameras, search engines, lifelines. They also provide access to an extraordinary—and historically unprecedented—amount of music. 

These days, music is so readily available that it can become “kind of the equivalent of wallpaper,” says Mark Mandarano, a conductor, and associate professor of music and director of instrumental activities. 

“For most of human history, if you wanted to be around music, you had to play it yourself, or be around someone who was actually playing it,” he explains. “This hands-on creation of music is really much more the way music has been encountered, although we’re not used to it now. We’re much more used to hearing it passively through our headphones, so the idea of being more engaged in your listening is something that needs to be taught.” 

In Mandarano’s course, “Music Appreciation,” students hone those listening skills, beginning with a discussion of rhythm and other fundamentals of music to develop a common vocabulary to talk and think about classical music. 

“We talk about music on two different levels,” says Matthea Najberg ’22 (Hong Kong), an international studies and environmental studies major. “How music makes you feel, and then why it makes you feel that way. What instruments are being used? What is the tempo?” 

The course is a combination of lectures and lots and lots of listening, says Mandarano. Students listen to pieces by J.S. Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler, Gershwin, Ellington, Armstrong, and Glass—and many others. 

“It’s interesting to learn a bit of history about the composer and about the story behind it before you actually listen to the piece,” says Najberg. “Otherwise you don’t have much background.” 

Mandarano often will play a large section of a piece and then go back and play a smaller section, encouraging students to listen to what happens first, and then what happens next, to listen for patterns and what he describes as the “actual architecture in time” of music. “The key thing about music is that it repeats,” he says. “When you hear something once and then you hear it again, it gives you a clue. If you step back and look at it, you start to realize that the music itself is, in a way, teaching you how to listen.”  

Students take several exams and also write reports about music they have listened to and responses to assigned readings. 

When the course is offered this fall, it will be renamed “Introduction to Western Classical Music.” 

A musician, Amman Hussain ’24 (Dubai) plans to major in Russian studies, but having taken this course he is now considering minoring in music as well. “[This course] is making me appreciate this music more and appreciate the subtle influences modern music has. Because of the foundations laid by those great composers I can hear things in the latest song by Olivia Rodrigo and see how this reached from all the way back there to what it is now.”


July 13 2021

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