May 08, 2009
Music From a Different Perspective
Films and poetry may not be the first things that come to mind when you think of a music class, but Professor Gil Seeley has taken a new approach to teaching music at Lewis & Clark. His technique is to emphasize writing, through poetry and essays, rather than exams. By engaging students creatively and getting them to think critically, Seeley brings them to a new understanding of music and its greater relationship with culture.
Religious Studies major Kansei Ishihara took Seeley’s Introduction to World Music one summer. Kansei was interested because “the music class was one of the general requirements and I had heard of Professor Seeley’s strong enthusiasm and passion for music and music education. He has broad knowledge and he never forced us to believe a certain kind of theory. He introduced as many types of music as possible and tried to let us think for ourselves. We learned not only about music but also we learned the background of music and the cultures behind the music. His class was an eye-opener.”
Seeley teaches the history of a place as it pertains to its music. In Introduction to World Music, he explains, “We take 10 cultures from around the world and look at them in relation to the music. You can’t ignore the culture; you can’t teach music at all without dealing with history.”
Kansei particularly liked this emphasis on culture: “I particularly enjoyed the Asian music. Although I am a student from Japan, there are many traditional or indigenous cultures related to music which I don’t know. Professor Seeley introduced Japanese traditional music, Taiko (Beating Drum) performance to us. The class was very helpful to understand even my own culture.”
Seeley also innovates by using media other than musical recordings to give students an understanding of the global importance and impact of music. One film that Seeley shows in his course is Amandla: a revolution in four part harmony, which is a documentary on black South African freedom music and its role in the struggle against apartheid. Through films, sound recording, and the exploration of history and culture, Seeley is able to expose the true depth of music and its ability to transform culture.
Kansei says, “We sometimes do not notice other minorities living in our own countries because we are separated from these cultures or regions. This likely causes us to have prejudices against them. The class provides us the opportunities to understand other cultures through music. The class is beyond just a music class.”
Seizing the opportunity
During the spring and fall semester, Seeley’s music classes almost always overfill with students, but smaller class sizes during summer give his students the opportunity to have more intimate interactions. According to Seeley, “Having 10-15 people is such a different thing than having 40.”
Seeley’s music course is just one of over 30 courses offered at Lewis & Clark this summer. Courses range from Quantitative Research Methods, which fulfills requirements for several different majors, to Astronomy and Field Paleontology of Oregon.
An assortment of students wander the wooded paths of Lewis & Clark during the summer. They include Lewis & Clark students meeting graduation requirements, high school seniors getting a head start on college, undergraduates visiting from other schools, and lifelong students exercising their love of learning. Summer students enjoy small class sizes, the ability to focus on just one or two courses, and Portland’s beautiful summer weather.
“I strongly recommend the class to other students. It will provide you with new opportunities to touch new things beyond music. You can understand how music is related to the long history of human works. Professor Seeley is a good instructor to lead you to the new stage of your self-development,” concluded Kansei.