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Thursday, February 29, 2024
February 29 , 2024

College of Arts and Sciences course uses music to teach history, literature

If you walked into Storer Auditorium on Oct. 31, you could hear classic ’60s music playing. The song “Incense and Peppermints” prepares students to enter a different decade. The ’60s course (ENG389/HIS372/AMS301) uses music to transport students to another time, and the course culminates in a gala consisting of UM professors playing different genres from the era.

This year, there are over 40 faculty members volunteering in the gala, which consists of four ensembles: jazz, Motown, R&B, folk, and rock. Professors run and perform in each ensemble, and they practice on Saturdays. Professor involved include popular professors such as Neil Johnson from physics on the saxophone, Max Bunster from architecture on the piano and Mitsunori Ogihara from computer science on the bass.

The ’60s course was first offered at UM in 2002 when Professor Zack Bowen from the English Department asked Professor Donald Spivey from the History Department to help him plan a course. In 2001, when Bowen and Spivey were mapping out the course, they realized that music would play a crucial part in anything the ’60s-related. Professor Spivey still remembers the conversation.

“Zack said, ‘I want to sing,’” Spivey said. “He had sung professionally. He was on folkway records. He said, ‘Anyone else play instruments?’ I said, ‘Zack, I was a jazz drummer.’ He went around the room, and somebody else said, ‘I played guitar.’”

They went around the room of professors until they had a group of “Closet Musician” faculty members willing to participate in an end-of-year gala. The gala occurs on the last day of the course while students get back their final papers.

“For the students, we’ll be handing out sheet music and lyrics, and we expect them to sing along,” Spivey said. “It’s one of the requirements. That’s why we call it an Open Celebration and Sing-Along.”

Bowen retired in 2007, and since then Professor Patrick McCarthy from the English Department has been the second professor on record for the course.

“What really fascinates me is how many people are willing to give generously of their time in this course, and that’s been really good,” McCarthy said.

The course itself is a trip to the past. Music plays at the beginning, end and breaks of every class. Speakers come and lecture on their experiences in the 1960s, and panels do Q&As with the students. The class integrates fictional movies, novels, documentaries and firsthand experiences to give students a vibrant view of the period.

“I love it,” said Lucas Baker, a senior studying political science. “I had Donald Spivey for civil rights history class, and I think this one is even better because we’re reading fiction, we’re listening to music in here and we have a literature professor, too. I feel like it’s more dynamic, more accessible.”

There are 92 students enrolled in the class, but auditors come as well to learn more. The classes meet every Tuesday night in Storer Auditorium from 6:25 to 9:05 p.m., and the gala will take place during class on Dec. 5. Everyone is welcome to the performance.

“One student said it best,” Spivey said. “‘This is not a course, this is a happening.’”

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