Imagine sitting in a college classroom and watching music videos or listening to artists from Michael Jackson to Kanye West. Then picture yourself walking away with an in-depth knowledge and understanding of what shaped these tunes over time.
That’s what a large number of Saint Leo University students have done in the school’s Spirituals to Rock and Roll course. The class, which was offered as an elective in a few different sections this semester at University Campus, covers a wide array of musical genres and how music has been influenced by culture and society.
From the Students’ Ears
Tatianna Johnson, a sophomore biochemistry major, says taking a deeper look at music has been a lot of fun.
“It’s been really cool to learn about the history of music and how it has brought cultures together,” she says.
Like her fellow classmates, Johnson was required to attend some type of musical performance and write about it for an assignment. She saw rapper Chris Brown perform at a club in Miami.
“He’s really futuristic in his music,” she says. “He’s kind of in his own lane with the style he has.”
Sophomore Melissa Arty, a marketing major, signed up for the course based on recommendations from others who had taken it.
“I took this class because several other people told me it was interesting and that we get to listen to all kinds of music in it,” Arty says. “I’ve really enjoyed learning how music today has been influenced by things in the past.”
Getting exposed to jazz has been one of her favorite aspects.
“I had no idea there were so many subsets of jazz music,” she confides.
Briana Williams, a sophomore criminal justice major, has sung soprano in choirs for eight years.
“We’ve learned the true meaning behind music,” Williams explains.
She attended a Blue Man Group show at Universal Studios, which had lots of percussion in the various skits the act puts on. Some of her favorite artists include Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson and Beyonce.
A View from the Lectern
Angela Kempe, a new college instructor this school year, teaches two sections of the course in the Department of Language Studies and the Arts. She had 25 students in each class during the spring semester.
“I like to make students think a little differently, not just about music history,” Kempe explains. “This class is more about the social implications of music. I’ve tried to find tidbits that are interesting and relevant to help students understand music’s place in society.”
One class period toward the end of the course examined hip-hop, looking at how DJ Kool Herc (whose real name is Clive Campbell) was the first recognized hip-hop star in the 1970s. The students discussed the meaning behind the lyrics to certain hip-hop records, including how some songs have been written to help people with depression and other struggles within the African-American community. Kempe then showed a few music videos portraying misogyny, including Kanye West’s controversial 2010 song “Monster.” Students learned about why such topics have been glorified in some hip-hop music.
As for class assignments, the students were mainly focused on a paper and presentation.
“students had to write an essay on American music history with social implications,” Kempe says. “Then they did a presentation is a visual representation of their paper, along with a listening sample. One example of a topic for this might be how African and Creole cultures came together to influence New Orleans jazz.”
She describes why teaching is so rewarding to her.
“I just love when students learn something new and you see it click in them,” she says. “With this class, I hope that maybe they’ll go home and think about it. Or next time they see a music video, they’ll say to themselves, ‘Oh yeah, I understand the meaning behind that.’”
Kempe adds that only one or two students in each section are involved in music in some way, but many have had very limited exposure to live performances.
“This is really opening them up to go to more concerts or even learn to sing or play music. So many of the students said going to a concert for this class was the best time they’ve ever had in their lives. Many had never been to a real concert before, and they just loved feeling the energy of an amphitheater and enjoying the music.”