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Back Tracks: The college classroom is a great place for music

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Bob Dylan was recently awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

It is impossible to overstate the importance of music in a scholastic setting. Whether one is playing an instrument or taking classes in music theory, the importance of music in a school’s curriculum stems from stimulation and communication between both of the brain’s hemispheres.

That is why classes on genre-shifting musicians are being added to course offerings across the nation yearly. Ohio State has the course The Beatles in 20th Century Music on its roster.

Most recently, Atlanta rap trio Migos appeared in a lecture hall. Considered today’s flashiest ambassadors of pop culture, the trio celebrated a well-received album drop with an hour-plus lecture at New York University on Saturday.

 

Riding the wave from an endorsement by Renaissance man Donald Glover during the Golden Globes — which led to No. 1 Billboard hit “Bad and Boujee,” — Migos released the complete album “Culture” over the weekend. For now, Migos has managed to circumnavigate the one-hit-wonder vacuum created by early hits “Versace” and “Fight Night,” making it worthy of study.

As each year passes and a collection of culturally and socially significant albums and musicians appear on college course syllabi, here are two true artists, born almost 50 years apart, whose work is studied on two college campuses.

“Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan (1965)

Deservedly, Bob Dylan became the first musician to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016. With poetic lyrics and genre-mixing compositions throughout the decades, Dylan is a prime candidate to dissect in an academic setting.

Professor Richard F. Thomas at Harvard opened a course this past semester on the multi-talented musician’s career. The course follows Dylan from his birth in Duluth, Minnesota to today, covering themes of civil rights, social justice and his progression to electronic guitar. Each week is broken down into chronologically ordered songs and an album that will be topics of discussion, along with what was going on in the world.

One could argue over what from his vast catalog would have been most appropriate for this column, but for cold weeks like this one, the warm organ and icy lyrics of “Like a Rolling Stone” feel right.

“good kid, m.A.A.d city” by Kendrick Lamar (2012)

The term “classic” sprouts like wildflowers on social media timelines following highly anticipated releases like “good kid, m.A.A.d. City.” But with its five-year anniversary later this year, it’s safe to say Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore album stands the test of time.

There has not been a release by a rapper attempting to break into the mainstream scene that matches the magnitude of Kendrick’s. That is in part due to the lack of guest verses that he needs to captivate an audience. As he does so well, Kendrick holds his own for most of the album (“Backseat Freestyle”), but his features (Drake, Jay Rock, MC Eiht) strike gold when they are called upon.

Kendrick’s follow-up, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” featured him gravitating toward jazz, proving that he is a rapper with the rare quality of beat versatility. But it was “GKMC” that first turned the rap world on its head. At OSU, Special Topics in Intermediate Poetry Writing looks at Kendrick’s work. At Georgia Regents University, students have the opportunity to take a class that centered around the album, comparing it to works by classic writers such as James Joyce. Lamar and Joyce can be said in the same breath because they both provide a lens into troubled lives.

Kendrick is one of modern music’s greatest storytellers, and Dylan has been producing great lyrical content for decades on end. They deserved to be studied.

2 comments

  1. I will agree with you. College classroom is a perfect platform for music learning. When I was in college, I used to in sing a lot when teacher was not in the classroom. My mates appriciate it many times.

  2. Well said. I would completely agree with you. Nowadays, College is a best platform to learn and perform the music. When I was in college days, I love to learn and perform music in many college shows.

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