Free Online Course: Music in Place, Music in Space, What’s the Idea?

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Douglas McLennan
Lead instructor for OjaiU

Concerts are more than a collection of pieces. Festivals are more than a bunch of concerts stacked in a row. The context that surrounds music – where you hear it, when you hear it, who plays it, the music that you hear next to it – all affects the experience you have of that music. Music is largely an abstract art, so context can be metaphorical as well as literal. How then to make connections between what a composer is trying to say and the context in which it is being said?

Can music evoke a place? Can it express a non-musical idea? Does music have something to say about contemporary culture? How?

This free online course, consisting of three classes, will explore the role of context in music and the relationship between place, ideas, movement and music. Using the music and ideas behind the 2013 Ojai Music Festival as examples, the course will explore music’s role in contemporary culture. We’ll look at the relationship between movement and music with choreographer Mark Morris. We’ll explore the eclectic ideas of composer Lou Harrison in expressing the world around him through sound. And we’ll examine connections between physical space and sound that are at the core of John Luther Adams’ work. Along the way we’ll also look at the music of Ives, John Cage, Stravinsky and Terry Riley.

Go here to participate in Class #1: Music and Ideas

How This Will Work

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are all the rage in higher education these days. In April, Spring For Music, an orchestra festival at Carnegie Hall in New York, ran an online course in how to listen to orchestras and attracted 1,100 participants. You can check out that course here. I wrote about the thinking behind making a MOOC out of an arts organization here.

Each class will consist of a series of short videos exploring the ideas of that class plus some Listen & Do exercises, where you’ll be able to hear musical examples and be asked to listen for details and compare what you hear. There will also be opportunity for class discussion after each video. Each class takes approximately half an hour to complete, and you can do the segments in order or in whatever sequence appeals to you. We’ll also have a class wiki, filled with additional resources for the class – links to recordings, more information about composers and performers and links to other resources.

A new class will go live every Wednesday over three weeks – May 15, 22 and 29 – at noon PDT. You can access that week’s class any time after it goes online. The videos and quizzes that make up this class are only meant as a starting point. Online discussion can take the class in many directions, and we hope to tap into the expertise of OjaiUers to deepen the discussions.

Finally, we believe that taking this course will give you additional insights into the music and ideas of this year’s Ojai Music Festival. The course isn’t an attempt to sell you tickets, and the course stands on its own as a discussion of music. But if you can come to the festival, hopefully you’ll have additional perspectives with which to experience it. If you can’t be here, then you can listen online to live streamed broadcasts during the week of June 6-9, 2013 or to archive streams.

Participants who complete all three classes will also get the following:

  • An OMF signed certificate
  • A graduation gathering with other OJAIU students and artists during Festival weekend
  • One participant may be chosen to be an intermission guest during the streaming broadcast of one of this year’s concerts.

We hope you’ll join us. You can sign up here.