No, [for you music theorists] this is not a post about Schenkerian analysis. This is a post about an exciting opportunity I’m exploring with my Form and Analysis class next week. We are going to our campus’s extraordinary art museum for our first of a series of three classes (spread out over the semester).
What has captured my pedagogical imagination the most is engaging with the idea of middle ground. I was introduced to this concept two weeks ago during a workshop about using our wonderfully equipped and staffed teaching museum. It comes, as far as I can tell, from Richard White’s book, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815. Led by a history professor, the workshop I attended touched on the change in power structure that occurs when I take my class to the museum. I am no longer an expert learner; I am now on the similar footing to my students. What a treat for me! I have been fascinated by the implications and simplicity of the idea for two weeks now and am excited about our first trip to the museum next Wednesday.
It is so easy for me to be an expert in my own classroom. Now in my third iteration of this specific class, I even feel like an expert (after all, this subject is also a major player in my dissertation). There is a clear power dynamic, and even discussion can become stilted as students wait for my approval for their comments and ideas. When we go to the museum, we will be in more of a middle ground, a place where the power structure [based on knowledge in our case] is far less extreme. This change is, understandably, both a little uncomfortable and exciting for me. But, I shouldn’t worry. My students are kind, open, and well aware that I am not an art historian or expert. And, I will be co-teaching with the museum’s Curator of Academic Programs.
What I think will happen is that we will learn together, discovering facets of visual analysis (our topic/skill for next Wednesday), brainstorming how they can help us do a better job in our musical analysis, and making connections between the visual and performing arts. My dream is that these visits will significantly enhance our discussions, questions, grasp of nuances, ability to perceive an entire work [much harder in music than in art], thoughts on authenticity, and awareness of perception.
In case you’re curious about the nitty gritty, I listed the works–two sculptures and two paintings–we will be looking at on Wednesday at the bottom of the post. I have had 90 minutes of meetings with a team (of 2) from the museum who are dedicated to bringing classes focused on topics from music to biology to English. On Monday (as my students turn in their first paper) our class will brainstorm connections between visual and musical analysis by revamping a visual analysis writing assignment as a musical analysis one. I’m not sure how we will wrap up on Friday. As a start, though, students will do some out-of-class informal writing on how what we learned about visual analysis can guide their musical analysis. And, throughout this entire process, we will be studying a Brahms song: “Gestillte Sehnsucht,” Op. 91, No. 1.
1 Carl Andre (American, b. 1935)
8 Blocks and Stones, 1973
Concrete blocks and river stones
Overall: 2 3/8 x 11 5/8 x 11 7/16 in. (6 x 29.5 x 29.1 cm) each
Gift of Paul F. Walter (OC 1957), 1979.8
2 Joseph Wright of Derby (English, 1734–1797)
Dovedale by Moonlight, 1784–85
Oil on canvas
Overall: 24 5/8 x 30 5/8 in. (62.5 x 77.8 cm)
Framed: 32 x 38 1/2 x 3 in. (81.3 x 97.8 x 7.6 cm)
R. T. Miller Jr. Fund, 1951.30
3 Carl Moll (Austrian, 1861–1945)
Spring in Kahlenbergerdorf, ca. 1900–1910
Oil on panel
Overall: 13 3/8 x 13 3/8 in. (34 x 34 cm)
Framed: 20 7/8 x 20 7/8 x 1 3/4 in. (53 x 53 x 4.4 cm)
Elisabeth Lotte Franzos Bequest, 1958.52
4 François-Auguste-René Rodin (French, 1840–1917)
The Prodigal Son, c. 1905
Bronze with dark green patina
Overall: 54 1/4 x 26 x 27 in. (137.8 x 66 x 68.6 cm)
R. T. Miller Jr. Fund, 1955.32