Connections: Con, College Collaborate
Just short of exchanging friendship bracelets, the Allen, College and Con recently made a huge step forward in their relationship. Next spring, Associate Dean of the Arts and Sciences Nicholas Jones and Associate Professor of Musicology Charles McGuire will team-teach a class called “Connections: Art, Music and Culture, Past and Present.”
“I think this is one of the most ambitious projects undertaken in many, many years,” said Conservatory Dean David H. Stull.
Placed under an entirely new section of the Oberlin course catalog, “Interdivisional Programs/Courses,” the class will attempt to create a collage of different media from various eras.
The course will use campus events liberally, starting with the spring opera, Claudio Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea, in March, and the theater department’s production of August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom in April. As more dates become known, Jones and McGuire plan to add events from as many media as possible, including live music, visual art, performance art, theater and literature.
In addition to attending campus events, the class will take “field trips” organized by the Allen’s new Curator of Academic Programs Colette Crossman. Divided into smaller groups, students will visit the museummost Fridays to do field studies with Crossman, Allen John G. W. Cowles, Director Stephanie Wiles and Curator of Western Art Andria Derstine. The museum trips will not necessarily be related to the case studies done in class on Monday and Wednesday.
“I’d like to try to integrate the museum into the College and Con curricula,” said Crossman.
Jones noted that Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a fundamental part of the class experience. As a script presented in Oberlin, written for repertory theater in the ’80s and written about commodification of art in the ’20s, the show represents the course’s diverse goals. The two professors hope to explore questions such as, “Why do we perform works from the past?” Or more specifically, in the case of the Monteverdi opera, “What do we do today to perform an opera written 400 years ago?”
When asked why it was necessary to create a different category in the course catalog, Jones said, “We don’t see it as really pertaining to the curricula of either of our departments.”
According to Jones, McGuire had to attain special permission from his department in order to include the class as one of his courses. However, the class does not claim the MHST abbreviation assigned to music history courses under the Con’s offering of musicology classes. Instead, it pioneers yet another designation, XART. The ‘X’ is meant to symbolize the cross-disciplinary nature of the class.
“And if you spell it backwards, it reads, ‘TRAX,’” said Jones, noting the implication that the course will venture forth into new territory.
XART 100 will enroll both College and Con students and will count as three humanities credits for College students and three liberal arts credits for Con students. As of now, only 17 of the 45 spaces allotted for the class are taken on PRESTO. Jones believes this is due to poor advertising and commented that he and McGuire plan to flyer the campus heavily during add/drop in February. The class will meet Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 2:30 p.m.
As for the syllabus, Jones said that they are still “roughing it out,” making a general overview of what they might cover with leeway for on-campus events that have not yet been announced. “We expect students to be engaged in campus life,” said Jones.
In the future, other faculty may offer more interdisciplinary classes with more specific foci. According to Jones, courses could revolve around a number of different time periods and general movements, such as Modernism or the Renaissance.
“Oberlin is uniquely equipped to offer these courses at the highest level and it is a wonderful way to introduce students…to the opportunities that exist here relative to music and to the study of art,” said Stull.
Having talked to a small number of students regarding the class, McGuire said, “Most have been thrilled with the idea of using events around campus as a springboard for discussion, and everyone thus far has liked the idea of an interdisciplinary course.”