Andrew Granade in the classroom.

Conservatory's Andrew Granade has an ear for history

Musicology's impact on performance and music appreciation

There's an old joke: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
Answer: Practice, practice, practice.

The assumption is that in order to perfect your performance technique you must practice relentlessly.

But playing an instrument is just part of the process, according to Andrew Granade, Assistant Professor of Musicology at UMKC's Conservatory of Music and Dance and the coordinator of the Conservatory's Musicology Area.

Beyond technique, musicians - or anyone who loves music - benefit by learning how to listen to music and how to articulate what they hear. Understanding a particular music's style and the context in which it was written are equally important.

Style and Context

"Today when we hear George Rochberg's 3rd String Quartet," said Granade, "which mingles a Beethoven-sounding serenade with a fiery scherzo in the final movement, we are captivated by the juxtaposition, but it is not revolutionary. In 1972, it was. Rochberg originally composed harsh-sounding atonal music, but after his son's death in 1964, he returned to tonality as a way to express his profound emotion. When the 3rd String Quartet came out and was clearly connected to older styles, the critics and other composers felt betrayed and the piece was a great controversy. We hear new things when we try to listen to the work with 1972 ears."

Understanding style and context also helps us appreciate popular music.

"Michael Jackson changed popular music by breaking down musical styles and giving the presentation visual spectacle," said Granade. "Instead of staying in the Motown sound of the Jackson 5, Jackson began merging disco and rock and R&B and rap and hip-hop into a fusion that helped make those individual styles more accepted in mainstream America. And through his pioneering use of MTV, Jackson helped create the modern stadium performance we take for granted at the Sprint Center -- with lights and cameras and dancing and all the visual effects we expect out of a live show. Knowing this background gives greater resonance to his three-minute pop songs."

While Granade pursued his undergraduate degrees in piano performance and history, one of his teachers showed him what the study of musicology could mean to his life as a pianist and how it could deepen his understanding of music and his performance as an artist.

"Musicology is valuable, among other things, because it teaches musicians about style," said Granade. "By that I mean musical styles historically and culturally, the changes through time in the style of a single piece of music, the distinct style of a composer and the comparison of styles among various composers. It's that thorough understanding of a piece of music or of an artist that can give you the creative and intellectual foundation and clarity of purpose to begin to identify your own style."

The story of music

Beyond its practical and creative benefits, musicology is the story of music. That's what initially captured Granade's interest: the story.

"It's the who, what, when, where and why," says Granade. "When we listen to music, we make up our own stories. Musicology allows us to enrich that story, create a fuller and more layered story. And because nothing is created in isolation - whether in time or distance -- musicology also helps us understand and appreciate how all music relates to our time."

In Granade's musicology classes, students are encouraged to find connections between today's music and the music of the past and between the music of different cultures.

A recent recipient of the 2010 Chancellor's Early Career Award for Excellence in Teaching, Granade has developed courses that are rare among most musicology classes. As one of the teaching award's nominating letters stated, "Students flock to his classes. This is rare among musicology classes required of performers: they often would rather practice their instruments. Because he makes the classes relevant to their lives, and to contemporary culture, they leave UMKC as better musicians and better people."

Some of the courses Granade has created include the Music of American Mavericks, Minimalism in Music, Music of Asia, and Music and Film.

From Beethoven to blogs

Making his coursework relevant also extends to Granade's innovative use of technology. In his undergraduate classes, students use blog and wiki software to submit listening journals and evaluate peer writing. Granade uses an iPod Nano to playback musical examples rather than juggling multiple CDs in the classroom. Granade also tests new classroom technology, making the transition to that technology easier and more effective for other faculty.

"The arts reflect what a society values," says Granade. "Music, musicians and the instruments they play have changed through history – even the listeners have changed. It used to be that only wealthy people attended concerts, but that began to shift after the French Revolution and subsequent social rebellions.

Becoming a student of musicology, having an understanding of the music that arose from those changes in the social fabric - the who, what, when, where and why of music - helps us listen more fully to it."

To read musicological writing on contemporary music, Granade suggests the blog of Alex Ross, writer for the New Yorker and the author of The Rest is Noise, and the music blogs at Two of Granade's undergraduate Writing Intensive classes also post blogs, which allow students to read and comment on each other's writings. [352s and 351s].

Posted: April 26, 2010

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"Students flock to his classes. This is rare among musicology classes required of performers: they often would rather practice their instruments."

Paul Rudy
Professor, Composition, Music Theory & Musicology

Dr. Granade joins his students to listen to a class presentation.