As I prepared for college, I began to imagine all the classes I would end up taking: classic literature, applied mathematics, history, Spanish, philosophy. If you told me that one of my classes for Freshman Fall would involve reading and debating topics involving Britney Spears, video games, and Twitter culture, I wouldn’t believe you. A lot can happen over a couple of months, though: not only am I taking such a class, but it’s my favorite class this term!

Music 16.02: Music and Media in Everyday Life is a unique course studying our relationship with music – and how this relationship is influenced by contemporary media (namely social media) and the people around us. It’s taught by William Cheng, a young professor who is up-to-speed with contemporary music, popular culture, and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. While I’ve learned about music composition and theory through the course’s readings, Music 16.02 is by no means a theory course; instead, it seeks to study much of what we already know about music and digital media, exploring the benefits and drawbacks of our consumption as well as problematic behaviors we exhibit. For example, when we denounce songs like “Friday” by Rebecca Black but don’t do the same to male artists, what are we saying about sexism and female expectations in the music industry? Or when we plug in our headphones on the bus and put on our favorite playlist, how are we isolating ourselves and diminishing our shared humanity with others?

It’s these big questions that are the most exciting to me. Taking concepts I know through social media and analyzing them in an academic setting has caused me to completely re-think my digital presence. With every meme that pops up on Twitter’s trending page, I find myself reflecting on the bigger picture, coming to terms with their significance and learning more about myself in the process.

Music Screenshot
A playlist made by Professor Cheng to accompany our readings on musical shaming.

The class involves plenty of reading – essays, book chapters, editorials – but they’re some of the most interesting academic materials I’ve read. I’ve read about the use of sampling in hip-hop, how political campaigns utilize music, and the creation of “pseudo-music” through Guitar Hero. Some of my short essays have been about YouTube videos and my personal experience with old musical media like vinyl. For my final essay, I’m analyzing how SoundCloud as a media platform is redefining the genre of rap and the norms of rappers. Because I’m researching some of my favorite artists in the process, it barely feels like work!

Music 16.02 caused me to change my expectations of college courses. Courses at Dartmouth aren’t simply studies of ancient material or difficult math theories. While there are plenty of those courses, and they’re important, courses like Music 16.02 are especially pertinent to our lives outside of the classroom; they challenge us to consider our everyday actions and behaviors, no matter how insignificant they may seem. When choosing college courses, I highly encourage you to try a class that stands out from the rest. You might end up loving it!

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