For Assistant Professor of Music Fritz Schenker, to study music is to understand the global exchange of ideas through diverse perspectives. He strives to help his students reframe their assumptions about different sounds to unlock new cultural knowledge.
“I want my students to understand that the way that we perceive things is not universal,” he says. “A classic example is listening to a song and saying, ‘this sounds sad.’ I want my students to go from thinking ‘this sounds sad so everybody will hear this as sad’ to ‘I hear this as sad, but somebody else might hear it a different way’.”
Through courses like “Musics of the World,” “Musics of the Transpacifics,” and “Global Jazz,” Schenker hopes to prompt his students to engage in a deeper level of critical reflection on the forces that shape perceptions of music, its origins, and its history.
“Their last step is to acknowledge ‘the reason why I think that everybody thinks this might be sad is the result of longstanding historical structures of inequality and imperialism,’” he says. “These larger structural forces inform the ways we think about the world. I think music can be a really interesting way for students to uncover how what seems natural in the way we hear things is actually part of [something much larger], like racial formation or the legacies of colonialism.”