SUNY Broome Department of Music and Theater Arts MUS 113
From Spirituals to Hip Hop: American Music of the African Diaspora
This course is an introduction to the history of the music of the African diaspora. It is designed to introduce students to tools for critical listening and concepts for study, applied to the rich and multifaceted musical cultures of black Americans. We will examine the contributions of musicians of African descent to western art music as interpreters and creators, as well as to the genres of ragtime, blues, jazz, gospel, soul, R&B, disco, hip-hop and rap. We will focus on the musical forms, content, and styles of these repertoires, and locate them in their historical, political, and cultural contexts.
Please note: All my music history courses are writing-intensive. My goal is that there will be no quizzes or exams given, and that your work will instead take the form of written assignments and projects. To this end, you will be asked to demonstrate your mastery of the subject matter through a variety of written assignments. You can expect to produce about twenty pages of finished prose by the end of the semester.
However, I may deem it necessary to amend this policy and give quizzes/tests if it becomes apparent that quizzes and tests are the only way to keep you accountable for doing the reading and listening assignments.
I will be working with you on the development of your writing skills so that you will be better able to analyze the material we study, to define and refine your thinking about it, to craft finished prose, and to grow as scholars through the process. For every written assignment given, I will ask you to turn in a draft, which I will go over carefully and hand back with my suggestions for revisions in the final draft.
However, I expect you to take responsibility for your own improvement as writers. This includes seeking out tutoring at the Writing Center.
Course Content Warning:
Material covered in these courses will engage with historical racism, sexism, violence, religious intolerance, economic privilege, homophobia, and other forms of social injustice. I will ask you to study music, texts, and images that are explicit and disturbing. By situating these painful issues in the musical-historical context, my intent is to highlight the harm they have caused in the past and continue to cause today, NOT to excuse or minimize them.
If your experience of these issues or the way they are treated in this course is problematic or triggering in any way, please speak to me (either in class or in private)—I take such concerns seriously, and I strive to find better ways of addressing challenging and complex topics in the classroom.
Upon successful completion of this course the student will be able to:
- Demonstrate knowledge of the significant time periods in African-American music history, from its earliest days to present.
- Identify and describe the various genres, performers, and creators of African-American music.
- Define the musical structures and forms of popular musical styles pioneered by black musicians and composers.
- Distinguish the characteristics of the black music across genres.
- Communicate about, reflect upon, and reason about the contributions to national and international culture made by diverse Americans.
If you participate fully in the class, you should also earn a good grade. For more on full participation, see below.
What To Expect From This Class
Our coursework will include:
- Class lectures and discussions
- Weekly questions submitted by you
- Reading, note-taking, and listening done in class and on your own
- Journal writing assignments
- Final project
To prepare for class discussions, please take the following steps before every class meeting:
- Read all assigned materials for that date – not just once. Skim for major points, read again closely, look up unfamiliar words, read as much of the linked material as possible, take notes, and reflect on the reading.
- Refer to notes you’ve taken in class over the course of the semester to make sure you’re correctly understanding as many concepts as possible. Read additional sources as necessary to ensure that you know what you’re talking about with this topic.
- Prepare thoughts, questions, and ideas that you have about the reading and listening assignments. Draw upon your other educational experiences, life experiences, or other expertise. Make use of any brainstorming methods you’ve come across in other classes.
In class discussions, strive to add your own ideas, respond to other students, ask provocative questions.
For my detailed recommendations on how to do the reading, listening, and writing assignments, read this post.
There are regular writing assignments over the course of the semester, about 3 per month. You may type these assignments and submit via Google Docs, write them out longhand and take pictures and send to me, or do voice recordings and send them to me as sound files.
To earn good grades on these assignments, you will ideally show good effort and progress over the course of the semester. You will develop your ideas nicely and use specific examples to support your arguments. You will read my notes and corrections on your returned assignments carefully, and incorporate my suggestions into subsequent assignments. You will make sure that you proofread your assignments carefully before turning them in to me. If you’re using a computer, don’t rely on spellcheck alone. If you write longhand, write legibly. Content, spelling, and grammar are all factored into your grade. If you have difficulty with these assignments that goes beyond the classroom, I recommend that you contact Student Support Services in room L-017 in the library, or call them at 607-778-5150 to set up an appointment; among other things, they offer free tutoring and writing instruction.
What I Expect of You
- I expect that you will practice the ARTS:
Attend every class meeting.
Read every assignment carefully and do the assigned listening before coming to class.
Take notes. Take them by hand if you are able to, since handwritten note-taking helps greatly with memory retention. Otherwise, use your preferred note-taking system.
Study later in the day. When you study, make an effort to organize and prioritize the items in your notes.
- If you practice the ARTS, you will be able to successfully learn the course material and earn a good grade. This will require a reasonable amount of work on your part. I recommend that you spend 20 minutes a day studying your notes, textbook, and the assigned listening.
- If you miss a class, get the notes from a classmate – NOT from me – and review them before the next class. I expect you to catch up on any missed assignments.
- I expect that you will do your homework assignments and submit them according to specifications on the date they are due. If you are faced with an emergency and need more time for an assignment, you MUST talk to me. Please note that talking to me does not guarantee that you will get an extension, but it makes it a lot more likely.
- I expect you to be an active listener in class and to take responsibility for learning the material—not just surviving homework assignments and exams.
- I expect that you will treat other members of the class with respect, and that you will not represent the work of others as your own (see note on plagiarism below).
- I also expect that we will have a good time and learn a lot.
How to participate fully in this course and thus earn a good grade
1. Come to every class.
It’s impossible to overemphasize this. We will be covering a lot of material in every class. It is simply unrealistic to expect to be able to keep up with the material if you do not come to class. If you have three unexcused absences, your grade may be reduced by one full letter grade. If you have more than four absences at any time during the semester FOR ANY REASON, you may be administratively dropped from the class.
2. Be on time.
If you are late, you miss vital material, as well as disrupting your classmates’ and instructor’s work. If you have more than four late arrivals to class (that is, arriving later than five minutes after the start of class), they will count as one absence. If you arrive in class more than 20 minutes late, it will be counted as an unexcused absence. As noted above, if you have more than four absences FOR ANY REASON, you may be administratively dropped from the class.
3. In class, pay attention.
To make this easier, stay off your phone or other devices during class unless you need to use them as necessary accommodations for full participation.
4. Comport yourself in a scholarly manner.
Again: Come to every class. Come on time. Come prepared to participate in class discussions. See note on electronics above. Do the assignments on time and with your best efforts. Treat your classmates and your instructor with respect. If you disagree with me or with other students, disagree respectfully; it will make others more likely to listen to you and take you seriously. Take notes.
Please note that a failure to conduct yourself in a scholarly manner in this class in the ways described above will have a negative impact on your final grade.
5. Outside of class, do the assignments.
Do the scheduled reading, listening, and/or writing assignments. Review your notes from class. Think about what you’re reading and hearing. Use the written assignments and tests to demonstrate your proficiency in the subject.
Some Notes on Attendance and Lateness
- You may miss up to three (3) classes without questions asked.
- If you miss more than three classes, your grade will be lowered by five points for each subsequent class missed.
- YOU are responsible for learning any material that you miss. I am not responsible for teaching you the missed material.
This means that, if you miss a class for any reason, you will need to get the missed notes and assignments from a classmate, NOT from me. I do not have time to re-teach you the material that you missed, so, if you miss class for any reason, please, DO NOT ask me what you missed.
In short, take responsibility for your own choices and actions.
- If you miss in-class assignments, they cannot be made up. If your absence is excused, however, any in-class assignments you missed will also be excused.
- If you come to class between 1 and 15 minutes late, you will be marked late. THREE LATENESSES EQUAL ONE ABSENCE.
- If you come to class 15 minutes late or more, you will be marked absent for that class. There are no exceptions to this policy.
- If you are absent for 25% of classes (which this semester equals roughly 9 classes – i.e. A FULL MONTH of classes), you should expect to fail the course, since it’s highly unlikely that you will be able to keep up with the work and make up missing assignments. Keep in mind that it won’t be me who fails you; you will be failing yourself.
FAQ: Why is attendance so important?
When you enroll in a course, you become a MEMBER of the class. In other words, you become a vital part of a group that has, by its own choice, dedicated itself to scholarly inquiry.
In this learning community, students build their critical thinking skills through many means, including class discussion. If you are absent, this will be much more difficult not only for you, but also for your fellow students. If you are absent, you are missing out on the crucial building blocks of our discussions for subsequent classes. Therefore, every absence will put you further behind.
In this class, students work together to create an intellectual community in the classroom. If you are absent, the learning environment is degraded for everyone. You learn as much from your peers as you do from the instructor, and frequent absences diminish everyone’s experience.
When you miss class, whether the reason for your absence is excusable or not, you are missing out on the opportunity to gain knowledge above and beyond reading, listening, and writing assignments. Of course it is possible to gain that knowledge in alternative ways or with additional effort, but if you are skipping class, you are clearly demonstrating that you are unwilling or unable to put in that additional effort.
Missing class also sends a clear message to your instructor, as well as to your classmates, that the class is not important enough for you to arrange your life to make it possible for you show up. Chronic lateness sends a similar message – that it’s not important enough for you to show up on time, and that you place a low value on the material and discussions you are missing.
Do not expect to pass this course if you are chronically absent, chronically late, or fail to turn in work.
Assignments and Grading
Your final grade will assess your mastery of the class material and subject, based upon:
- Your Wednesday questions (see Syllabus) and class discussions: 30%
- Your journal assignments: 30%
- Final project: 30%
- Scholarly comportment, including attendance: 10%
Class and College Policies and Other General Issues
Academic Honesty: A Note on Plagiarism
All students are expected to uphold the principles of academic honesty. Academic dishonesty (e.g., cheating, copying, and plagiarism) will not be tolerated. Plagiarism is presenting the ideas and writings of another person as your own. Plagiarism is stealing. The penalty for plagiarism or any other type of cheating will be failure of either the assignment or the class.
If this happens to you, you will be placed on academic probation and will lose your financial aid. Repeat offenders may be dismissed from SUNY-Broome with a permanent mark on their academic records, which will make it impossible to transfer to any other college.
Do not underestimate the seriousness of plagiarism. It is one of the worst possible things you can do as a student, and is a total violation of your relationship to your classmates, your professor, and your college.
In short: your assignments MUST be the product of your own thoughts and efforts. If you ever are in doubt about what might constitute plagiarism, please ask me before taking a risk that could ruin your academic career. For more on SUNY-Broome’s policies on academic honesty, see http://www.sunybroome.edu/c/document_library/get_file?p_l_id=142779&folderId=142906&name=DLFE-762.pdf.
Students With Disabilities
Any student who has a need for accommodations because of the impact of a disability should talk to me privately, and also visit the Disability Services Office in room L-209A on the second floor of the library or call them at 607-778-5150. SUNY-Broome is committed to the success of all students, and I will make every effort to meet your needs.
Other Student Support Services
If you are struggling in this class or any other classes for ANY reason, contact Student Support Services in room L-017 in the library, or call them at 607-778-5150. Student Support Services offers many supports for students struggling for ANY reason. Some students may be eligible for TRiO Student Support Services, a federally funded program designed to support students who are first-generation, low-income, and/or disabled.
If You Have Any Questions or Problems, or If You Are Struggling
Talk to me. I want you to succeed, and I will do what I can to help. If you have any questions, comments, problems, issues, doubts, or suggestions at all, please come see me during office hours, or, if my office hours conflict with your schedule, make an appointment to see me at another time. Your professors make themselves available to assist you in the ways that they can; it is your responsibility to take them up on it by reaching out.
This page constitutes a contract between you and me.
If you have read it and have decided to remain in my class, I will understand your continued presence to mean that you agree to its terms, and that you will abide by them.
Please read this page often, because it contains answers to many commonly-asked questions that will come up during this course.
If you have any questions that are NOT answered here, please don’t hesitate to ask me.