MUS 113 Syllabus Spring 2020: Schedule of Classes and Assignments

Schedule of Assigned Reading, Listening, Writing, and Projects

This is an outline and a rough schedule of the assignments I will give over the course of the semester. It is subject to change at any time.

Please make sure you read this online syllabus often – preferably every day, and at least before every class – so that you’re fully aware of the assigned work. I change assignments from time to time, so if you refer to the online version of this syllabus often, there will be no surprises.

Keep in mind that we may spend more time on some sections of the class than on others.  Treat this schedule as a general guide to what we will be covering at certain points in the semester.


Prepare the following reading and listening assignments on your own for each class date listed below. Unless otherwise indicated, all readings can be found in your course reading packet (CRP). Unless otherwise indicated, the listening assignments are all in the blog posts (live links in the online version of this syllabus).

You are expected to read all the linked content and listen to all the linked/embedded audio and video in the blog posts unless directed otherwise.

Come to class ready with at least one question and/or observation about the reading and listening assignments for that class date. We will be discussing your questions/observations in class. This is an essential component of your grade.

We have a lot of material to get through, so we may not cover everything listed in the syllabus.

Jan. 28:
First class. Syllabus and expectations explained.
For next class, read and be ready to discuss:
“Race and the Embodiment of Culture” (John Szwed)
“Black and Blue and Blond: Where Does Race Fit in the Construction of Modern Identity?” (Thomas Chatteron Williams)
“Why is Everybody Always Stealing Black Music?” (Wesley Morris)

Journal Assignment #1:
There is a playlist for the John Szwed article, and a journal assignment, here:

Be ready to discuss your answers to the questions in the blog post in class on January 30.

Be ready to turn in the written version on February 4.

American Folk Music and Cross-Cultural Encounters
Jan. 30:
“The Appropriation of Cultures, Percival Everett

African Musical Forms and the Songs of the Enslaved
Feb. 4
“Some Fundamentals of African Music,” Peter van der Merwe
“Sinful Tunes and Spirituals,” Dena J. Epstein
Feb. 6

Feb. 11:
“Black Musicians and Early Ethiopian Minstrelsy”
“Early Minstrel Show Music, 1843-1852”

Feb. 13:

Journal Assignment #2:

  • Was/is the purpose or intention of blackface minstrelsy to demean blacks? Or was it something else?
  • Has its purpose or intention changed in the past (roughly) 200 years?
  • Can blackface ever be performed respectfully? If yes, is it still blackface? Or is it something else? If so, what?
  • Do you agree with Eric Lott’s idea that blackface minstrelsy was not just about “theft,” but also about “love”? Explain.
  • Give a contemporary example of blackface or blackvoice.
  • Due in class on February 27.

Spiritual and Secular Folksong
Feb. 18:
“The Sorrow Songs,” W.E.B. DuBois
“Self-Pity in Negro Folk-Songs,” John Lomax
Music examples (CRP), p.

Feb. 20:
“Sinful Songs of the Southern Negro” (John Lomax)

The Blues
Feb. 25:
“The Blues Mode and the 12-Bar Form,” Peter van der Merwe
“The Blues: A Secular Spiritual,” James Cone

Feb. 27:
“Natural Truth,” Marybeth Hamilton
White Tears excerpts, Hari Kunzru, pp. TBA

March 3:
White Tears, pp. TBA
March 5:
White Tears, pp. TBA
“Pay Me What You Owe Me,” Rishi Nath

Journal Assignment #3:

  • In the novel White Tears, JumpJim and Chester Bly make a journey to the South that is similar to the journey John and Alan Lomax took in the 1940s. Decades later, Seth attempts to retrace their steps. Do Bly/JumpJim, Seth, and the Lomaxes have similar motivations in embarking on these journeys, or do their motivations differ? Explain.
  • What does “Pay me what you owe me” mean in the context of this book? What does it mean in the context of the blues as a genre?
  • Why does Hari Kunzru include 4 pages of the text “ha ha ha ha” repeated over and over towards the end of the book?

Due in class on March 19.

March 10:
“Ragtime,” Guy Waterman

Midterm Group Project: Who Was Charles Cohen?

As you read in the “Ragtime, Part I” blog post, Binghamton had its own Scott Joplin.

Your assignment is to write a short biography of him.

This is a collaborative project; you will be divided into groups of four. Each group will need to designate and divide up the tasks of research and writing.

These are the steps you should take:

  1. Identify sources and locations for your research.
  2. Set up interview appointments and/or trips to the library (the #8 bus will take you there).
  3. Find one of his pieces in the sheet music collection of the Binghamton Public Library and photocopy it. Try to find a performance on Youtube or another platform.
  4. Write the biography (3-6 pages).
  5. Include an ANNOTATED bibliography. You will need to list all your sources, AND include notes after each item, in which you describe the source, and assess its value to your research and to future scholars of Charles Cohen, in your own words.

Pro tip: You won’t find much, if anything, on Wikipedia. You will need to dig deeper.

You should make sure to consult the following sources:

  • Dana Curtin, research librarian at our library. She can show you how to use databases and can help you get books and articles through interlibrary loan.
  • Theresa Lee-Whiting, a singer and choral conductor. She is the Director of Music at Tabernacle United Methodist Church at 83 Main Street in Binghamton, and  she lives in Charles Cohen’s old house! When you contact her, tell her you are my students.
  • Our own piano professor Pej Reitz, who, with Ms. Lee-Whiting, has presented concerts of Cohen’s work.
  • The Binghamton Public Library, which has some of his sheet music in their collection.
  • The Binghamton Historical Society (housed on the second floor of the public library).

Due in class on March 31.

Classical Music, Musicians of Color, and their Reception
March 12:
“Playing Beethoven in the #BlackLivesMatter Era,” Kira Thurman
“Home,” Langston Hughes

March 17:
“Transatlantic Debate”
“The Rediscovery of Florence Price,” Alex Ross (CRP)

Journal Assignment #4

  • Read (read comments as well).
  • Do you agree with Nebal Maysaud that “classical music must die” in order to liberate composers of color? Why or why not? Explain.
  • Do you believe that western/classical art music traditions offer meaningful pathways of self-expression for composers, musicians, and audiences of color? Why or why not?
  • Make sure you use examples of classical music by black composers from the blog posts listed above.

Due in class on April 9.

March 19:
(Make sure to read linked content)

The Harlem Renaissance
March 24:
“Harlem: The Cultural Capital,” James Weldon Johnson
“Harlem, Billy Strayhorn, Ethel Waters . . . and Me,” Steven Blier

March 26 (These are all very short):
 “Sidney Bechet’s Musical Philosophy,” Sidney Bechet
“Whence Comes Jass?” Walter Kingsley
“The Location of ‘Jass,’” New Orleans Times-Picayune
“A ‘Serious’ Musician Takes Jazz Seriously,” Ernest Ansermet
“A Negro Explains ‘Jazz,” James Reese Europe
“Jazzing Away Prejudice,” Chicago Defender
“The ‘Inventor of Jazz,’” Jelly Roll Morton

March 31:
“Duke Ellington Explains Swing,” Duke Ellington
“Billie Full of Grace,” Tracy Fessenden
“Strange Fruit: The First Great Protest Song,” Dorian Lynskey

April 2:
“The Cult of Bebop,” Dizzy Gillespie
“Beneath the Underdog,” excerpt, Charles Mingus
The Cry of Jazz film at

April 7
“Kind of Blue and the Economy of Modal Jazz,” Samuel Barrett (this article has a lot of technical language; just skim it to gain an understanding of modes and scales)
John Coltrane and the Jazz Revolution of the 1960s, (excerpt), Frank Kofsky (handout)

Paper Assignment: 4-8 pages.

In episode 1 of Ken Burns’s documentary Jazz, commentator Wynton Marsalis says:

Race for this country is like the thing in the story, in the mythology, that you have to do for the kingdom to be well. And it’s always something that you don’t want to do. And it’s always that thing that’s so much about you confronting yourself, that is tailor-made for you to fail dealing with it. And the question of your heroism, and of your courage, and of your success with this trial [of race] is, “Can you confront it with honesty, and do you have the energy to sustain an attack on it?” And since jazz music is at the center of the American mythology, it necessarily deals with race. The more we run from it, the more we run into it. It’s an age-old story, and if it’s not race, it’s something else. But in this particular instance, in this nation, it is race.

  • How have jazz as a genre, and jazz musicians as artists, historically dealt with the issue of race in America?
  • Pick one decade of jazz that we have studied: the 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, or 1960s. Write an essay exploring how jazz artists in that decade confronted and contended with race and racism in their music.
  • Make sure you include specific references to artists and songs you have encountered in your reading and listening.
  • Your paper should be typewritten, double-spaced, in 12-point font.
  • Make sure you include a bibliography.
  • Due in class on April 23.

Rhythm and Blues

April 9:
 “Why Do Whites Sing Black?” Albert Goldman

Motown, Soul, Funk
April 23:
 “Can’t Forget the Motor City,” Suzanne E. Smith

Final Project Assignment:

You will be presenting in class on May 14 and 19.

April 28:
Move On Up: Chicago Soul Music and Black Cultural Power (excerpt), Aaron Cohen

In-Class Presentation Assignment: Your Favorite Rap Song

  • What is your favorite rap song?
  • Bring it to class. Have a video to show.
  • Be ready to analyze the music/beats/lyrics/flow, and to explain why you love it.
  • Be sure to address the following questions:
    • What are its good or valuable qualities? What makes them good?
    • Does it have any bad or detracting qualities? If so, what makes them problematic?
    • Why should the rest of the class listen to this piece of music? What should they listen for? How should they listen? Why?
    • What are the broader values or issues in the mind of the artist who created this music?
  • Due in class on May 7.

April 30:
Integrated Bus Suggestions, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“What We Want,” Stokely Carmichael
Look Out, Whitey! Black Power’s Gon’ Get Your Mama! Excerpt, Julius Lester

Origins of Rap
May 5:
“The Story of Stagger Lee,” Timothy Lane
Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me excerpts
“N*ggers Are Scared of Revolution: The Last Poets,” Albert Goldman

May 7:
“The Culture of Hip-Hop,” Michael Eric Dyson
“Hip-Hop and Black Noise,” Rickey Vincent

Hip-Hop, Culture, Politics, and Controversy
May 12:
“Code of Thug Life,” Tupac Shakur
“All Eyez on U,” Nikki Giovanni

May 14:
“We Keep Showin’ You: Is Hip-Hop Really About Politics?” John McWhorter
The New H.N.I.C.: The Death of Civil Rights and the Reign of Hip Hop
(excerpt), Todd Boyd
When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost, excerpt, Joan Morgan
The 21st-Century Hip-Hop Minstrel Show, excerpt, Raphael Heaggans

May 19:
“She Invited Other People to that Space,” Amanda Nell Edgar and Ashton Toone