The Second Summer Session is in full swing here at IU and I'm back in the classroom. I'm teaching a section of the same music history survey I taught in the spring. The class is standard history fare: Death of Bach to "Death of Classical Music as We Know It"™ and entirely too fast.
That much is alright. I guess we are all used to the idea of cramming nearly three centuries into a 15-week semester. What I am not used to, however, is the summer schedule. Teaching the class is now even more of a short ride in a fast machine as our usual fifteen weeks are compressed into eight. Eek.
When one accounts for days lost to test taking, administrative matters, etc., those eight weeks really feel like seven. And seven weeks just doesn't feel like enough. Last week we taught: The New Eighteenth-Century Style, Comic Opera, Opera Reform, the Symphonies of Sammartini, Stamitz and Haydn, and also Haydn's string quartets and what audiences expected out of their chamber music back in the day.
I know that we'll get through it all. I think, with some luck and hard work, my students could walk away with a fairly good sense of what happened in the last 250+ years of music history. But I can't help feel that seven weeks of learning will make long-term retention of most of the details impossible.
This is only my first year contending with teaching "The Survey." It has felt a bit strange, partly because I have never been on the receiving end of such a class. My "survey" class in college was anything but survey. My professor taught the course in an unusual way. The class had less than ten students and He took advantage of our quasi-seminar size. Instead of pushing through the repertory at breakneck speed, we spent an awful lot of time with a few pieces.
We spent our first few sessions on Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto. That's it. We read articles by Jander and others on the (possible) Orfeo in the Andante Con Moto. We learned about audience expectations and why those first few measures of the first movement would have sounded rather unusual back then.
I really liked the concerto before I took the class. After those first few lectures, however, I was struck with a feeling of never having actually listened to the work before. The piece sounded different once I learned the context. (And so I ended up here in musicology.)
But for all the revelation we did miss a lot. Our prof told us that we would need to make up some work on our own if we intended to go on to graduate school. And make up work I did.
I don't know which is better. I'm sure that my eight-week survey this summer is something many of you out there have all had to teach in the past–which is why I titled this blog post "Music History Survey Survey." I've just rambled about my limited experience with survey teaching and taking, but how about you? I'm interested to hear some of the more unusual stories of survey teaching from our readers.