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Music- MU 182: Emotion and Meaning in Music

Block 1:  Michael Grace

Block 2:  Ryan Raul Bañagale 

This course satisfies the Critical Perspectives: The West in Time requirement. 

Bach and the BeatlesWhy do you like your favorite music? Answering this question is not always easy because individual preference emerges from both the affect of the music on your emotions as well as the appeal of specific compositional aspects. The process of expressing feeling and meaning in music has deep roots that provide a foundation for understanding our musical world today. During the history of music in Western culture, some composers have focused on the expression of emotion regardless of form while others have sought to bring a greater degree of order to the mix. In fact, we might view music history as the swing of a pendulum from periods of unbridled romanticism to others that privilege a more methodical approach. Our course explores such trends and considers how social and cultural considerations influence the creation and meaning of music from Bach to the Beatles.

We will focus on periods of change in our musical heritage, changes that generally result from a desire for greater emotional content or a renewed interest in musical structure or order. Such periods include the outburst of romanticism in the early 19th Century when the music of Chopin, Berlioz, and Liszt seemed to trump that of Mozart and Beethoven, the emergence of “Modernism” in the early 20th Century when the music of Stravinsky and Schoenberg superseded that of Mahler and Debussy, and the age of minimalism where Terry Riley and Steve Reich inverted the overwrought procedures and techniques of the post-WWII generation of composers that preceded them. Forays into the realms of jazz and popular music reveal similar trends in these genres as well.

The meaning of a piece of music today depends greatly on cultural considerations, regardless of where it lies on the spectrum of expression and form. Because the cultural context so greatly influences a piece of music, we will always examine the political, philosophical, and social contexts of the works we study. Music provides a window into the lives and cultures of past and contemporary generations. These experiences help us understand our own world and our place in history while providing a variety of models for expressing our own musical tastes more clearly.

Students do not need to have prior musical training or experience to participate in this course.

A two-block course with a unique instructor each block; each block will receive a separate grade.


  • This course serves as a gateway to the Music major. Either block fulfills one unit of elective credit towards the major.
  • As part of the final paper, students will form their own “creative response” to the music under consideration and have the opportunity to self-critique that project.
  • No prior formal training in music necessary.
  • Course travels to the CC Baca Campus (block 1) and the CC Cabin (block 2).