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President Jill Tiefenthaler's Blog

Emotion and Meaning in Music FYE

I asked Professor Ryan Banagale to reflect on the opportunities that the block plan allows in teaching “Emotion and Meaning in Music” (a first-year experience course) with Professor Michael Grace. Read his thoughts below. This FYE showcases what the block plan is all about – rigor, immersive study, a week at Baca, multiple field experiences, and expert visitors.

It is after midnight and I write this from the comfort of a Colorado College bus headed southbound on I-25 from Denver to Colorado Springs.  The Emotion and Meaning in Music (FYE) class just attended a rock concert featuring the band Blue October at the Ogden Theatre.  More than just an outing to a popular music event, the show provided a modern-day capstone to this week’s discussion and study of impressionist, symbolist, and expressionist music of the early twentieth century.  It was an opportunity to connect considerations of the past to music of present.  The day began in our Packard Hall classroom, with analysis and consideration of music from the band’s fifteen-year output. We examined a dozen songs—many performed at tonight’s concert—evaluating how the music and lyrics conveyed meaning or expressed emotion. Surrounded by hundreds of Blue October fans, a dazzling light display, and earthshaking sound system, the students experienced this music as it was meant to be encountered: live and in concert.

This was, in fact, the third concert and fourth class-related outing for this group of new Colorado College students.  Here is Professor Michael Grace’s summation of his sensational block one activities with our FYE class:

  • On Sept. 14, we attended a concert by the Chamber Orchestra of the Springs which included some unusual repertoire: a world premiere of a trumpet concerto by Sean Hennessy, a living composer from Los Angeles, several blues and gospel singers, and a performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue by CC pianist, Susan Grace.  
  • On September 22, we attended the Colorado Springs Philharmonic concert. The concert included the suite from Copland’s ballet Billy the Kid which will be considered in Block 2 and Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, which was studied in detail just before the concert. 
  • From Sunday to Thursday of the third week, the class went to the Baca campus.  The students each did 20-minute oral presentations, followed by informal peer evaluation and commentary.  The Baca was a wonderful atmosphere for these presentations.  We also did a special study of Verdi’s opera Otello. We began by watching a film of the Shakespeare play on Sunday, followed by reading Arigo Boito’s libretto, a discussion of the Verdi’s music, and finally viewing a video of the opera itself on Wednesday.  The Baca again provided a wonderful retreat atmosphere for this intense engagement in the evolution of play to opera.   The Baca was also a time for the students to get to know each other well, to “bond” as a group sharing an intellectual adventure. 

The adventure continues bright and early tomorrow morning, back in our Packard classroom.  One week from today American Music scholar, Sheryl Kaskowitz, will come to discuss her recent book God Bless America: The Surprising History of an Iconic Song with these bright, ambitious, and eager students.  Between here and there they’ve got a paper, a mid-term, and a book to which to attend.  The block rolls along ever forward—just like this bus—and the lights of Colorado Springs are visible in the distance as I conclude this communication.  Tonight was an amazing opportunity to break from the rigors of on-campus study with a little rock and roll, while simultaneously expanding our collective understanding of emotion and meaning in music. 

BlueOctoberConcert EM_FYE_Baca OgdenTheatreMarquee


  1. Stormy Burns says:

    Wow — what intense and wonderful opportunities for these first year students.

  2. susan says:

    Wow! Sounds like a wonderful time! And look where you guys are!!!! Have fun!

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