Theme and Variations in Music and Biology

Fall 2018
Winter 2019
Credits per quarter

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Taught by

genetics, molecular biology

How do we define a theme? What counts as a variation? How does the creation of a piece of music parallel the evolution of a new biological form?

We will begin our study of music by considering components of sound, elements of music, and the ways that they are manipulated in the creation and performance of specific musical works. During fall quarter we will work to develop fluency with technical language, notation of music, and approaches to listening. As the program progresses we will move into an examination of formal structures, their variations, and impact on receivers and producers of sound. As music is ultimately an experiential art form, students will be expected to participate in singing, moving, and creation of music throughout the program.

Complementing our study of music, we take a biological approach to understanding how we perceive and respond to music. In fall, we focus on auditory perception and interpretation, beginning with brain anatomy, proceeding onto the logic of auditory processing, and concluding with an examination of the specialized neurons and molecules involved in transducing sound waves to electrical signals. In winter we play with the idea of mutation or variation, exploring how genetics can be used to dissect complex processes and provide an entry point for understanding how the symbols and notation of genetic language can encode components of the nervous system.

Throughout the program we turn to literature as a third strand, not only to study how music and biology are depicted in fiction, but also to examine how different works of literature offer imaginative variations on themes of nature or on other works of art. Authors that we read may include Richard Powers, Shirley Hazzard, Thomas Mann, Goethe, James Joyce, Michael Cunningham, E.M. Forster, Zadie Smith, and Haruki Murakami.

Program activities will include lectures, workshops, labs, field trips, and guest speakers. Student learning will be assessed by a program portfolio, writing assignments, performances, exams, and a lab notebook. Credits equivalencies may be awarded in music fundamentals, introductory biology, and writing and literature.

Fields of study: 

This offering will prepare you for careers and advanced study in: biology, music, and performance

Online learning:
  • Enhanced Online Learning - This offering requires access to web-based tools, but use of these tools does not displace any face-to-face instruction.

$30 per quarter for concert entrance fees.

Scheduled for: Day

Located in: Olympia