Baldwin Tapping their feet to the tunes of Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, Bruce Springsteen and other artists, a group of Baker University students are earning college credit.
They're not just jamming for enjoyment, though. They're evaluating the music for its ability to persuade as part of the interterm class "Music as Propaganda and Protest."
Trilla Lyerla, Baker assistant professor of music, said she contrived the idea for the class when attempting to develop an interterm course that would have broad appeal. In fact, the class has attracted students from various disciplines. Only three of the 40 students enrolled in the class are music majors; most are studying business and science.
Those who signed up expecting a music fest and an easy "A" are in for a surprise.
"I gave them a test yesterday and some told me it was the hardest one they've ever had at Baker University," Lyerla said.
THE MATERIAL covered in the course covers a broad spectrum of protest music from the operas of Beethoven and Mozart, to 18th-century Puritan church music to today's rap songs. Students discuss topics such as 19th-century romantic works, the use of music by Hitler's Nazis to bring about social control, state control of music in totalitarian nations, and anti-war songs of the 1960s, as well as the goals and effectiveness of propaganda music.
"I think students believe music has special powers," Lyerla said. "I think students of the 1990s are also interested in the culture of the 1960s right now. The 1960s was the decade of protest."
Issues found in more modern music include apartheid in South Africa, homelessness, AIDS, racism, oppression and the plight of the welfare class in the United States, she said. Students also are looking at some controversial protest songs, such as "Cop Killer" by Ice-T, who performed Jan. 3 near Lawrence.
IN ADDITION to studying the music itself, the class also discusses the impact of protest songs. With music playing in stores, doctor's offices, cars, churches and homes, people have learned to tune out the message, Lyerla said.
"The words are out there, but we also deal with how people don't really listen to music because it's so pervasive," she said.
One of her goals with "Music as Propaganda and Protest" is to help students understand the importance of listening to music rather than just using it for background noise. She also hopes to spark an interest in classical music by demonstrating the passion and purpose that went into it.
"I'M TRYING to show them how active and involved classical music is and (how) it deals with some of the same issues their modern music does," she said. "I want them to realize the importance of all music and how it affects everything we do."
But as a student in her class pointed out, "Some songs are just about a guy's truck and his dog."
"There's songs out there that are just love songs," Lyerla added. "They're not all protest songs."