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Music, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Beatles: What’s It All About?

Conservatory musicologist Andrew Granade and music theorist David Thurmaier discuss the dynamic interplay of music, popular culture and social history, and why it all matters.

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Photo by James Allison

Andrew Granade, Associate Professor of Musicology, Chair of Composition, Music Theory and Musicology

Tell us about musicology and why Conservatory students take the classes.

I tell my students in their lessons they are learning the “how” of making music —how you communicate with an audience, how you find great new music to perform, how you coax the sound you wish out of your instrument or ensemble. A rich career, and indeed a rich life, comes from more than just the “how”; you need to know the “why.” In my classes, students study the history of music (all the way to the present) and uncover the connections between music and the culture for which it was originally intended and our present culture.

How does your interest in film and television (and your expertise in Buffy the Vampire Slayer) intersect with your teaching? How did those interests develop?

In graduate school I had a good friend who taped Buffy the Vampire Slayer on his VCR and would have friends over to binge watch in the days before Netflix. He invited me and my wife and we went, begrudgingly because we thought it sounded ridiculous. After one Saturday afternoon we were hooked. At the time, I was reviewing film scores for two online sites, Film Score Monthly and SoundTrack.net, because I had long loved film music. Watching Buffy, my critic’s ears were drawn to the use of music to define characters and demonstrate their transformation over story arcs.

Film and television music tells us quite a bit about how music functions expressively in our society. I regularly use movie and television clips as demonstrations of what we think is sad or happy, or terrifying music and ask students to critically examine our assumption about music and how they can use those assumptions in their own performances.

Why did you choose to write a book about Harry Partch, and tell us about the provocative title: Harry Partch, Hobo Composer.

I was fascinated by this composer who rejected the way most instruments are tuned and built his own musical world complete with breathtakingly beautiful instruments and music that crept into your soul through its mixture of musical styles from around the world, a corporeal connection to the body, and a satiric outlook on mid-century America. Most textbooks and newspapers referred to Partch as a “hobo composer” because during the Depression, he rode the rails and followed the harvests when he couldn’t find steady work. He used the sights and sounds of those experiences to create a musical documentary of a time, place, and people. It’s a fascinating story, a truly American story, and one I hope resonates with people as much as it does me.

Conservatory musicologist Andrew Granade and music theorist David Thurmaier discuss the dynamic interplay of music, popular culture and social history, and why it all matters.

umkc1
Photo by James Allison

Andrew Granade, Associate Professor of Musicology, Chair of Composition, Music Theory and Musicology

Tell us about music theory and why Conservatory students take the classes.

Music Theory is essentially the study of “how” and “why” music works as it does. We mainly look at classical music and discuss its different components — melody, rhythm, harmony and so on — and how they interact to create a piece of music. At UMKC, most music majors take four semesters of what we call “musicianship,” which combines the written aspects of music with the aural (like singing at sight and dictating music — writing down what they hear).

How did you become interested in The Beatles?

When I was in fourth grade, my music teacher decided to have students perform two Beatles songs to commemorate the 20th anniversary of their coming to America. I was struck by the sound of their music, which led me to find out more about them (including asking my mother, who saw them in 1966 in Chicago). A lifelong passion for the Beatles began, which has led to attending Beatles conventions for more than 20 years, hosting a Beatles podcast, playing their music in rock bands, teaching Beatles courses, and publishing scholarly work.

I am continually amazed at how the Beatles were at the forefront of everything in the 1960s, and set the trends for everything that followed. Not only was their music of high quality, but they were curious people interested in other areas, including fashion, philosophy, literature, avant-garde music, and more.

How do your interests and recent research inform your teaching?

I taught a class on Charles Ives last spring, music theory pedagogy this spring, and will teach a graduate class on the Beatles this fall, so I’m truly lucky to be able to combine my research interests and my teaching! I recently published “You Say You Want a Revolution: A New Analysis of John Lennon’s Political Music,” with John Cox, in the book Protest Music in the Twentieth Century.

For more information about the UMKC Conservatory, visit conservatory.umkc.edu.

CategoriesArts Consortium
Dana Self

Dana Self is an arts writer who was a contemporary art curator for more than 13 years in Kansas, Wisconsin, Missouri, and Tennessee museums, including the Kemper Museum. She has organized about 100 exhibitions of emerging and mid career artists.

She is currently marketing director for UMKC’s Conservatory of Music and Dance.

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