Researchers agree that music has a powerful affect on the mind. And, though the list of personal health and happiness benefits in listening to or making music is long, findings indicate that the deepest, most complex experiences are social ones.
Music professor Susan Borwick takes this theory and makes it sing. By jettisoning some elements of the more traditional classroom, like the cumulative research paper, and choosing instead to turn the Winston-Salem community into a liberal arts learning environment, Borwick breathed new life into her course on American music.
As part of the class last year, 30 students headed out to tackle public-engagement projects in the community.
“Music makes connections where other things can’t,” Borwick said. “For example, deaf children can experience music by touching a piano, and older people experience improved memory and feel happier when they listen to music from their youth.”
Borwick, who was awarded the Wake Forest Teaching Innovation Award for 2009-2010, says the arts are a direct link between Wake Forest and the community, and that faculty are not only encouraged to include outside-the-classroom learning into their courses, but provided with resources to make it happen. For students to experience how music builds human connections is to make the class relevant to life today.
An added benefit: the experience boosted student creativity as they thought about ways to use music to impact the lives of others. At the end of the semester, the students gave presentations about their projects.
“At that moment, we were able to put the difference we had made into a context of countless other differences people in the arts in America have made over the centuries — and imagine the connections from other cultures as well,” she said. “There has never been a culture without some form of music in its history. Music is fundamental to life.”