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From the Concert Hall to the Computer Labs

Published August 25, 2015 in News

By: Anne Catherine Clemmons | UVAToday

When Moira Lennon enrolled in Song Composition last semester, she wasn’t sure what to expect. She had arrived at U.Va. three years earlier intending to major in mathematics. And while she’d always been interested in music – both of her parents were music majors in college – she didn’t think she would follow their lead.

But after taking several courses within the College of Arts & Sciences’ McIntire Department of Music, the choice was simple.

There’s a huge variety of classes offered and we get incredible visiting artists and writers who have come speak to us in our classes.”

“I was drawn to it and loved it so much,” Lennon says. “It’s a triple threat with professors, students and classes. My best friends are all in the music department. The professors are so easy to talk to out of class – they’re everywhere on Grounds. They know me by name even if I haven’t taken a class with them in years. There’s a huge variety of classes offered and we get incredible visiting artists and writers who have come speak to us in our classes.” 

Such as one afternoon during her Song Composition class, when the creators of Les Miserables, who were visiting campus, joined Lennon’s class. “They just decided to have a class with us,” Lennon said. “I never expected that, and I love it so much."

Toward the end of her third year, Lennon switched her major from mathematics to music, joining the 80 to 90 other students whom department chair Richard Will says are majoring in music, a number almost three times larger than just a decade ago. The number of students signing up for non-major offerings has grown substantially also, he says. 

That increase is due to several factors, including the recent addition of  a diverse and innovative group of new professors who bring an interdisciplinary focus on popular media and technology to the university’s programs in Music, Media Studies, and American Studies.

These new faculty include a professional DJ, a former Apple employee, a pop critic for Slate and a former United Nations humanitarian worker. helping to fuel the metamorphosis undergone by the entire McIntire Department of Music over the last decade and a half, in an effort to expand and diversify its offerings.

When Will arrived at U.Va. in 2001, the Music department had just begun a Ph.D. program and instituted a new undergraduate curriculum. These two major changes “really opened the curriculum of the department to popular and non-Western music in a way that was not the case here before and is, to a large extent, still not the case at most schools,” Will says.

Indeed, the course offerings, such as "Global DJ Culture," "Race and Sound in American Culture" and "Intro to Sound Ethnography" are not courses that you would typically find at most major universities alongside "World Music 101" or Classical music classes, though U.Va. still offers those as well.

So what brought about these changes?

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