After playing piano for 16 years, trombone for four years, and the organ for one year; after singing in choirs for 11 years, com­pet­i­tively-audi­tioned choirs for four years, and private voice lessons for three years, I can humbly say that I under­stand music. At the very least, I under­stand music more than can be learned in an entry-level, three-credit, one-semester course. If a student brings a wealth of musical expe­rience to college and fur­thers it via mem­bership in an audi­tioned musical ensemble at Hillsdale, he under­stands music enough to be exempted t from the core’s fine-arts requirement.

That course is Under­standing Music, and irre­spective of a Hillsdale College student’s musical pro­fi­ciency, it’s one of the required courses for stu­dents to take to com­plete the fine-arts section of the core cur­riculum. It’s under­standable that fine arts is a core requirement for a liberal-arts edu­cation. Music is one of the seven liberal arts and the fine arts cul­tivate some of the highest forms of beauty. Alter­native courses for the fine-arts requirement are Under­standing Theatre and Art History, but for stu­dents who enjoy and under­stand music enough to want to be in a musical ensemble, they shouldn’t have to take a redundant music course.

Hillsdale College’s core cur­riculum is extensive no matter what stu­dents study. There are some dif­fer­ences in the core depending on what an indi­vidual student plans to major in. Stu­dents pur­suing a bachelor of arts degree are not required to major or minor in a science, whereas stu­dents pur­suing a bachelor of science are. Stu­dents pur­suing a bachelor of science degree are not required to take any lan­guage courses on campus. Allowing members of audi­tioned musical ensembles to be exempt from the core curriculum’s fine-arts requirement is another rea­sonable adjustment. A science student doesn’t need to overload on lan­guage courses, a human­ities student doesn’t need to overload on science courses — and an active musician shouldn’t have to take an entry-level music course.

For stu­dents who enjoy music enough to par­tic­ipate in an ensemble on campus, and espe­cially for those with the talent to audition suc­cess­fully for an elite ensemble, the Under­standing Music course may at first appeal as the best selection to fulfill the fine-arts requirement. But with pages of writing assign­ments, ultra-spe­cific lis­tening quizzes, menial intro­ductory music theory, and dull music history, musi­cally lit­erate stu­dents will find that they come to under­stand music more by way of par­tic­i­pating in their audi­tioned ensemble rather than sitting through a lecture-heavy core class.

Under­standing Music is a three-credit course. Stu­dents receive one credit for per­forming in a musical ensemble, and members of audi­tioned ensembles often take private lessons for their primary instrument in addition to being in the general ensemble. The in-class time com­mitment of two choirs and private voice study is greater than meeting for Under­standing Music lecture each week. Chamber choir rehearses two hours each week, and college choir rehearses three hours each week. Private voice study lasts either 30 minutes or one hour each week. That means a member of the chamber choir spends five-and-a-half to six hours each week for three credits of upper-level music practice and study, while Under­standing Music spends less than three hours in class each week studying theory and history for the same three credits.

If stu­dents in audi­tioned ensembles were exempted from the fine-arts core requirement, they could choose to take more focused music classes, whether they’re receiving a music degree or not. If nothing else, they could use the three spare credit hours to save money or choose a dif­ferent course that more closely aligns with their interests. Ulti­mately,  a sea­soned musician studying entry-level fine arts under­mines the prin­ciple of liberal edu­cation. A per­fectly capable musician should not be required to re-study aspects of music he learned before he attended college. By par­tic­i­pating in an elite audi­tioned ensemble, he takes the subject matter taught in Under­standing Music and ele­vates it in practice rather than pure theory. The best way to under­stand music is to make music.  

Nathan Grime is a junior studying Rhetoric and Public Address.

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Nathan is a junior at Hillsdale College studying Rhetoric and Public Address and Journalism. He is Sports Editor and beat reporter for the Football, Women's Basketball, and Baseball teams for the Hillsdale Collegian. When he's not watching or writing about sports, Nathan enjoys playing organ and singing. Originally from St. Louis Missouri, Nathan now lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana. You can follow Nathan on twitter @nategrime or Hillsdale Collegian Sports at @HDaleSports.