Iconic musicals such as “Fiddler on the Roof” form the core of Carol Oja’s course “American Musicals, American Culture,” but students recently got an inside look at the contemporary scene through visits from composers Lin-Manuel Miranda (“In the Heights”) and Joshua Schmidt (“The Adding Machine”), both brought to campus by the Office for the Arts’ Learning From Performers program. Oja is the William Powell Mason Professor of Music in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
“In a strange way, dealing with contemporary musicals and talking to their creators helps students put a new spin on the standard Broadway repertory,“ said teaching assistant Matthew Mugmon. “It puts into focus the fact that, like ‘In the Heights,’ musicals such as ‘Show Boat’ and ‘West Side Story’ were made by real people who were dealing with real issues.”
Making music is also integral to Oja’s course, and students are often invited to perform songs in class. “The performances are integrated into the professor’s lecture on a particular musical,” Mugmon said, “sometimes as a way to get the sound of the musical into the students’ ears at the beginning of class, and sometimes to demonstrate a particular point. It really brings these shows alive in ways that YouTube clips and MP3s can’t, and it gets the students involved with the material in a physical way, which isn’t possible in many courses.”
— Lesley Bannatyne
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