NU prof focuses seminar on campus, city music

Margaret Matray

Northwestern music lecturer Susan Osborn will bring rhythm to her freshman seminar.

In the spring, Osborn will launch Exploring Musical Chicago, a seminar that will take non-music majors to Chicago concerts for free.

The course may lead to more interdisciplinary programs for students interested in areas outside of their majors, Osborn said.

“I want students to have an opportunity to experience music,” she said. “This isn’t a course where students should think, ‘this is going to be easy.’ They will be learning a lot.”

Exploring Musical Chicago will be geared toward freshmen with little musical background. Students will learn how to listen to music and understand vocabulary by attending class three times a week and by taking a free weekly trip to either a Chicago or an NU concert. The class will focus primarily on classical music, but jazz, pop and gospel may be incorporated, Osborn said.

Students will take an outdoor tour of prominent Chicago concert halls at the beginning of the course. Osborn plans to expose students to music at a variety of city venues, but many of the concerts will be at the Symphony Center, she said.

“Students at Northwestern are often too busy with homework,” Osborn said. “This is a good chance to expose them to city concerts.”

A hands-on approach to course material could make freshmen seminars more enjoyable, Weinberg freshman Michelle Bejar said.

“I would like a seminar that is hands-on, as long as the trips don’t take up my whole day, ” Bejar said. “My last seminar wasn’t hands-on, and it was just OK.”

The School of Music currently offers courses for non-music majors through the General Music program. These classes are often the first at the university to fill up during registration, said Linda Garton, assistant dean of admissions and student affairs for the School of Music. She said she expected that the new seminar also will fill quickly.

“We’re definitely going to continue to offer courses regularly for non-music majors,” Garton said. “Central administration is very supportive of us offering opportunities to students outside the school.”

Osborn began developing the course two years ago, but it was inspired five years ago by a DePaul University program, she said.

“I taught at DePaul and they had a Discover Chicago program to get freshmen oriented to the city, music and theater,” Osborn said. “Northwestern doesn’t have anything like that. I love the city, and I think it’s a neat idea for students so close to the city to become familiar.”

Osborn got seminar approval from the deans of Weinberg and the School of Music but ran into problems with the cost of tickets, she said.

The new seminar received funding from a Weinberg curriculum enhancement fund and the Freshman Seminar Enhancement Fund. The seminar fund frequently gives money to professors who want to take their seminars on field trips, said Lane Fenrich, assistant dean for Weinberg.

“The fund encourages things that wouldn’t ordinarily occur in the course of a seminar,” Fenrich said. “It encourages adventures outside of the classroom.”

Reach Margaret Matray at [email protected]