Music, Race, & Nation

Jan 2005

I agree with the statement that the complexities of a particular article cannot be fully addressed by a textbook approach to the course. However, without any background or general framework, discussions become quite tangential, no matter what ideas they force out. Additionally, certain remarks made in the class were quite offensive when not stated in an understandable context. Lewis, however, was very impressive in his first semester of teaching here, in that he put a leash on most of these discussions and kept them within a general direction while not compromising the liberty of students to delve deeper into certain issues. As this is meant as an intro course, despite the 3000-level placement in the bulletin, the first review should be given more respect than it was given (see the second review), as a bit of a crash course introducing some terminology and sociological concepts would not be a hindrance to the intellectual output of the class, but would fuel the discussions even more. Additionally, IÂ’m not quite sure the first reviewer was implying that the discussions were either useless or that they should be replaced by a lecture-style class with force-fed notions of race and cultural relations, but only that they could have had more coherence. Exceptional professor, and overall very enriching experience.

Dec 2004

I guess I'm one of those people who joined Prof. Lewis' cult following within the first week of his being at Columbia. Lewis is probably the smartest, most interesting professor I've had at Columbia, and that the music department hired him (an avant-garde jazz trombonist, electronic composer, Macarthur Genius Grant winner, etc.) bodes well for the future of the department. This class was a tad disorganized, no doubt. For one thing, he assigns a ton of reading every week. Usually 4 or 5 articles, most of them about 20 or so pages and fairly dense at that. And he didn't put together a course reader (because he said it would cost students too much money), so you had to max out your print quota every week, and then keep track of stacks and stacks of stapled readings. Unfortunately, not many students came to class prepared to discuss all the readings, and since there were a ton of non-majors in the class, music as an object itself to be studied was de-emphasized. Instead, the class mostly dealt with the discourses surrounding the music--what it meant (and means) for so many people, and how ideas about race, nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc., play into that meaning. This is exactly the type of course the music department needs to have more of (and not just leave it for the Center for Jazz Studies to deal with music as something with meaning in society). But I wish we could have studied the music itself a little too. But even if you don't do the reading, if you come to class, you'll be pretty impressed by Lewis' brilliance. He can scrawl a list of related books and references on just about any subject. He knows and has played with about every important left-of-center composer or musician of the last 25 years. Lewis is the man. I highly recommend anything he teache at Columbia.

Nov 2004

The fact that this man developed a cult following within his first week of being here should clarify what taking a class with him is like. If you'll notice the previous review, some people just aren't going to like his course (I suspect, however, that the previous reviewer doesn't do the reading and doesn't try to talk in class). The class functions like a forum - he will argue with given students, but it forces out problems in students' arguments, whilst supplementing the text we've read. He will stop and take time to clarify confusing texts, and is conscious of trying to help out students to understand this rather complex subject. That said, if you want a lecture that is organize (and which, therefore, will never explain the complexities of any situation), then this isn't for you. Lewis is a great professor, though not necessarily for everybody

Oct 2004

This guy might have been involved in modern music in every square foot of the world, but I guess he never came across any ideas on how to teach a university class. You go in there every day and listen to Lewis take up an argument with one or two students, and he never gets to the core of any of the readings or illustrates any important concepts in the material. The readings range from repetitive and monotonous to pretty interesting. Alas, you're left completely in the air as to what to focus on out of all these stacks of material. Although there is a "syllabus," there is no apparent logical order in any of the topics. So basically, he's a complete novice professor, and pretty much relies on students to tell him how to run the class, even saying once "am I to understand that this is a tad too much reading? -- when I asked them how to put together a course, they just said a bunch of readings, and a few papers and exams." He did just that. And nothing else.