Blair School of Music expands popular music course offerings, Vanderbilt University school nurturing ‘pleasantly split personality’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. ñ The lack of a class on the history of country
music would not be notable at most classical music schools at major

But when musicologist Jim Lovensheimer arrived two years ago to find
just that circumstance at Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt
University, he couldn’t accept it.

"Blair is in Nashville, Tenn., the center for country music,"
Lovensheimer said. "Mark Wait, the dean, is active with the Country
Music Hall of Fame. I just thought we should have a class on the
history of country music, so with Mark’s encouragement, I developed it
and we’ll begin offering it this spring."

The country music course will join an expanding roster of courses
developed over the past few years that has broadened the experiences of
music majors and helped Blair reach out to the general student

Courses on jazz, the blues, the music business, musical theatre and other topics are periodically offered.

"Blair has what I call ‘a pleasantly split personality,’" Wait said.
"There are many classical music schools that seldom see beyond their
own four walls. They’ll educate their own majors, and they see no need
to serve the others.

"I think that is shortsighted and extremely self-limiting. I think
you have to integrate yourself into the intellectual life of the

The Blair School of Music was founded as Blair Academy in 1964 as
the pre-college music division of George Peabody College. Blair became
the 10th school at Vanderbilt University in 1981 and began its music
degree program in 1986.

Blair offers music instruction to degree-seeking students and more than
500 community members. Composer and fiddler Mark O’Connor started the
folk music program at Blair a decade ago, and it continues to thrive
today with instructors including Butch Baldassari on mandolin and David
Schnaufer on dulcimer.

"The core of Blair’s mission has always been classical music, and I don’t see that changing," Wait said.

"However, I feel we have a moral obligation to serve the broad
population at Vanderbilt University. Music reflects our society, and
Vanderbilt’s excellence as a liberal arts institution mandates that we
offer a broad spectrum of courses in all kinds of music."

Most of the popular music courses meet in the central part of campus
instead of Blair and typically draw a large enrollment of non-music
majors. New this semester is a course on the history of rock music
taught by former Jayhawks keyboardist and musicologist Jen Gunderman.

"I think there is a lot to be gained with a broad pallet," said
Blair ethnomusicologist Greg Barz, who is teaching courses on jazz,
world music and Afropop this fall.

"These courses aren’t fulfilling a lot of requirements, except free
electives. It’s more out of passion and curiosity."

Media contact: Jim Patterson, (615) 322-NEWS

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