Music curriculum spans genres, includes applied learning

With IDEAs in Action courses, faculty give students immersive experiences, hands-on training and ways to make new connections.

a class working with recording equipment.
Hip Hop Ensemble members (l-r) Donavan Moonie, Tirah Phillips, Jaidan Pearce-Cameron, Katrina Bond, Marc Durham and Zoe Wynns work on a composition in the music department’s Beats Lab. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

How can I help my students see that what they do as classical violinists is already aligned with the University’s new approach to educating undergraduates? Nicholas DiEugenio asked himself.

The answer, the associate professor of music found, was to ask students to choose and perform one piece of solo-violin music written in the past 10 years. “That prompt could sound easy or obvious, but for students who had primarily engaged with music written 150 to 300 years ago, it was an aha! moment,” DiEugenio said. The students introduced each other to music of composers identifying as female, South Asian, Black, Latino, Asian and Asian American.

“They were also able to hear, feel and see connections between these various voices and the other ‘traditional’ voices like Bach’s or Beethoven’s that they already knew,” he said.

That experience was a foretaste of the learning that the music department in the College of Arts and Sciences offers in a revamped curriculum structured on the IDEAs in Action curriculum that Carolina launched in fall 2022.

The video below shows part of a concert in which violin students and DiEugenio explored folk influences in music written for two violins in the 20th and 21st centuries. Kenan Scholars Ayman Bejjani (violin) and Shannon Chen (piano) play the pop-inspired work “Olmsted” by Robert Honstein.

A new framework

IDEAs in Action helps students think critically, work collaboratively and communicate persuasively. It emphasizes hands-on experiences and opportunities for practice and reflection in academic disciplines and prepares graduates to contribute in a fast-changing world.

Under that framework, departments across the College created courses and academic tracks to help students prepare for the rest of their lives by, in IDEAs in Action language:

  • Composing, designing, building, presenting or performing a work that is the result of immersion in a creative process using appropriate media, tools and techniques.
  • Explaining the roles and influences of creativity, technologies, materials and design processes in the creation of knowledge, expression and effective solutions.
  • Evaluating their own and others’ creative work to demonstrate how critique creates value in creative domains.

The IDEAs curriculum begins with first-year foundation courses for exploring the sciences, arts and humanities. Second-year courses offer an array of ideas across the liberal arts. In year-three courses, students conduct original research, work as interns, volunteer, study abroad, create art and more. They attend performances, arts exhibits, lectures and workshops. Students choose an academic major after taking required courses and electives and consulting with academic advisers.

Visit TheWell.UNC.edu to see some of the ways the music department’s adoption of the new curriculum has students and faculty excited.