Glenn McClure

Glenn at Corinth

I teach Western Humanities at SUNY Geneseo. This is a great books/great questions course sequence that spans the large arc of the Western Tradition.   It invites students of all disciplines to engage in fundamental questions of democracy, religion, science, ethics, the relationship between the individual and society and more.  These courses are a joy to teach to our wonderful students at Geneseo.

Humanities is by definition is an interdisciplinary course. The course is anchored with foundational works of History, Literature and Philosophy. Each instructor is given some flexibility in adding works from their specialty.  As a composer of music, I use musical examples to illustrate and animate the big ideas of the course.  I believe that a teacher should bring all of their experience to the classroom to offer as many pathways of engagement for diverse learners. I have found that the connections between our texts and relevant music are excellent pedagogical tools and they also seem to increase student interest and motivation.  While music is constructed around intellectual content, it serves primarily as a language of the heart. This provides a vehicle for engaging students in the material on both intellectual and emotional levels.

There are two categories of music that align with our Humanities texts. First of all, I use music originating from the historical period of the text.  This provides a document that reflects the big ideas as well as a cultural framework for the text. However, since a large part of the course chronology reaches back before musical documentation, much of the musical recreations are the “best guesses” of today’s musicologists.  Therefore, the second category of music is needed for this course. Musical responses from later periods offer several pedagogical tools to the Humanities classroom.  These musical works illustrate how musicians interpret the ancient texts from the relevant issues of their time.  This not only gives insight into the texts, but also provides a model of interpretation that the students can subsequently use as they interpret these ancient texts within the issues they face today.

As a professor of the Humanities, I stress the application of these big ideas to current events and issues.  While ancient texts are worth studying for their own value, I believe the instructor must take these ideas beyond their original historical/cultural contexts and provide a stage on which students can explore their contemporary relevance.

Self-reflection is a natural part of good teaching. As a stage performer, I read my audience.  Good teachers do the same thing to informally assess the effectiveness of a given lesson while the lesson is in progress.  This is an area where teaching and the performing arts share similar good practices.

For more information on my work in the Fellows Program, please see my report Arts Integration in the Teaching of Western Humanities.