American Sound

27 May 2016

Andy FloryFor work, Will Chapman ’16 studies rocks. For fun, he studies rock ‘n’ roll. A geology major from St. Paul, Chapman is determined to make science his career calling. But thanks to Carleton’s recently added American music concentration, he’s found plenty of ways to engage his “spiritual side” on campus. “Science and music: I guess you could say it’s the two parts of my college personality,” Chapman says. “Except music has been more of a constant in my life, especially throughout high school. It’s the thing I seek out the most.”

For non-music majors like Chapman, it’s been a revelation to find comprehensive courses that value the Beatles and Marvin Gaye as much as Beethoven and Mozart. While instrumentation and theory have long defined the discipline, Carleton has also been ahead of the curve dating back to jazz, bluegrass, country, and Appalachian folk offerings decades ago—a rarity among small liberal arts schools, says music professor Andy Flory.

In devising the American Music concentration last year, department heads didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. Flory was already teaching classes like History of Rock and the Golden Age of R&B while colleagues had the blues, bluegrass, folk, and even film music covered. The diversity of offerings, coupled with a handful of the same non-music majors becoming course regulars, led to a modernized concentration aimed at “giving students what they want.”

“We’ve never had to force the connection. Our students come to class thinking about music in respect to economics, or religion, or U.S. history, or simply analyzing the music itself in a very deep way,” says Melinda Russell,  the concentration’s director. “We’re just rewarding inquiries they already have in their heads.”

“Now they get a sense that they’ve gone through this track that has a beginning, middle, and end to codify some of these big ideas from disparate classes,” Flory adds. “The concentration allows it to gel.”

This winter, Flory channeled his students’ pop music proficiency into a capstone seminar centered on one of the most revolutionary bands of all-time, the Beatles. By covering everything from “Please Please Me” to “Let It Be,” seniors such as David Pickart ’16 are relishing the opportunity to treat contemporary music history as more than just a passing touchstone. It’s history, period.

“They noticed something that has a valuable academic focus and decided that it was a community worth fostering,” says Pickart, a computer science major from Falmouth, Massachusetts. “What I’ve found most rewarding is the idea of getting all of these people who love music to talk at a really in-depth level. We all respect that music is a large facet of our lives.”

Learn more about the American Music concentration at