'First Nights' Sounds Sway Students

An occasional series on undergraduate classes

Thomas F. Kelly strides up and down the stage of Paine Hall. The hall is crowded with attentive listeners and Kelly's voice fills the perfect acoustics. Suddenly he bursts into song: "Bum bum BUM bum bum bum bum BUM!"

But he's not auditioning for a part in a musical. He's teaching Literature and Arts B-51, "First Nights."

A dynamic lecturer, Kelly not only sings, he also plays the piano, draws diagrams, brings in live performers and plays CDs and videos to make his points and keep his students alert at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

"It's not so much like going to class," says Suzanne Goh '97. "It's like going to a show every time."

"It's so much fun, it's just a really good time," she says.


The popular course showcases five pieces of music--Beethoven's ninth symphony, Handel's "Messiah," Stravinsky's "Le sacre du printemps," Monteverdi's "Orfeo" and Berlioz's "Symphonie fantastique"--and examines the cultural context of their first performances.

Kelly, who is professor of music, says he has a dual purpose in teaching the class. While he hopes to teach the students how to enjoy music, he also wants them to see the pieces as "a result of a society at work, a function of time and place."

"We try to put ourselves into the heads of the people who lived at that time, when these pieces were the cutting edge of contemporary music," Kelly says.

To help his students "make for themselves a cultural picture of the time," Kelly reads aloud diary entries, newspaper reviews and other descriptions of the first performances that the class studies.

"What I hope this course adds for students is a dimension of enjoyment," Kelly says.

And students say they definitely enjoy both Kelly's class and his energetic style.

"Professor Kelly is really engaging," Goh says. "He's really trying to do things to keep us interested. A lot of professors don't go to that trouble."

Other students agree that Kelly's class made them look forward to getting out of bed.

"It's a nice way to start out the day," says Serena K. Mayeri '97, who says she took the course because she loves the pieces of music being studied but doesn't know much about the technical aspects of classical music.

Mayeri says she never would have taken the course if it weren't a Core.

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