||My Favorite Class: Music and Politics
Under the Nazi and Soviet Regimes
(An interview with seniors Candace Davis, a music major from Hopkinsville, Ky., and Abby Winterberg, a psychobiology major of Ryland, Ky.)
RELEASED: Nov. 11, 2004
DANVILLE, KYClass: Music and Politics Under the Nazi and Soviet Regimes (Music 450)
Class size: 5
Professor: Sarah Stoycos, visiting assistant professor of music
Day/Time: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 12:40-2:10 p.m.
What makes this course interesting?
"We've talked about the orchestras and operas in the concentration camps and the impact they had," Winterberg says. "I didn't realize there was so much culture during that time and also how much music was used as propaganda. Hitler was partial to Richard Wagner's music, and composers were restricted in what they could and couldn't write. Their music was influenced by what was going on in government."
What have you learned this term?
"Today we think of music as a form of entertainment," Davis says. "In studying the material, I've learned how important music was to the people who survived the Holocaust. Oddly enough, they needed an orchestra [in Auschwitz] to entertain the soldiers. The orchestra also played as people were being marched to the gas chambers. If you were a prisoner and had musical talent, you could be a part of the orchestra and had some guarantee that you weren't going to be sent off to the gas chambers. In the midst of all these horrible circumstances, music was still present."
What do you think about the class discussions?
"They're really good in this class because there are only five of us," Winterberg says. "We have discussions every day, and we take it where we want to go. It allows us to think deeper and go to the next level. It's an open atmosphere and everyone contributes."
What do you feel you'll take away from this class?
"We have a greater sense of the history during that time and the influence that music can have in many different situations and the role it can play in politics," Winterberg says. "I now have a great appreciation for the music of those times."
Would you recommend this class to fellow students?
"Yes, I'd definitely recommend it," Davis says. "It's not just geared toward music majors. You don't need a musical background. If you have an interest in the historical period, a class like this broadens your perspective of what people went through during this time. I'll also take away a new appreciation of music in general. Music is not only an art form: music can be used for propaganda, as a life-saving device and for condemning at the same time."
Professor Stoycos says:
"Although most people would agree that music can be a very powerful force, we aren't always fully aware of the many meanings that music carries with it," she says. "In this class the students are looking at the ways in which music can be manipulated in order to control thoughts and actions, resist oppression, express feelings or even sustain life. It's my hope that students are not only learning about music that was heard in Nazi and Soviet times, but that they're also getting a chance to examine their own ideas about music and its place in our society."
What will students being learning about music during the Soviet regime?
"Our discussion largely focuses on the life and works of Dmitri Shostakovich, a composer who spent all of his life in the Soviet Union," Stoycos says. "Although he eventually became the USSR's most prized composer, he suffered greatly and struggled to find his place in Soviet cultural society, particularly during the Stalin years. In addition, we'll be looking briefly at a number of other composers, such as Sergei Prokofiev. We will study his film score for Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky."
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