EGMT 1510: Covers, Karaoke, and Memes: Imitation in Music

As we consume culture we internalize its priorities and values. One of these in the west is to become a connoisseur of originality. But what if this gives us a distorted view of culture? What if the key to understanding it is to focus not on the invention of the new, but on the reproduction of what already exists? This course takes this idea as its working hypothesis and tests it out in the realm of music. (Those who wish to take this course do not need to have any previous training in music.) By engaging its students in a variety of exercises—reading, writing, listening, viewing—it seeks to ask and answer the following questions: Which roles does imitation play in learning, teaching, creating, and performing music? How do we differentiate among the many terms we use to refer to cultural imitation: influence, derivation, appropriation, borrowing, theft, homage, parody, quotation, allusion, and so forth? How has musical imitation been shaped by sound and media technologies? How has music participated in imitative practices involving race and gender? And how has imitation in music been critiqued by philosophers and challenged in a court of law? By the end of this course, students will have: • learned to identify important roles that imitation has played in western music; • developed a more expert knowledge about genres, techniques, and processes involved in making music; • improved their ability to describe music and their experience of it; • explored the intersection between the performance of music and the performance of race and gender; • grappled with the ways that philosophy and cultural criticism have viewed imitation, especially as an aspect of artistic creation; • engaged with the legal debates surrounding issues of imitation in music and art.