Robert M. Lucas

Realizing the Public Value of Learning

Musical composition as public service

You might not typically associate music composition classes with service-learning. Here’s a fascinating example, though, from East Carolina University, of music students composing in a way that makes a lasting contribution to the region. Public Radio East, the local NPR affiliate, needed a new theme song for the program Down East Journal. Host Jared Brumbaugh presented his needs to a composition master class at ECU, solicited submissions, and narrowed the field to three finalists, which were recorded. All three were played on Down East Journal, with listeners asked to vote on the new theme.

There’s so much learning at work here that I hardly know where to begin. As professor Ed Jacobs says,

All of the students who submitted–regardless of whether they were chosen and ultimately performed . . . –all of the students have been brought into a situation which is new and really helps with their development. They’ve been asked to write something that is very compressed. A one minute idea. It’s like writing a little miniature or a little vignette for the theater.

The students are well-aware of their work’s value to the the show’s producer and his audience. Upon hearing he had won the contest, Joshua Tomlinson of Swansboro told Brumbaugh, “It was exciting to do something, not only for your radio station, which I love, but also for Eastern North Carolina.”

When the students talk about their composition processes, it’s also clear that they were bringing to bear musical ideas, personal styles, and improvisational techniques that they’ve been cultivating over many years. The work of this ECU student will now be shown off on PRE “every week, for quite some time,” as Jacobs puts it. More than that, it demonstrates, to me and other listeners, a novel and potentially germinative way in which the university’s public service mission extends across the curriculum.


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