Sound Studies Major To Be Introduced

by Samantha Walla, Production Manager

In the fall of 2020, incoming Manhattan College students will be able to declare a major in sound studies.

The program, developed in large part by music professor Mark Pottinger, will expand upon the music minor currently offered by the Department of Visual and Performing Arts.

Although the same five courses of the music minor will be included in the major, the decision to categorize the major as sound studies contributes to the relationship Manhattan College has had to music as a Lasallian institution.

“[The college’s] mission has always been to equip young people with skills to equip people to be transformative in the world,” said Pottinger.

For this reason, very few Catholic schools, and Lasallian schools in particular, offer music programs.

“Music is fun,” said Pottinger. “We enjoy music because of its ability to move us away from the everyday grind of rigor. But as we all know, music does have rigor.”

Music study has historically been categorized by the study of a particular instrument, live music and the reflection of culture through music. By defining the program as sound studies, rather than music studies, the wider influence of recorded sound can be examined and understood by its students.

Pottinger also points out that most of the impactful interactions that one experiences with music in present day is recorded sound, as opposed to live music, which also contributes to the wide breadth of the program.

After 20 years at Manhattan College, Pottinger remains the only full-time musicologist and music professor. Over this time, he has seen Manhattan College’s music expand through the addition of performance ensembles such as orchestra and jazz band, as well as the music minor. However, the addition of an entire major always seemed out of grasp.

By the fall of 2020, at least 10 freshmen will begin as sound studies majors. However, a number of current Manhattan students have expressed interest in switching into the program.

Freshman Luis Chavez is one of the students planning on declaring a sound studies major next year.

Chavez plans to build on his ample music education from high school in classes such as production, computer programing to measure acoustics and organology, the study of instruments.

“This program is perfect for me since I want to become a professional on Broadway,” said Chavez. “It really does help if you become a renaissance music man.”

The major will serve more than students interested in performance. Pottinger’s background preceding music is physics, and many of those involved in performing ensembles on campus are engineers. This major will be able to diversify the education of those students.

“I was always looking at the materiality music,” said Pottinger. “So looking at how it defines itself in our everyday world, rather than just simply as emotion or subjective reality, but as something that can be measured, something that can be understood or defined by data sets that speak directly to our experience.”

Sophomore Abby Drayer plans to change her music minor to a sound studies major next fall, which will be supplemented by a physics minor.

Drayer intends to pursue a career that involves both physics and music in the study of sound; such as a musicologist, sound engineering technician, or acoustician.

“Coming into Manhattan College I knew that I wanted a career in a STEM field while also having music be towards the forefront of my life,” said Drayer. “But the physics program and the music program are geared in vastly different directions with little to no subject overlap. My hope for this program is that it will allow me to use what I have already learned in my physics and music courses in accordance with each other, rather than being treated as separate entities.”

  Drayer’s experiences with the study of sound itself is limited to her physics education, but she has practiced music as a pianist and percussionist throughout her life, continuing in various performing ensembles at Manhattan such as Pep Band and Pipes and Drums.

“A lot of people think of music and physics – or even science in general – as vastly different subject matters. This is completely the opposite as music is quite literally physics. On a fundamental level, music is the motion of sound waves through particles, received and interpreted by our auditory systems. Written music is even more scientific and mathematical, requiring complex systems of pitch and meter.”

Even beyond its encompassing of seemingly unlikely aspects of science and engineering, the major will ask larger questions of culture and societal impact.

“The process of locating sound and defining, in sound, realities that speak to ideas, that’s really at the heart of sound studies,” said Pottinger. “But also how we want music to be in our everyday lives. We listen to music for a pretty good reason. We ask of it, everytime we go to it, something. It’s in the process of why we are asking that question and what do we get in return. What process is done in that exchange?”

This question will contribute to the Lasallian mission of transforming the world, not only through its students, but as a trailblazer of sound studies programs across Catholic institutions.