Sound Studies Major Brings a New Meaning to Music at MC

By Karen Flores,  Asst. Features Editor

Manhattan College is home to a unique and artistic major: sound studies. Have you heard of it?

The music and theater department here at the college introduced the sound studies major in the fall of 2020 with the pioneering influence of Mark A. Pottinger, Ph.D, chair of the department. 

The sound studies major aims to combine both the traditional music study with the science of sound. According to the Manhattan website, Pottinger said that “by redefining the study of music as the study of sound, the [sound studies] program will examine the entire listening experience and the various societal forces that inform it, including technology, physiology, religion, politics, history and the environment.”

Suzanne Thorpe, P.h.D., is a visiting assistant professor in the music and theater department and the interim director of the music department while Pottinger is on sabbatical. 

“The sound studies major is a very innovative and interdisciplinary program in its approach as it allows them to investigate any number of other disciplines from the position of sound science to that of music,” Thorpe said. “So it’s a very unique and innovative way for us to start to expand how we think of the creative arts and the humanities.”

Andrew Bauer, director of performing arts and adjunct professor, says that the program allows for students to be prepared not only in a performance aspect but also in the technological and engineering aspects of music. 

“You know, when you think of traditional music study, you think of musicology, music theory and composition. We’re integrating those studies with the science of sound and activities such as music production, technology, recording, editing and audio research,” Bauer said.

Bauer believes that the courses given by the program can prepare the students for a variety of career paths. 

 “I teach several classes, including recording engineering classes and the album composition class, which are connected to the sound studies major,” Bauer said. “The sound studies department would prepare you for graduate school and careers such as being a music teacher, a music engineer, an acoustician and so on. Certainly music performance would be a part of someone’s career and if they were doing sound studies, it would be like exploring the science of the sounds within performances.” 

Luis Chavez, a senior sound studies major with minors in music and theater, reflected back to when the major was first established. Chavez came into his freshman year as an undecided major. He explained that seeing this major come to life was amazing. 

“It was only established as an official major on DegreeWorks my sophomore year, so two years ago, when Dr. Pottinger was finally able to officially put it into action, and it’s been really awesome seeing it develop and classes expanding,” Chavez said.

Chavez hopes to see the sound studies major and the music and theater department as a whole grow and expand as well as see collaboration with outside institutions. 

“I think [the sound studies major is] heading in a great direction,” Chavez said. “I hope to see more. I hope to see more funding for it and more spaces for music and acoustical engineering to be developed here at Manhattan College. I also would like to see if there will be collaborations between schools nearby. I’d like to see music unite us with others.”

George Callaghan, a junior sound studies major, also hopes to see an expansion to the arts majors and classes provided by the program. 

“[I chose this major] because there isn’t a music major,” Callaghan said. “I would have just done the music major because although I’m interested in the other things [the major] offers, I would really like to be focusing on music theory and performances and playing the music itself. I do like and enjoy the music classes that are offered and the requirements for the major, but I wish that the core requirements were more music based.”

Brandon Zuniga, junior sound studies major, sees the sound studies program as a way to broaden his love for music and give him more opportunities in the future. 

“I want to get a whole aspect of [music] and decide in the future what I want to do,” Zuniga said. “The major provides me with that. It gives me the whole spectrum of music from audio production to the theory behind music. I’m always going to be a musician at heart. So I definitely prefer to like the music side of it. But the science part is really interesting. Just like seeing how acoustics work, understanding  how sounds bounce off a wall. It opens up a new door for me.” 

Zuniga along with other sound major students have enjoyed the opportunities provided by the program and hope it expands past its current point. 

“To be honest, I think it might be one of the best run departments in my opinion, just because the faculty really knows what they’re talking about and are willing to sit down with you and help you understand concepts,” Zuniga said. “They are willing to help you out if you want to learn more past the classroom too. And yeah, they’re great people. I’m glad that they’re teaching me.”