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An Experiment in Sound and Place

Unexpected combinations often become unexpected delights; peanut butter and chocolate, a ball and a net, oboes and experimental geography. The last of these combinations came together when professors Nicholas Bauch and Dan Schwartz melded their collective expertise into a collegiate project unlike any other at the University of Oklahoma.

“I think we had a good defined collaboration from the start. We knew it was going to benefit everyone,” Bauch explains.

The collaboration required Shwartz, Assistant Professor of Oboe and Bauch, Assistant Professor of Geo-Humanities to bridge the gap between their two worlds of study to create a curriculum beneficial for both groups of students.

What they achieved was altogether unique and delightful.

“We picked a spot on campus to be inspired by,” explains oboe student Matthew Sumter, “and we talked about different aspects of the spot, like how it made us feel and how people interact with it.”

Oboe student Matthew Sumter performing near the Bizzell Clock Tower on OU's campus

The professors joined students studying oboe with undergraduates in the course Introduction to Geo-Humanities , and tasked groups of three with creating a piece of music inspired by a specific place on OU’s campus.

From fountains, to clock towers, and even an indoor training facility, the students worked together to observe and define key attributes of each place based on research in cultural geography. The end result? A work of art.

“For musicians it's so incredibly important to explore music from all facets and angles outside of just what your teacher puts on the music stand in front of you,” Schwartz points out. Bauch chimes in as well, “In the spirit of application, this collaboration with the music students has helped me teach my students about core cultural geographical concepts.”

Professors Dan Schwartz (left) and Nicholas Bauch (right) talk about their collaboration

The real win? The fact that students became the teachers in this course through the application of skills they learned in the classroom.

“I think what was most fascinating about this project, is that all three of us had to come together and find common ground about what this place was trying to tell us,” notes freshman, Martina Dimitrijevic, who worked with a team to conceptualize the Ada Louis Sipeul Fisher Garden.

Oboe student Laura Amstutz gained both literal and interpretive inspiration from the Everest Indoor Training Facility, the place where she prepares with the Pride of Oklahoma marching band before each Oklahoma Football home game.

“I always feel like we’re going into battle, because the football game is electric and exciting. So that’s how I wrote the piece; it has a tribal feel, its in a 5/8 meter, it has percussion and wind instruments, and is very fast moving,” she explains.

The Everest Training Center set the stage for Jessica Hale and Laura Amstutz.

So what have students learned from this endeavor? Oboe performance masters student, Angela Walker, is walking away from this class with a new perspective.

“For me it’s really to look at a space in a different way, to think about what the historical aspects are, my emotional response to a space,” all things she learned to appreciate in this class, “and that’s going to inspire me in my music from here on.”

“It gives a whole new meaning to spaces, there not just latitude and longitude anymore,” remarks Geographic Information Sciences student, Tanner Dixon.

Statements like these capture the vision of Professor Schwartz, whose desire for his students is, “to see the world and their surroundings with as open of eyes as possible and to assert their creative vision and know that it’s valid, and championed, and worthy.”

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