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Hot subjects—Music 319: Musical Ethnicities of Wisconsin

February 12, 2008 By Kristin Czubkowski

Most students are surprised to find on the timetable that a
Wisconsin-focused class could fulfill their ethnic studies requirement.

But music professor Susan Cook says her new class takes a broad
view of both music and ethnicity, diving into the use of music in
ethnic settlements in Wisconsin since the 1800s, such as the Swiss in
New Glarus and Germans in Milwaukee. She will also explore the musical
traditions of Native Americans and recent Hmong immigrants.

"I want (students) to appreciate how much meaning resides in music,
how much power music has to shape individuals and to help individuals
create their own self-identities," says Cook. "And with that, (show)
how important music has been to these notions of ourselves as ethnic or
racial people."

One of the ways she plans to impart this message is by having
students experience ethnic uses of music at local events, some of which
may be centered around music, while other may celebrate other parts of
a culture while incorporating music.

"Often, it’s a part of a larger cultural context, and that’s one of
the things we’ll be talking about," Cook says. "Is the music central to
the event, is it peripheral to the event, and how is the music helping
what else is going on there with regard to ethnicity?"