Comments on Practical Classroom Issues

Using fIlm clips in class
Film showings outside the standard meeting time
Films with offensive material
The sonic environment of the classroom



(Using fIlm clips in class)  Film teachers are already well aware of the logistical issues connected with using film clips during class time, but it may not immediately occur to music instructors that film clips are very much like musical examples in a classroom setting: they require considerable time over and above the duration of the clip itself. This is especially true if you use commercial DVDs in a player without a location memory; for most purposes, laptops or other computers tied into audio/visual reproduction systems work best. Even in the most efficient systems, it requires several steps: setting the DVD timing, setting or checking the audio levels, and turning down lights. 

Of course, if either streaming video or DVD ripping software is available, some of these steps will be bypassed since you will be working directly with digital files (or links) instead of disks.  When streaming, you need to make sure that you have a reliable internet connection; physical (ethernet) connections are best, as it is our experience that wi-fi is not always stable.  When working directly with digital files, you will need  either to download them to the computer you are using or to keep them on a portable hard drive (preferably connected with firewire).  Either you can play them directly as files using a media player such as Quicktime Player, Windows Media Player or VLC; or you can embed them within a presentation program such as Power Point.  If you otherwise use a presentation program for your class, the latter alternative has the advantage of not requiring you to change programs.  You do lose some flexibility when you play media files in presentation programs compared to a dedicated media player, however, and Power Point in particular can be finicky in terms of the formatting of media files it will reliably play.  But the savings in time and class organization are often worth the loss in flexibility.  No matter which option you choose, we very much recommend that you test all disks, links and files before class.  

We no longer recommend using VHS tapes, except perhaps on TV racks in a small class. Students now are accustomed to seeing digital quality video and hearing digital audio, the quality of VHS image reproduction under projection is especially poor, and VHS timing and rewind are too obviously slow and clumsy in comparison with DVDs.


(Film showings outside the standard meeting time)  The traditional model for film-studies classes involves standard class meetings, either at 1 or 2 daytime hours or during an evening, supplemented by another evening of film showings once a week. We designed Hearing the Movies to work equally well within this model, within course designs in which students are asked to plan their own time to view films (whether through a library's reserves or as they are available commercially), or within courses where students are not expected to watch entire films as part of their requirements. David Neumeyer uses a hybrid of the second and third of these schemes: students do not need to watch entire films to satisfy the requirements for quizzes and exams, but they do need to watch films in order to carry out assignments and projects. During spring 2009, three films were put on reserve in the Audio-Visual Library; six others (chosen by the students from recent films) are available in the Library but were not placed on reserve -- as recent films (some only just out in video release), these are all readily available from commercial sources as well. The assignments are structured in a way that allows students to use a single title from the list for all of the assignments; thus, some students might be encouraged to purchase personal copies of a film.


(Films with offensive material)  Music instructors who decide to teach film music courses will need to consider the appropriateness of some titles for class use. In the authors' experience, it is generally not difficult to contextualize classical films with problematic expressions of gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. More recent films, on the other hand, can create more difficulties; as always, the instructor must weigh the student audience and institutional setting against the significance of a particular film for instruction in the topic. As an extreme example, despite the variety and power of its treatments of classical symphonic music, A Clockwork Orange is essentially unusable in a typical classroom setting. But similar instructional benefits can come from showing Die Hard (and there is also an accessible scholarly article on that film and its music by Robynn Stilwell). 

In Hearing the Movies we chose film titles for their historical value, aesthetic qualities, pedagogical usefulness, and general appeal. A very few films might nevertheless have some objectionable aspects. Good Will Hunting, for example, has quite a bit of coarse language (though not in the scene analyzed in Chapter 1). There have also been published criticisms of the depiction of gay mens' lifestyles in The Birdcage (Ch. 5).


(The sonic environment of the classroom)  Although it is entirely possible to go through all of Parts I & II without talking about the sound reproduction system in the classroom, instructors will find that students are better prepared for the information and arguments in Part III if they spend a few minutes talking about the sound reproduction in their own room setting. The best moment for this is during discussion of either Chapter 2 or 3, when students are being asked to pay attention to -- and to try to describe -- sound qualities and textures (Ch. 2) or sound in relation to physical space (Ch. 3). At the least, the difference between monaural and stereo reproduction or between stereo and Dolby 5.1 can be of value, as can attempts to describe the room as "live" or "dull" or "dry."

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