November 16, 2012
Students in Ken Parsons’ and Amity Brysons’ Music & Politics interdisciplinary class knew on their first night in Berlin that this wasn’t going to be an ordinary trip.
Fresh off an 18-hour flight that took them through Charlotte, N.C. and Frankfort, Germany – and, a train ride and walk carrying luggage to their hotel – Parsons and Bryson asked the 12 sleep-deprived students, majoring in everything from education to history to theatre and music, to follow them on their first adventure. After a walk down Unter den Linden, one of the main thoroughfares in the city, the students were taken to the unsicht-Bar. Only, this was no ordinary eatery. Unsicht-Bar is what is known in Germany as a “dark restaurant.” Patrons dine in pitch-black darkness and are served by the blind or visually-impaired. They have only the sense of smell, taste, hearing and feel to guide their way.
“The first experience we wanted students to have was using just their aural abilities, rely on just what you hear,” said Parsons, Ph.D., chair, religious studies and assistant professor of philosophy. “In this course, we emphasized listening. The students loved the variety of things they were able to do that expanded their horizons.”
During the trip, which took place Oct. 16-23, students were formally subjected to at least four music experiences – a musical theatre performance, a 17th-century opera, a performance by a post-punk electronic duo and a women’s jazz quartet. In a city known as the techno-music capital of the world, students were encouraged to venture out and attend more music events on their own.
The idea not only was to listen to the music, but experience it – fully immerse themselves in the cultural and political aspects of it.
“We’d never traveled with this course before,” said Parsons, who had traveled to Berlin with another class in 2010. “We wanted an immersive component that drove the students into the subject work like you can’t in a cinder-block classroom.”
The students’ activities weren’t just limited to music. They visited a Holocaust memorial and a cultural exhibit called the “Story of Berlin.” Students also took in museums filled with ancient Roman and Persian art, as well as more modern museums. And, of course, there was plenty of food, both native to the country and of other ethnicities.
“The Sunday of our trip, students were left free to explore the city on their own,” Parsons said. “Part of the goal was to show students that music is political, and that it’s often a completely different experience being there and being part of a communal experience than simply listening to music on your headphones.
“But, it wasn’t just a music/political trip. It was a broad-based multi-cultural experience.”
In at least one way, the trip isn’t over for the students either. Each student was required to keep a journal of the experience, and as a class assignment, each student is to compose an original piece of music related to the experience.
Some students will perform those pieces at a recital Dec. 2 in the chapel in Foyle Hall. This portion of the recital is entitled, “Pieces From Berlin.”
Avila University is a private, co-educational, values-based liberal arts institution founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, offering undergraduate, graduate, and adult degree programs. Avila University is located at 119th and Wornall Rd in southwest suburban Kansas City, Mo.