Professor explores the theory behind musical preference in OLLI lecture

In Arts & Entertainment, Music
CSUF faculty member and professor of music Stan Breckenridge, Ph.D., presented a lecture on Tuesday as part of OLLI’s “The Great American Songbook” series, aimed at providing free music education lectures to the community. (Patrick Do / Daily Titan)
CSUF faculty member and professor of music Stan Breckenridge, Ph.D., presented a lecture on Tuesday as part of OLLI’s “The Great American Songbook” series, aimed at providing free music education lectures to the community. (Patrick Do / Daily Titan)

Cal State Fullerton’s Stan Breckenridge, Ph.D., professor of African-American music history, jazz and composition, discussed his novel, “Music Taste or Waste: Critical Listening Skills for Students, Teachers, and Parents,” Tuesday as part of a special lecture series for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI).

His lecture was the final installment in OLLI’s “The Great American Songbook,” a series of six free classes in the Mackey Auditorium that cover American music history.

An accomplished academian who earned his doctorate in musicology, Breckenridge is also a professional vocalist, pianist, composer and author. As a specialist in American music, Breckenridge has published two books previously: “African American Music for Everyone: Including Theater, Film, and Dance” and “Popular Music in America: Forging the American Spirit.”

His newest novel was inspired by the desire to educate parents, teachers and students on why they listen to certain songs and don’t appreciate others, Breckenridge said. The purpose of the novel is to inspire more active listeners of music who can identify and understand for why they prefer certain songs over others, Breckenridge said.

Because the majority of the crowd was composed of OLLI members who were older, Breckenridge related this idea to the music that someone’s grandchild would listen to, which others might identify as sounding like “noise.” 

“That’s what this book does,” Breckenridge said. “It asks us to consider these various elements as a way to understand music.” To open the lecture, Breckenridge played two contrasting songs. The first from the heavy metal band Pleasure of Pain and the other from rhythm and blues artist Amy Winehouse. He then asked the audience to express their thoughts and opinions of each selection, segueing into the main topic of his lecture.

Laughing OLLI members try to understand why today's youths enjoy such different music than their parents and grandparents. (Patrick Do / Daily Titan)
Laughing OLLI members try to understand why today’s youths enjoy such different music than their parents and grandparents. (Patrick Do / Daily Titan)

“What do we use to decide what we prefer?” Breckenridge asked. “We prefer certain songs and certain styles over others, but for what reasons though?”

To lead the discussion, Breckenridge mainly used chapter seven of his novel, which deals with performance practices, because it acts as a compilation and summary of the previous chapter. The chapter covers the components of melody, harmony and rhythm as tools that affect a song’s likability, Breckenridge said.

“Don’t think about how it makes you feel, think about what is it that you hear that makes you feel the way that you do,” he said. Throughout the rest of the discussion, he played a diverse genre of songs such as Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog,” Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” and Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” as examples. Breckenridge elaborated on these components of melody, harmony and rhythm.

To close out the afternoon, Breckenridge took requests and performed a doo-wop rendition of Nat King Cole’s “Route 66” on the piano, which captivated the audience, eliciting loud cheers and a standing ovation. Though the discussion mostly drew an OLLI crowd, some CSUF students, such as 24-year-old psychology major, Michael Reyes, were in attendance. The name of the discussion caught Reyes’ attention because it was intriguing, he said. Reyes said he might use some of Breckenridge’s elements to change the way he listens to music, particularly in terms of lyrics.

Richard Matsumoto, an OLLI member and student in the Great American Songbook class, said he wasn’t sure what the concept of the lecture was until he arrived. Matsumoto still thoroughly enjoyed the event and will be utilizing elements from Breckenridge’s discussion, such as judging songs by their rhythmic progressions, when he listens to music.

Sandra Henry, OLLI member and attendee of the lecture, said it opened her mind to the idea of  listening to new music. “I think I will try to appreciate it better because there is a lot of music that I just kind of turn off,” Henry said. “This probably would broaden my horizon so that I possibly could connect better with music that my children listen to and my grandchildren listen to.”

If you liked this story, sign up for our weekly newsletter with our top stories of the week.

You may also read!

CSUF men's basketball defense kept the No. 2 best offense in the Big West, Long Beach State, at bay.

CSUF men’s basketball looks to defend four-game win streak

With both teams on winning streaks, only one team will be able to keep their streak intact when Cal

Read More...
Fullerton College men's basketball defeated Copper Mountain on Wednesday.

Fullerton College men’s basketball continues dominance

Fullerton College men’s basketball team is now one step closer to capturing the Orange Empire Conference title after defeating

Read More...
Kelsie Whitmore practices swinging her bat for CSUF softball before going up to the home plate at a home game against Cal State University, San Diego State on Feb. 20, 2019.

Sophie Frost powers CSUF softball through the rain

After winning three out of five games in the Hillenbrand Invitational in Tucson, the CSUF softball team returned home

Read More...

Mobile Sliding Menu