Arts & Humanities in the English system

I am an imposter in a foreign system.

It’s not really that dramatic, but that’s what it sounds like when I try to explain to people that I’m a microbiology major taking music and sociology courses while I’m here. The courses I ended up with are Youth in Society, Music Analysis, Orchestra’s Around the World, and Italian Opera from Rossini to Puccini.

These are all upper-level (2nd and 3rd year) courses at Royal Holloway so I don’t have to deal with as many introductory tutorials as some of my fresher flatmates do. I do, however, have to adjust to the overall relaxed pace of the system. For each of my courses I have to write a 2500 word paper. For full time students, this essay is 50% of their grade with the end of the year exam makng up the other 50%. Royal Holloway operates on the term system, meaning that students take modules during Fall and Spring terms and then only take exams during Summer term. Students who study abroad for only one term do not get to take the exam so our final grade is based on one paper. It sounds a bit stressful, and it is, but it’s one of the reasons I’m happy to be taking required core courses and music minor courses for OSU rather than my major courses.

Youth in Society:

This is an interesting course, as it is taught by an older Scottish man… luckily it is mostly discussion based and so we (the youth) get to talk about the various issues in the context of our own experiences. It is a sociology course, so we cover all the usual topics like gender, sexuality, race, class, and education in the context of our generation. The class does focus on the UK and their own history but the makeup of the course is relatively international so during discussions we get American, Australian, and Chinese perspectives on the topics as well. I finished my coursework essay for this course and turned it in already, so I am pretty much done for the term.

Orchestras Around the World:

I just gave a presentation in this course about the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra, HYS, and PMI. This course focuses on traditional western orchestras and their influence in society. We look at orchestras that are making an impact in their communities in a positive way. We also look at groups that still perform traditional eastern music like Gamelan orchestras. It is an all around interesting course based on the professor’s own ethnomusicological research interests.

Italian Opera from Rossini to Puccini:

This one pretty much says it all in the title. It is a survey of Italian operas that were written during and slightly after the 19th century. Each week we move relatively chronologically and use a specific Italian opera to discuss a broader concept used in multiple operas. For example, when the topic of the week was “Death” we watched Verdi’s ‘La Traviata’ and discussed the concept of realism in operas.

Music Analysis:

This course surprised me a bit. I thought it would be along the lines of the second year theory course offered at OSU but it turned out to be another topic-based course. This course is based on Schenkerian analysis of music: a method developed by a German scholar who developed his own set of notations and focused on the underlying structure of musical works. I have dubbed it the quantum physics of music analysis because to me, the more you think about it, the less it makes sense. It has been an interesting topic to consider – I will say that – but I still prefer the general analysis methods of analyzing the melody and chord progressions.


I started writing this blog entry quite a while ago and added to it as I went along, so some info is more up to date. The term is drawing to a close soon and I am looking forward to finalizing my projects on all of these courses (with more than a little anxiety, considering the grading scheme I mentioned above). Part of me still wishes I could’ve actually taken biology courses like I had planned to all along, but I only have my home uni’s department rules to blame for the lack of those. When all is said and done, I’m glad I got the opportunity to try my hand at being a humanities student for a term and I’m thankful for all the people I’ve met along the way.


2 thoughts on “Arts & Humanities in the English system

  1. There’s lots to be said for some humanities courses in a well rounded education. It sounds like you are taking a look at music from many perspectives.


    1. I like that I was able to gain music credits here. At OSU I would’ve been limited to very general courses (theory II and history of western music). The English style is based more on these one time special-topic courses. It has been more interesting than it would have been at OSU.


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