Published: Oct. 15, 2015 By

yonatan malin and keith waters

Music theory professors Yonatan Malin and Keith Waters

When we listen to music, there are certain pieces that we just enjoy. Whether it’s through repetition, the accessibility of the melody or even a fond memory associated with the tune, we “get” it—or, in the best cases, we feel as if the composer “gets” us.

But then there are those other pieces that, for whatever reason, don’t click. The melodies that don’t speak to us—or are sometimes seemingly non-existent. That’s where understanding what’s happening in the music can help us appreciate—even begin to enjoy—music that we otherwise wouldn’t listen to twice.

That’s the revelation our music theory faculty hope the public will experience during the CU on the Weekend event, “Gershwin Meets Schubert: Words, Music and Song.” Hosted by the Office of Outreach and Engagement, CU on the Weekend invites members of the community to campus for free lectures on some of the research happening at CU-Boulder.

Theory faculty Yonatan Malin and Keith Waters saw the series as an opportunity to bring Boulder in on the fascinating work they and their colleagues are doing. “We wanted to be able to show the public what we do, like the other areas of music,” says Malin. “People are curious about music theory, and this is a way to share our work with them.”

The program, which will combine lecture and performances of George and Ira Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm,” two Franz Schubert songs and the baseball game mainstay “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” is also a chance to showcase College of Music graduate student performers. The goal is to show people that art songs like Schubert’s are just as enjoyable as the more popular Gershwin. “We’re not necessarily proposing a connection between the two, just the fact that art song is often more accessible than we might think. Conversely, popular song is a lot more sophisticated. It has a lot of interesting things going on,” Malin explains.

Malin hopes the introduction to theory concepts will make them less intimidating. “It’s easier to understand rhythm in song because it’s less abstract. It has lyrics. So we’ll talk about the rhythm of the lyrics.”

The theory department plans to host an event every year during CU on the Weekend. Just like with a piece of music, the hope is that repetition will lead to better understanding of theory. “You can hear everything we talk about if we can draw your attention to it,” says Malin. “A friend of mine asked me once, ‘What theory do you teach?’ The ‘theory’ is that we can describe what we hear ... and in the act of describing it, we learn to hear it better.”

“Gershwin Meets Schubert: Words, Music and Song” is Saturday, Oct. 24, 10:30 a.m. in the Chamber Hall (C-199). The public is invited to this free event, but seating is limited so arrive early. College of Music Dean Robert Shay will introduce Malin and Waters.