In praise of the core curriculum

In preparing for a recent discussion in my “Teaching Music in Higher Education” course, I reflected on my own undergraduate core curriculum. And, truly for the first time, I appreciated how much I gained from those experiences… To wit:

  1. In an “every-freshman-must-take-it” world cultures course, we read the Tao Te Ching. I was captivated, and some further research led me to Buddhism, which became the spiritual underpinning for my adult life.

  2. An honors course my freshman year was all about modernism. I have drawn on that knowledge of people / works of art / schools of thought involved in modernism an untold number of times, particularly considering that one of my specialties is new music.

  3. A sociology class which I was sure I’d hate was actually fascinating — I had never before thought about norms, social mores and folkways, group-think, etc. These issues are of course a part of everyday life, in and out of academia and the music business.

  4. And randomly, in a conversation about effective studying for an upcoming test, my math professor introduced the Pomodoro Technique. Anyone that knows me well will attest that I’m fascinated by productivity, efficiency, and simplicity, and this conversation was absolutely the seed of that lifelong interest.


All of these things have direct influence on my daily life, and they all came from my studies in the core curriculum. So, I hereby vow to never again help my advisees “get the core curriculum out of the way.” Instead, I’ll do my very best to help them transfer knowledge and inspiration from those enriching activities to their work and life in their chosen field.

Kyle Ferrill teaches voice and vocal pedagogy at the University of Memphis, SongFest, and the Interlochen Arts Camp and performs around the country, primarily in art song and oratorio.