SOCI 499: The Evolution of Musical Hierarchies in American Society

Music is classified across Western societies as “classical” (or “highbrow”) and “popular.” The notion of cultural hierarchy implicit in these labels is so pervasive that musical genres can appear to belong inherently to one category or the other. Opera, the symphony, and chamber music are today typically thought of as “classical,” whereas the Broadway musical, jazz, country, and rock are “popular.” But what may seem to be immutable categorizations have in fact varied across time in response to each era’s particular social, aesthetic, and ideological concerns. This course examines continuity and change in American society’s conception of cultural hierarchy in music. It engages enduring questions about music’s social origins and functions and scrutinizes the evolving relationships between cultural stratification and social class.

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