Music at Prescott College? A look at the past, present and future

Holly Rollovick

Staff Writer

From bands like the Butte Creek Boys and Bird Teeth, to singer/songwriters and rap artists, many Prescott College students are enamored with music. Yet, due to space and budget constraints, the college currently does not offer regularly scheduled music courses. Students who want to study the field must do so through independent studies, or by taking courses at neighboring Yavapai College.

Amber Harrington, 20, who is now completing an independent study in songwriting, discussed the pros and cons of inventing her own course.

“One pro, for example: I get to design the curriculum; I get to focus on those aspects of music that I find most compelling, such as reading interviews with guys like Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, and studying theory in the context of a song that I am writing. One con: I have to design the curriculum, and it can be overwhelming asking the questions and answering them.”

Harrington says that she has an “excellent” mentor, but “one hour a week is not the same” as the four and a half hours per week of a typical Prescott College course.

Harrington is only one of many Prescott College students who have pursued their passion for music outside of the usual course offerings. K.L. Cook, coordinator of the Arts & Letters Program, said, “We help students do whatever they want to do, and that makes us distinctive. And those ambitions have included, on many occasions, full breadths and competences in music and impressive CDs and even musicals … ”

Cook was optimistic about future possibilities for creating a music program at the college. “One of the great and distinctive things about Prescott College is its flexibility and smallness,” said Cook. “Unfortunately, because we are so small, the college can’t be everything to everyone … Our long-range goals are to expand all the arts — including music — and to make Prescott College a mecca for students wanting to study all the arts. But music is both personnel- and facility-dependent, and currently the college doesn’t have the resources to build a new performing arts facility that would include soundproof rooms, an appropriately acoustic performance venue, instruments, and storage area, not to mention hire a full faculty member(s) to solidify a music curriculum.”

Estin Vogel, a 21 year-old Prescott College student, plays clarinet and marched in his high school band. “We have all these arts, but there’s one missing,” said Vogel. “I wanted to go to a big state school so I could be in the band,” he said, “but Prescott [College] is preferable to a big state school. It would be cool if we could … at least take some music classes as enrichment.”

Prescott College student Claire Tuchel, 21, plays guitar, violin, and piano. She and Jack Zeglovitch, 21, a musician who moved to Prescott from Minnesota to potentially enroll at Prescott College, envision “The History of Rock and Roll” and ethnomusicology as possible starting classes.

Ethnomusicology is the study of music in a sociocultural context. This class could coalesce with the cultural and regional studies program at Prescott College, and could include experiential education as well.

“[Ethnomusicology] would tie closely into the current liberal arts programming,” Tuchel said, “but it would also encourage people to push for more. If we have a taste of it … everyone will be like, ‘Oh my god, this is so great! We should do this on a bigger scale!’ If classes are offered, people will take them.”

Jack Herring, Dean of Prescott College, explained how students could get involved in lobbying for courses in music.

“The way such a new competence or emphasis area would be created depends, to some degree, on who is interested,” Herring said. “If it is a student generated interest, then it could either come as an initiative supported by the Student Union Board, or it could be communicated directly by the interested students to faculty members. In either case, it would ultimately need to be approved by faculty in the relevant program (Arts and Letters) and then by the relevant larger faculty group.”

    Cook offered historical perspective on the development of the arts at the college, noting that the faculty and administration have been fostering an ambitious curriculum for the past two decades.

“The Arts & Letters Program is a vital program but a relatively young one,” said Cook. “ It didn’t even exist when I first came here 20 years ago … Our whole art studio and photo labs and visual art classroom existed in what is now President Woolever’s office! There were very few writing and literature courses beyond Writing Workshop, and no dance and theatre to speak of. So we’ve come an incredibly long way from that point to where we are now — offering a varied curriculum in performing arts, writing & literature, and visual arts, including BFA tracks … ”

Prescott College student Luke Volkmann, 19, has played cello since he was in third grade. “I think music is a big part of liberal arts programs,” he said. “Or it seems like maybe it should be.”

“We hope that the next phase of development for the college will include a dedicated space for performance that would allow us to have these offerings,” said Cook. “We’ve even submitted plans for such a building as part of the long-term strategic plan.”

Though current students who pine for music may be on the inside looking out, it is a goal of the college to someday integrate music into its arts program.

“I studied music for two and a half years,” Zeglovitch said, “so if I come [to Prescott College], I hope I can continue some of that.”

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