Update from "How We Respond to Music" from Emma Zitzow-Childs


Today, Sunflower’s Freedom Fellows in the ‘How We Respond to Music’ class tackled an exploration of multi-sensory adjectives. Our goal was to seize upon parts of language that would let us more clearly describe how music affects us. One of the first realizations we came across as a class in Week 1 was that listening to music of any genre elicits a wide, complex range of emotions. As a group, we came to a key conclusion: there is nothing inherently incorrect with saying that a song makes us feel ‘sad’, but there is so much more that could be said in that arena! Words have immense power in the classroom and beyond, and so we as a class needed to find ways to access that power through more precise vocabulary.


In our activity, students selected a ‘base’ adjective or adverb that they might commonly use in describing everyday situations (nice, beautiful, difficult / quickly, very, quietly). From there, we worked to explode those terms outwards using both color and taste. Using paint swatches, we spoke of synonyms as being varying shades of the same color, to show why they are important to recognize and employ. And using ‘spiciness’ as our scale, we selected synonyms in varying degrees to explore their intensity ranges (mild, medium, HOT).

Almost all of our course readings touch upon the fact that music is (sometimes infuriatingly!) intangible; it appeals to our ears and to our imaginations but translates only with great difficulty to prose. When students sit down to articulate what they hear in the creative component of their final project, they will now have two supplemental modalities (color, taste) to help achieve greater precision in their own writing.

Andrew Donnelly