Well, it happened: one of the moments to which I always look forward whenever I’m teaching a lecture course.
It’s been my practice for quite a while now to play songs before and after each of my lectures that are somehow related to the day’s major ideas. Sometimes the lyrics are important, but sometimes it’s just the title of the song or even the name of the band. For example, Genesis’s love song “Follow You, Follow Me” was one of the songs I played before Monday’s lecture on the Book of Genesis, and while you could argue that the song’s lyrics could be about love of God rather than earthly love, I chose the song because of the band’s name (and because the song reminds me of high school). The recessional tune, however, I chose for the lyrics: Bruce Springsteen’s rendition of “Jacob’s Ladder.”
I started this practice years ago when I was lecturing on the eighth floor of NYU’s Main Building (now Silver Center). I found that the elevator lines were so long that I had to be there at least 15 minutes early or else walk up the eight flights. The latter would put me in an ill humor, but I wasn’t so crazy about being that early to class either. So I decided to play tunes to amuse myself and perhaps give the students a subliminal incentive to get there early themselves. I never said anything about it, but I did start noticing that there were more students there ahead of time than there had been before. And on the days when I happened to be too late to play the songs — or if I neglected to bring the songs — I’d see some disappointed faces and a few scowls. My wife calls it “feeding the rat”: creating expectations that then need to be satisfied day after day — or else.
The songs generally reflect my tastes in classic and indie rock, but I’m always on the lookout for new music to play. And invariably, at some point during the term, without prompting, a student will ask if he or she can suggest a song to be played. And that’s the moment to which I look forward. It gives me the sense that I’m getting the students to be invested in the course in a way that’s different from the way they’re invested in their other courses. (I’m probably fooling myself, but, hey, a guy can dream!)
So the playlist for Wednesday’s lecture, which focused on the Books of Jonah and Job, was:
Paul Simon, “Jonah”
Sister Rosetta Tharpe, “Jonah”
Warren Zevon, “Poor, Poor Pitful Me”
Bruce Springsteen, “The Promised Land”
And the second tune, “Jonah” by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, was suggested by one of my students, Ethan Kilham. Thanks, Ethan.