Through the Arts First program, the University of Waterloo’s Faculty of Arts provides a wide spectrum of courses each term with an emphasis on developing inquiry and communication skills. First-year students have an opportunity to explore a variety of topics based on a professor’s expertise, with each course taught in a small seminar setting where students build social awareness and ethical engagement. These courses are often a gateway to learning about potential majors students might pursue, including Grebel’s programs such as Music, Peace and Conflict Studies, Mennonite Studies, and Religious and Theological Studies.
This winter at Grebel and the University of Waterloo, Music Professor Kate Kennedy Steiner is teaching a course on the Tony Award-winning musical sensation Hamilton, inspired by the life of Alexander Hamilton, a founding father of America. With Professor Steiner’s expertise in musical techniques and interest in American history, she takes an innovative approach by teaching communication skills through a musical lens.
“In my own research on medieval music, I examine the techniques composers used to create sacred biographies of the heroes of their day – saints,” explained Professor Steiner. “I think music plays a fundamental role in presenting biographies as models for the present day. I thought that the musical Hamilton would be a great, accessible way to examine this, even for students who don’t have any music study background.”
To communicate and share her research, Professor Steiner is taking a unique approach to bring social awareness to her students by analyzing the political history of America. “The course is actually about learning how to communicate effectively, but I think Hamilton has a lot of important topics to consider, such as nationalism, race, and musical genre,” expressed Professor Steiner. “And of course, you have to admit that Lin-Manuel Miranda has used music and poetry to communicate very effectively.”
Analyzing musical styles and genres used for history-telling provides students with a renewed perspective on history as well as music. As a final project, students will imagine a Canadian musical with the biography of a historical figure, while researching and applying a broad spectrum of musical genres. Combining Lin-Manuel Miranda’s revolutionary Hamilton, with Professor Steiner’s musical and historical expertise, this course is an engaging way to develop communication skills.
Conrad Grebel University College aids students in developing unconventional thought processes through community-based learning environments. Learning with and from others is one of Grebel’s specialities.
by Ashitha Mantrawadi