BAND THEORY was a course I taught at Bennington when I first got there. The idea was to study different musical cultures with a focus on how music was made in collaboration. Then I hoped we would take what we learned and adapt it or "translate" into the collective musical culture of the class as a group. Students were admitted who had some experience on an instrument (voice was included as an "instrument"); an attempt was made to adhere to high standard of music literacy but this turned out to be hard to maintain, as experience playing in groups and with improvisation was equally important.
In the fall, students and I looked at African, then Caribbean music, ending up with salsa. We then contrasted that study of rhythmic independence with a short look at the type of independence found in medieval European polyphony.
In the spring, we spent half the term studying the music of the Javanese gamelan, and then continued on to research individual student experiences of the American "garage band."
In both spring and fall, these explorations culminated in performances of student compositions which combined and demonstrated what students garnered from this research. And these culminations were preceded by regular performances throughout the term at Bennington Music Discipline's weekly "Musical Gathering."
The course was set up to meet twice a week, ostensibly once for discussion and again, with instruments, in a rehearsal setting. So there was a continual dual emphasis on study and performance.
In retrospect, the dual emphasis placed great demands on student time and dispersed the focus, slowed the progress of learning and made for a less satisfying learning experience than I had hoped. If the general level of instrumental and musicianship skills had been higher, this might not have been the case, and it was frustrating for a minority of students who were more skilled and could have managed a faster pace and deeper study. But I don't think this can be expected in a non-conservatory setting, although increased music literacy would have helped and doesn't seem like much to ask of a liberal arts college student.
Someday I'd like to try this course again, perhaps as an intensive, where students come expecting greater demands upon their time and have the commitment to do whatever it takes to bring themselves individually up to a functional level of participation. I still think the results would be wonderful for all involved.
And even so, I think some of my 2001-2002 Band Theory-ers walked away with something valuable.