Music to My Ears

How Fulfilling a Distribution Requirement Brought Me to My Favorite Class

As I walked into the Lang Music Building on the second day of sophomore year, I had no idea what to expect. I was unfamiliar with this building, only having been in a couple of times for an acapella or orchestra concert. Now, this was a space I’d be in every other day for Music and Culture in East Asia, a course that would go towards fulfilling my humanities requirement. Not only was I nervous about the fact that it was a humanities course, but I also knew that with such a small class came a lot of participation. The seven student enrollment is the type of class Swarthmore prides itself on, but how would I handle this type of environment? I was used to the more medium-sized, lecture-style, stem courses. The thought of this class made me nervous: Would my classmates all be musical geniuses? What background knowledge could I bring to the course? I played violin when I was younger, and I’m Korean-American; I figured that had to count for something. 

What I ended up discovering was one of my favorite courses at Swarthmore. Professor Bryant was an expert in the emerging field of ethnomusicology, an area of study I learned a lot about throughout the semester. However, more than that, she was such a welcoming and supportive professor who made sure that everyone had the chance to thrive, regardless of our background in the course material. 

I developed a close relationship with every classmate; we all came from varying musical, cultural, and academic backgrounds, which made discussions that much more enriching. We got together outside of class to watch movies and films for the course, and during class, we had some of the most intellectual discussions I’ve had at Swat. I learned how music played a crucial role throughout Asian history, I attended the ‘Music from China Concert’ which corresponded to our class’s China unit, and I even took part in a Taiko drumming workshop during the Japan unit. I never knew what to expect walking through the doors of Lang- all I knew was that I was always eager to dive in. Music and Culture in East Asia quickly became one of my favorite courses.

Throughout the semester, I was exposed to so much more than just frameworks and perspectives. Without the humanities requirement, I would have never stumbled upon this course. With this realization, I started to view Swarthmore’s distribution requirements as a gift rather than a “requirement”. It’s amazing how much the college has to offer within its thick course catalog and there’s so much students can take advantage of. I have planned the course I am taking for my final humanities requirement, and my fingers are crossed that it is just as rewarding as my experience in Music and Culture in East Asia.

About the Author:

Hi, I’m Ashley! I’m a sophomore from Garnet Valley, Pennsylvania and am majoring in Statistics and Psychology. When I’m not working in Swarthmore’s Admissions office, you can find me staying active on the lacrosse field or spending time outside.  I love trying new foods and going to different restaurants with my family and friends.


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