Reflections on a Challenging Semester

Oh boy. What to think about this semester.

I’ll be the first to admit that this class was not my number one priority: I was planning a senior recital, juggling a few jobs, and switching majors (as a SENIOR yikes). I was absolutely ecstatic for this course coming into it, however, as I am (now) a Church Music major and want to pursue a career in sacred music. I loved learning about the earliest readings we did – Suya, Hildegard, Music and Religion in Islam, etc. As we continued, however, things started feeling very similar. While I do appreciate the focus on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I wish it was a bit more spread out throughout the semester.¬†As many others have mentioned, it also would have been great to focus on non-Lutheran or even non-Christian religions. It’s tricky though, with a topic name like Music and Religion, to narrow it down to something that will fit the time allotted.

Which brings me to what I’ve learned. I’ve learned that research is incredibly hard and I really don’t think I’m very good at it. Starting too broad and narrowing it down was very challenging, so I often started too narrow and then couldn’t expand enough to find what I needed. What’s more, I quickly turned topics that I was interested in and ruined them for myself because I associated them with stress. I actually ruined Beautiful Savior for myself this year at Christmas Fest. I doubt this struggle with research was due to the class or the research itself; it’s been a pretty tough semester. But it did help me realize what little exposure I’ve had to research at St. Olaf and helped me improve (a little? I think?).

I’ve read a few others say that they were affirmed in their Lutheranism during this class. I was affirmed in my Catholicism. It was very helpful to learn about what I’m not to further justify what I am. I will definitely take that mindset into my future life. I also greatly appreciated the discussions we had about healthy discourse and the election. Those were some of the greatest conversations I’ve had while at St. Olaf, and it was so amazing to come to a common ground of respect for one another. One thing I would recommend going forward is to encourage more conversations that don’t specifically surround a piece of music or one composer – some highlights were:¬†appropriateness in worship, sacred vs secular intent in a worship service, thinking about pop music as sacred, and the two I mentioned earlier. This way, there’s room to talk about a specific piece if wanted, but everyone feels just a little bit more safe to participate. I also think one less podcast and more emphasis on in-class reading and discussion would have helped the atmosphere of the class a little better. It was really hard sometimes to justify going when it didn’t seem like anything we discussed in class would be graded.

All in all, I really enjoyed this class, though it was not what I expected. I learned a lot about research and myself, while learning and appreciating a lot more about Bach. I hope that the feedback given helps the course get better so it can be taught many more times – it’s a perfect topic for St. Olaf.


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