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Music speaks volumes

Music speaks volumes

Rebecca Sutton ’25 May 04, 2023

Music has the power to bring people together. But in one of UD’s popular music classes, Ethics and U.S. Popular Music, professor Samuel Dorf demonstrates how music not only brings his students together but helps them further understand one another.

At the beginning of the semester, Dorf, associate professor of musicology, asked students in his class to break off into pairs, each creating a music playlist to then share with the other. He said he was inspired by his own experiences of forming bonds through mix CDs and mixtapes when he was younger.

Professor Samuel Dorf in the front of the class.
Professor Samuel Dorf in class.


“When I was thinking back to the ways in which I maintained friendships and built community from high school and in college, the sharing of music and the sharing of curated playlists was a really important part of that,” he said.

Dorf said his students, who likely did not know one another before taking his course, have been surprised when they discover they share the same tastes in music. Dorf said students frequently pick songs from their childhoods, allowing them to bond over nostalgia.

Sophomore Victoria Brey, who completed the assignment this semester, had a nostalgic bonding experience with her partner. 

“Both my partner for the project and I picked songs that were somehow connected to our parents or our childhoods,” she said. “We both value how music connects us to our pasts and to our families.”

“We both value how music connects us to our pasts and to our families.”

One song both Brey and her partner selected was “Tongue Tied” by Grouplove, a song which filled them both with joyful flashbacks to the 2010s. 

While this assignment involves individual music choices and reflections, it also considers how others perceive one’s music taste and group identity through music. 

“The assignment is kind of like part of the scaffolded section of the course where we think about music and identity,” Dorf said. “So, while this is about individual identity, we then talk about group identity.”

This scaffolded structure facilitates classroom discussions, some of which include talk about the more complicated and personal aspects of identity. While these aspects may be difficult to discuss, Dorf said this assignment builds a community among students and helps ease them into having these discussions.

“It's really important to build that community of trust from the beginning, and one of the ways we do that is through the vulnerable sharing of music,” Dorf said.

Many of Dorf’s students, like Brey, agree that this assignment helped the class start off well.

“It got my brain used to thinking musically so that I could be more prepared for the harder assignments later in the semester,” Brey said.

But the students are not the only ones who have benefited from this assignment. Dorf himself admitted that he values learning about new music, as well as how UD students are willing to have such complex conversations.

“I feel like I’m learning in the classroom just as much as they are learning.”

“One of the reasons I also do this class and do this assignment is so I can learn from my students,” he said. “I feel like I’m learning in the classroom just as much as they are learning.”


Photography by Kennedy Kish '24.

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