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Music of Frank Zappa: Fall 2019 (UG/grad, all majors)

Is that a Sears poncho or what?

Fall 2019 Musicology course: The Worlds of Frank Zappa

An intensive, topics-oriented survey of the music of the bandleader, songwriter, film composer, and political activist Frank Vincent Zappa (1940-93)

MUHL 4300 - 005 (CRN TBA) / MUHL 5313 - 001 (CRN TBA)

Professor: Dr Christopher J Smith (

Course Facebook “Event”:

Meets TR 9:30-10:50am M209 School of Music.

Open to undergrads and grad students from across the TTU campus. Permission of instructor required. Fulfills upper-level Music History requirement for music majors. Students from a range of disciplines (history, political science, music, mass communications, FADP) welcome & encouraged to enroll.

Requirements include mid-term and final essay exams, a research project, attendance, and participation.

This seminar is an intensive, topics-oriented survey of the music of bandleader, songwriter, film composer, and political activist Frank Vincent Zappa (1940-93). Born in Baltimore, Zappa is widely regarded as one of the most influential bandleaders, songwriters, and guitarists of the rock era.

However, his accomplishments extended far beyond the rock ‘n’ roll stage. He composed hundreds of works for everything from chamber ensembles and ballet to orchestras and film, while producing over 60 LPs and CDs; his catalog has continued to grow since his death with the issue of hundreds of hours of archived material. A pioneer in musique concrète and the invention of the digital sampler, and in the rights of rock artists to control their own recorded catalogs, he was a respected collaborator with Zubin Mehta and Pierre Boulez, testified before Congress on the topic of music censorship and voter registration, and was credited by Vaclav Havel with inspiring Czechoslovakia’s “Velvet Revolution.” His bands were a crucial finishing ground for musicians as diverse as Steve Vai and Adrian Belew, and dozens of chamber, orchestral, and percussion ensembles now include arrangements of his music in their repertoires.

We will approach Zappa as musician, composer, multimedia artist, and political commentator, studying a range of his works, in rock, chamber, orchestral, operatic, film, and ballet, with a particular focus on his processes for onstage “conducted improvisation” and studio composition. We will develop familiarity with a range of social, cultural, historical, economic, and biographical factors which shaped Zappa’s music and politics. Our emphasis will be upon understanding the interaction of “content” (musical structure, procedure, aesthetics versus agendas, biographies, and writing, etc) and “context” (times-places-peoples from which Zappa’s works originated), and upon the exploration of a little-theorized, yet highly influential “rock star” in late 20th-century American culture.

Drawing on lectures, reading, listening, audio/visual sources, in-class performances, and individual research, this course provides students with an enhanced learning experience combining approaches from musicology, ethnomusicology, cultural history, performance studies, anthropology, geography, and more.




Chris Smith


School of Music

Event Information
Time: 9:30 AM - 10:50 AM
Event Date: 8/27/2019

M209 School of Music