About this Course
What is a musician’s response to the condition of the world? Do musicians have an obligation and an opportunity to serve the needs of the world with their musicianship? At a time of crisis for the classical music profession, with a changing commercial landscape, a shrinking audience base, and a contraction in the number of professional orchestras, how does a young musician construct a career today? Are we looking at a dying art form or a moment of reinvigoration? In this course we will develop a response to these questions, and we will explore the notion that the classical musician, the artist, is an important public figure with a critical role to play in society. The course will include inquiry into a set of ideas in philosophy of aesthetics; a discussion about freedom, civil society, and ways that art can play a role in readying people for democracy; discussion on philosophy of education as it relates to the question of positive social change; and an exploration of musical and artistic initiatives that have been particularly focused on a positive social impact. Guiding questions for this course inquiry will include: - How can classical music effect social change? - How has music made positive change in communities around the globe? - What can the field of classical music learn from other movements for social change? - How have educators and philosophers thought about the arts and their connection to daily contemporary life? Each class will explore one critical question through lectures, discussions, interviews, or documentaries.

100% online course

Start instantly and learn at your own schedule.

Approx. 26 hours to complete

Suggested: 7 weeks of study, 2-3 hours/week
Comment Dots


Subtitles: English

100% online course

Start instantly and learn at your own schedule.

Approx. 26 hours to complete

Suggested: 7 weeks of study, 2-3 hours/week
Comment Dots


Subtitles: English

Syllabus - What you will learn from this course


1 hour to complete

Welcome to Music and Social Action

Learn what this course is about, who's teaching it, and other ways you can explore this topic. Meet and greet your peers as well!...
2 videos (Total 8 min), 4 readings
Video2 videos
Introduction to the course5m
Reading4 readings
Course Overview10m
Meet Your Instructors!10m
Readings and Resources10m
Grading and Logistics10m


4 hours to complete

What is Art and How Do We Experience It?

In this module, we will discuss philosophers John Dewey and Maxine Greene, and their respective views on the possibilities contained within aesthetic experiences. How can aesthetic experience meaningfully contribute to public life? ...
4 videos (Total 21 min), 10 readings, 2 quizzes
Video4 videos
2.2 - Making and perceiving art as a human impulse7m
2.3 - The aesthetic dimension and openings6m
2.4 - Ways of seeing: how does an artistic outlook change the way we see the world?3m
Reading10 readings
Dewey's Aesthetics10m
The John Dewey Society10m
(Optional) Art as Experience by John Dewey Chapters 1 and 210m
(Optional) Releasing the Imagination: Essays on Education, the Arts, and Social Change by Maxine Greene10m
The Maxine Greene Center for Aesthetic Education and Social Imagination10m
(Optional) The dialectic of freedom by Maxine Greene10m
Flow, the secret to happiness10m
(Optional) Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi10m
(Optional) The Aesthetic Dimension by Herbert Marcuse10m
The Barnes Foundation10m
Quiz1 practice exercises
What Is Art and How Do We Experience It?6m


4 hours to complete

Democracy and the Arts, Part 1

How can artistic and aesthetic experiences make a more engaged public? Is there a connection between individual transformative experiences with art and any broader societal impact? What is the role of the artist in a democracy? ...
6 videos (Total 53 min), 6 readings, 2 quizzes
Video6 videos
3.2 - What is the role of the arts in a free society?1m
3.3 - Art as a way of understanding the world10m
3.4 - Civil Society and Freedom: what do we mean by freedoms in a democracy?8m
3.5 - Regard for Otherness: Maxine Greene and civil society10m
3.6 - Discussion about Dewey, Maxine Greene, conceptions of freedom and the arts17m
Reading6 readings
Dream Songs: The Music of the March on Washington10m
(Optional) Art as Experience by John Dewey (Chapter 14)10m
Imagining Art + Social Change10m
Music & Civil Society: A Symphony in the Making10m
Elements of the Philosophy of Right by G.W. Hegel10m
(Optional) Civil Society: Old Images, New Visions by John Keane10m
Quiz1 practice exercises
Democracy and the Arts, Part I6m


4 hours to complete

Democracy and the Arts, Part II

How have we conceived of the artist's role in American society? What are examples of artists furthering civil society? How do we continually imagine fulfilling the promise of a democracy, embracing Maxine Greene's notion that it is always unfinished?...
5 videos (Total 43 min), 6 readings, 2 quizzes
Video5 videos
4.2 - The New Deal8m
4.3 - John F. Kennedy's ideal8m
4.4 - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his dream6m
4.5 - Discussion about President Kennedy, Dr. King, social imagination17m
Reading6 readings
(Optional) A people's art history of the United States: 250 years of activist art and artists working in social justice movements10m
The New Deal Stage: Selections from the Federal Theatre Project 1935-193910m
(Optional) “American Resources in the Arts” by Holger Cahill10m
Remarks by John F. Kennedy at Amherst College (audio recording and transcript)10m
(Optional) All of This Music Belongs to the Nation: The WPA’s Federal Music Project and American Society by Kenneth Bindas10m
Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have a Dream.”10m
Quiz1 practice exercises
Democracy and the Arts, Part II6m


4 hours to complete

Arts and Urban Renewal

How have the arts been a driving force for change in American cities? What are the potentials and pitfalls when positioning artists in this role? This class will pursue these questions through a series of case studies, including a video tour of arts organizations focused on urban renewal in Providence and New Haven, and the development of Lincoln Center in New York City....
4 videos (Total 45 min), 8 readings, 2 quizzes
Video4 videos
5.2 - How the arts change cities/neighborhoods9m
5.3 - Conversations with directors of Providence and New Haven organizations21m
5.4 - Conversation with Jamie Bennett of ArtPlace America11m
Reading8 readings
Arts Organizations featured throughout this module10m
(Optional) The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs10m
A Marvelous Order: An opera about Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs10m
The Power Walker by Charles McGrath10m
(Optional) Master builder of New York City by Robert Moses10m
(Optional) The battle of Lincoln Square: neighbourhood culture and the rise of resistance to urban renewal by Samuel Zipp10m
(Optional) West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, Stephen Sondheim, Jerome Robbins10m
Somewhere by Matthew Lopez10m
Quiz1 practice exercises
Arts and Urban Renewal8m


5 hours to complete

20th Century Artists and Social Commitment

This class will explore examples of artists from the past hundred years who have been committed to making positive contributions to political or social issues of their time. ...
4 videos (Total 45 min), 11 readings, 1 quiz
Video4 videos
6.2 - Bronislaw Huberman, Europe and Palestine in the 1930s13m
6.3 - Yehudi Menuhin and taking political action2m
6.4 - Discussion about Casals and Huberman13m
Reading11 readings
What Happened, Miss Simone? (Netflix Documentary)10m
(Optional) "I Don't Trust You Anymore": Nina Simone, Culture, and Black Activism in the 1960s by Ruth Feldstein10m
Billie Holiday - Strange Fruit10m
(Optional) Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II10m
(Optional) Joys and Sorrows: Reflections by Pablo Casals by Pablo Casals and Albert Kahn10m
(Optional) Orchestra of Exiles by Josh Aronson10m
(Optional) "The Other West Side Story: Urbanization and the Arts Meet at the Lincoln Center" by Julia Foulkes10m
(Optional) The sound of freedom : Marian Anderson, the Lincoln Memorial, and the concert that awakened America by Raymond Arsenault10m
"Marian Anderson Sings at the Lincoln Memorial" Newreel Story10m
(Optional) Sounds of the New Deal : the Federal Music Project in the West by Peter Gough10m
(Optional) Pablo Casals : a cry for peace by Robert Snyder10m


4 hours to complete

21st Century Artists and Social Commitment

This class will involve a discussion with performing musicians and a look at examples of artists and musicians from the past hundred years who have been committed to making positive contributions to political or social issues of their time. ...
5 videos (Total 49 min), 7 readings, 1 quiz
Video5 videos
7.2 - Conversation with pianist Jonathan Biss12m
7.3 - Barenboim and the West Eastern Divan Orchestra11m
7.4 - Ai Wei Wei and protest through art making9m
7.5 - Conversation with pianist Vijay Iyer12m
Reading7 readings
(Optional) An Orchestra Beyond Borders: Voices of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra by Elena Cheah10m
(Optional) Knowledge is the Beginning by Paul Smaczny10m
(Optional) Music Quickens Time by Daniel Barenboim10m
(Optional) Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry by Alison Klayman10m
It's Not Beautiful by Evan Osnos10m
No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear by Toni Morrison10m
(Optional) The next American revolution: sustainable activism for the twenty-first century10m


4 hours to complete

Creating Social Action

In this final lecture, we will discuss traditions of social action, and how artists work toward building civil society....
4 videos (Total 41 min), 5 readings, 2 quizzes
Video4 videos
8.2 - Robert Greenleaf and leading through serving4m
8.3 - Discussion about Freire and education16m
8.4 - Art, Service, and Civil Society5m
Reading5 readings
Interview with Paulo Freire. 1996.10m
(Optional) Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire10m
"The Servant as Leader" by Robert Greenleaf10m
Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership10m
(Optional) Democracy and music education : liberalism, ethics, and the politics of practice10m
Quiz1 practice exercises
Creating Social Action6m


20 minutes to complete

Final Reflection

One of the primary goals of this course has been to explore the connections between key concepts from the philosophy of aesthetics, historical examples of musicians who worked toward social action, and contemporary artistic initiatives. This final response is intended to help you consider how these theoretical and historical issues relate to the role of artists and the arts in contemporary life, and how they might apply to your own community and your own involvement with the arts....

Top Reviews

By LBAug 19th 2016

An intresting combination of philosophy, music (and arts) and their relation to social events. Sebastian Ruth found good examples to clarify the subjects, and he gives the lectures on a pleasant way.

By DOMar 15th 2018

This is exactly what I needed. I have upgraded from just having a passion for music to having a passion for what music can do to the society. I am a better leader. Thank you YALE, thank you Coursera!



Sebastian Ruth

Visiting Lecturer in Community Engagement

About Yale University

For more than 300 years, Yale University has inspired the minds that inspire the world. Based in New Haven, Connecticut, Yale brings people and ideas together for positive impact around the globe. A research university that focuses on students and encourages learning as an essential way of life, Yale is a place for connection, creativity, and innovation among cultures and across disciplines. ...

Frequently Asked Questions

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