UCLA Spotlight


Mitchell Morris, Musicology

  • By Judy Lin Eftekhar, Irene Fertik
  • Published Apr 1, 2003 8:00 AM

How do you drum up enthusiasm in 21st-century college students for music created at the turn of the century or by ancient civilizations?

Musicology Professor Mitchell Morris knows how: Ask your students to sing in class, playing the part of 14th-century chroniclers. Have them read ancient manuscripts. Give them, in whatever ways possible, “a sense of personal connection to the repertory,” as one of Morris’s students put it.

With lectures described by observers as brilliant, spellbinding and dazzling, and high marks as a devoted mentor to students, it comes as little surprise that Morris recently won a Distinguished Teaching Award. Students and colleagues alike sang his praise in nominating him for the coveted annual honor given by the UCLA Alumni Association.

“Professor Morris has taught the widest range of classes of anyone on our faculty, covering music from ancient Mesopotamia to Josquin to Wagner to disco,” notes Musicology Department Chair Robert Walser. “I feel deeply fortunate to have such a scholar and pedagogue on staff, because I know I can assign to him just about any course we have on the books, and he will magically transform it into a coherent and disciplined, yet dazzling and enticing, series of lectures, assignments and class experiences for his students.”

Among Morris’s innovations is the creation of a groundbreaking course on gay and lesbian pop music which, a colleague notes, “is constantly oversubscribed by those to whom it is a revelation and powerful validation.” His wide-ranging areas of specialization include music at the fin-de-siècle, Russian and Soviet music, 20th century American music, opera, rock and soul and gay/lesbian studies. He has published essays on gay men and opera, disco and progressive rock, musical ethics, and contemporary music.

Morris’s breadth of interests serve him well in teaching. A colleague noted, “Students become electrified by Professor Morris’s intellectual wizardry. One student remarked that he is ‘one of those teachers whose class you take regardless of your interest in the subject matter. ’ ”

In his role as a mentor, Morris has advised more graduate students, worked on more committees and spent more hours conferring with students than any junior faculty member could reasonably expect to do, says a colleague.

“Anyone who walks down the hall in our department is most likely to see Professor Morris’s door open,” notes Walser. “If they peek in, they will see him there with a student, discussing music, literature, teaching, or perhaps helping them out with various aspects of their careers.”

“He asks us and encourages us to intelligently be ourselves and to have faith in who we are,” said a student. Said another about a class with Morris, “I walked out with not only knowledge; I walked out with more confidence in myself as a person. Professor Morris’s faith in my ideas has given me the ability to speak my mind and discuss my opinions in other classes.”

Morris and four other recipients of this year’s Distinguished Teaching Awards will be honored by the Alumni Association at its 58th UCLA Awards ceremony May 17 at the UCLA Hammer Museum. Later in the fall, the Office of Instructional Development and the Academic Senate Committee on Teaching will salute all 13 Distinguished Teaching Award winners, faculty and teaching assistants at “A Night to Honor Teaching.”