Music department to begin offering course on screaming

The new screaming course that Vassar plans to offer in the fall has attracted a lot of attention after it was revealed that former president Barack Obama will be a guest lecturer at one point. Obama plans to share his secrets on how to achieve the most effective scream./ Courtesy of Janelle Bouie via Flickr

Taught by Adjunct Professor of the Music Department Jerry Hopkins, MUSI 63b.: The Scream will be offered in Fall 2018. This course is not to be confused with ART 363: The Scream, which centers on Edvard Munch’s seminal 1893 painting.

“I first came up with the idea after last semester’s primal scream,” Hopkins said about the origins of the course. “All of my students came into their finals with their voices almost completely gone. One poor kid almost had to cancel their senior recital. Seeing all these students agonizing with midterms and homework and college life in general, well, it’s the least we could do.”

Baldwin physician’s assistant Karen Housman diagnosed the general problem with this incorrect method of screaming: “The main problem is where they bring the voice from. It’s too stuck in the throat instead of hitting that hard palate at the top of their mouth. This causes the screamer to both waste more energy in getting the effect they want and forces them to strain their vocal chords, which can lead to some pretty permanent damage if this happens too often.”

Reception of the course so far has been very positive and, due to the increased demand, Hopkins hopes to open up another section. Several administrators have expressed interest in auditing the course as well.

Sam Williams ’20, a biology major who has never taken a music course but was deeply interested in MUSI 63b, commented: “In middle school, my parents forced me to play the French horn for a year, but the spit valve grossed me out too much. I can’t really sing either. But being in bio and stuck in lab all the time, I really need a release like this in my life.”

Currently the syllabus is divided into a balance of theory and performance, with students exploring various styles of screams, such as the Horror Film Wail, The Existential Cry and The Internal Scream.

Hopkins also intends on devoting a part of the semester to anthropological study on the topic and notable examples throughout history, like Archimedes’ famous “Eureka” exclamation and the Wilhelm Scream, a frequently used sound effect in film and the popular YouTube videos of goats screaming like humans.

However, Hopkins refuses to include any reference to Wes Craven’s 1996 slasher film “Scream” and has banned any and all conversations regarding the films in class.

Commenting on this decision, Hopkins said, “In the first place, the film’s pretty impressive when it comes to screaming. But what really gets my goat is the title. It’s asking the audience to scream. One cannot scream on command. It’s a very emotional process that must come from the deep core of our very soul which we summon.”

Students will be required to see Professor Hopkins’ deathcore band, Rotting Corpse and the Flaming Diapers, in concert at some point over the course. Hopkins, who performs as the bassist and backing vocalist under the alias “Beelze-bob,” has managed to get the group a local residency at Sloppy Greg’s Roadhouse in Ossining from August to December. “Yeah, it’s a bit of a trek from Vassar, but my band could definitely use the support,” Hopkins commented.

Due to the preliminary interest in the course, Hopkins already has plans to expand beyond the classroom, reaching out to faculty of the Drama Department in hopes of leading a workshop on the Shakespearean apostrophes and also arranging a workshop with the Office on Health Education. However, Hopkins’ biggest ambition is to lead a course on the vocal fry, which is when someone talks too much in the glottal closure of their throat.

With all these activities in mind, Hopkins still has to address the question of where the course will be held: “At the moment, we have a classroom reserved in the library, but we’re hoping to change it to someplace more atmospheric, like the chapel or the Loeb. We considered holding the screaming class in The Void, but I’ve been informed that that name didn’t win the contest and it’s really called the Old Bookstore.”

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