Mindful Melodies: Listening to and Writing About Full-Length Music Albums is possibly one of the quietest Interim classes offered on Wofford College’s campus on the days that students listen to music.

On listening days, Dr. Carey Voeller, associate professor of English and co-chair of Wofford’s gender studies program, gives a brief overview of the day’s class before students insert earbuds to begin listening to the day’s albums.

“The goal is to take music from being in the background to being in the foreground,” says Jackson Casey ’25, a chemistry major from Norman, Oklahoma.

The class gives Voeller, who teaches 19th century American literature, an opportunity to share his interest in practicing mindfulness and appreciation for music.

“The basic concept of mindfulness is to simply be in the moment with whatever you’re doing,” Voeller says. “If that’s meditation, then be with your breathing, your heart beating, your sense of slowing down. If it’s something more mundane such as driving or vacuuming, the idea is to be in that moment, to notice your hands on the steering wheel, your foot on the break or gas, the firm handle of the vacuum in your hand.”

Students are encouraged to simply use the phones, laptops and tablets that they bring to class just to listen to the music or possibly take a closer look at a song’s lyrics. But, if students’ minds wander or they can’t resist the urge to scan social media, it’s OK.  

“Mindfulness accepts that thoughts, worries, distractions will inevitably enter your mind, pulling your attention away from whatever you’re doing, whether that’s meditating or vacuuming,” Voeller says. “But that’s OK—the idea is to affirm that the thought or distraction is there, but then try to redirect your mind to the activity you’re doing.”

This is Voeller’s second year teaching Mindful Melodies, which is a spinoff of an Interim course that he taught for three years, “Mindful Novel Reading.”

“These days, we all tend to listen to music differently now through streaming platforms,” says Voeller, who grew up listening to the albums, cassettes and CDs that he bought in their entirety while lying on his bed. “With playlists, we can create a soundtrack of our favorite tunes, but we’re ultimately including one or two songs by various artists—not the complete album.” 

On a recent listening day, Casey could be seen bobbing his head throughout the 48 minutes spent listening to The Tribe Called Quest’s 1993 album “The Low End Theory.”

Each of the 22 students in the class selected an album to be part of a listening day. “The Low End Theory” was Casey’s selection.

“The Low End Theory is one of 12 hip hop albums in the Congressional Library and that says something,” says Casey, who enjoys making music with his family and listening to hip hop and country music.

Some of the notes that Casey made while listening to the album recorded bass loops that he heard, as well as moments when he realized other hip hop artists sampled parts of the album. The class is giving him an opportunity to make observations that he might have normally missed, and a chance to think creatively.

“I really like the change of pace,” Casey says. “I get to listen to music, and it gives me a bit of an academic break while still getting the Wofford experience.”

Tori Cash ’24, a psychology major from Chesnee, South Carolina, says that she often multitasks while listening to music. The class has forced her to slow down and listen closely.

“I’m looking at lyrics and the effort it takes to put a song together,” Cash says.

Johnny Cash’s 1968 live album “At Folsom Prison” is one that stands out to her from the class.  

“Johnny Cash never went to prison, but he was able to create an entire album that is still talked about today,” Cash says.

Voeller hopes students will continue mindfully listening. 

“Musicians spend a few weeks to a couple of months in the studio recording and mixing, and they’d like us to hear their artwork from beginning to end,” Voeller says. “So, I approach this class by telling students that we watch movies or TV shows from beginning to end, we do the same with novels, but this isn’t often the case with music albums. I see full-length albums the same way I do literature or a complex film—it’s there for us to immerse ourselves in, think about, ask questions about and revisit again and again.”