Music Professor Tom Rizzuto Studies Why Music Divides Us

By Hannah Werthan

For Professor Tom Rizzuto, music runs in his blood. It's rumored that his great-great-grandfather was a concert mandolinist in Italy. His uncle was a punk-rock guitarist in New York City in the 1970s. Still, Tom did not decide to pursue music as a career until his senior year of high school. He received his undergraduate degree in music education at Molloy College, and then worked in the public school system for several years before getting his Master's degree in Musicology from CUNY: The City College of New York. After Tom completed his Master's degree, an adjunct position opened up at Molloy, where he has been for the past five years.

Shortly after returning to campus as a professor, Tom taught a class called World Music. While preparing for the class, he found that he did a lot of research in order to better understand non-Western music, and how to present it to his students. "In the Western world, all of the music that we listen to - whether it is jazz or hip hop - follows the rules of (Western) classical music. This is why other music, such as traditional Japanese music, might be disorienting," he says.

The class inspired Tom to start researching the historical and scientific reasons why music can be so polarizing. In February, he presented his research in a TEDx Talk titled "Understanding the Music That Divides Us" at Rochester Institute of Technology.  In his talk, he encourages students to get outside of their comfort zone and listen to music as a way to come closer to understanding one another.

Tom's advice to students who want to broaden their musical horizons is to see music live. "Molloy students are lucky because we are located so close to New York City, where you can pretty much find any kind of music you want," Tom says. If you can't make it to a concert, he recommends that you listen to new music often. "If you listen to music you aren't accustomed to enough, your brain will form new connections and pathways. The younger you are, the more malleable your brain is. However, you can change your perceptions of music at any age - it simply becomes a slower process."

It's hard for Tom to pick just one favorite class - he enjoys teaching American Music and History of Rock and Roll - but World Music is among them because he relishes the opportunity to watch people experience new music. "I like to play music from India in class and see the students' reactions," Tom says. Because of the time of the class, World Music attracts students with a variety of majors who are looking for a general education credit. "It is fun to have other majors in my class. I like to give them permission to stop taking notes for a minute. It's OK to listen for a while," he says.

Tom is currently developing a four-part podcast called "The Music That Made Our World" with the help of a grant from Molloy. He expects it to launch this summer or early fall.  

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