Plastic combs, shoehorns, ratchets, PVC pipe, doorstops, mousetraps, and Astroturf may sound like a pile of junk, but found objects like these are music to the ears of Mark Applebaum. For the past 30 years, the associate professor of music has been inventing instruments by mounting assorted items to soundboards and playing them with everything from chopsticks to knitting needles.
That experimental, out-of-the-box energy runs through all of Applebaum’s work as a composer and performer. Like his music scores, which he writes by hand and enhances with diagrams, color, and instruction, Applebaum’s work embodies a collision of old and new, bizarre whimsy and meticulous order. His solo, chamber, choral, orchestral, operatic, and electroacoustic pieces have been performed around the world.
Around campus, Applebaum is known for bringing his playful dynamism and passion for music into the classroom. Whether he’s teaching composition or music history, he works to cultivate an atmosphere in which students take ownership not only of the material but also of the act of learning itself.
In his most popular course, Rock, Sex, and Rebellion, students examine both the structure and stylistic choices in well-known tunes and the rich cultural and historical forces behind them. Playing hits by performers from Ella Fitzgerald to Britney Spears, Applebaum teaches students to engage in “sensitive listening,” encouraging them to pay close attention to the nuances of the songs they listen to every day.