Dr. Slaughter talks on the power of science and song

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By Selena Puente

Contributing Writer

 

 

 

Biology professor Dr. Stephen Slaughter personifies the ideal laid-back professor. When we met to talk about the bands he loves both new and old, he looked like one of the band members he mentioned in our conversation, in faded blue jeans, Sperry’s and a plaid shirt. I did not know Slaughter was such a music lover until I took his new class “Biology of Music.” After several sessions, I knew I wanted to know more about what music he holds dear to his heart.

 Selena Puente: Do you go home and listen to music, and what kind of music means something to you?

Stephen Slaughter: I collect music. I actually listen to many genres. I’m actually a big Bach fan. Especially his fantasias and his toccatas. Don’t spread that around. I don’t want to ruin my reputation. A little bit later, in terms of time, I really like Tchaikovsky.

SP: What made you want to teach Biology of Music? Did it seem like the University of Dallas had the niche for this class?

SS: One thing I noticed is that I would [play] things during my lab, a lot of the time it was oldies, and a lot of the students liked it because their mom or their dad liked it. And they relayed that they enjoyed that type of music, and so I thought there might be a place here to explore maybe recent history [of music]. Especially with rock, and how it parallels some of the times. We discuss war protest songs [in the class], looking at the Vietnam War, and the kind of tie-in with what was going on with music and what was going on with society. I thought it would be a niche course that would be kind of exciting.

SP: If you were in charge of Music on the Mall, what would you play?

SS: I actually did Music on the Mall. What was I doing on that playlist? Well with any playlist, they set a mood. So do I sit around and at times listen to Enya and Yanni? Sure, it sets the mood. But for Music on the Mall I’d be playing anything from the ‘60s like “Hang on Sloopy” by The McCoys, “Hanky Panky” by Tommy James and the Shondells, maybe even “Gloria” by Them. I would also bring in some one-hit wonders like Modern English’s “I Melt With You.” Perhaps some African Calypso like this group Kassa, it’s this reggae, ska, some real upbeat stuff. But I like to rock out.

SP: Do you have a favorite band?

SS:  I’m into indie rock, starting with R.E.M., even some of the new groups like alt-J, [The] War on Drugs, Washed Out. All of this to say: if it fits my mood. I’m a big Moody Blues fan. I consider them significant. According to who you talk to, they brought together a hybrid of rock and classical sound. I don’t like to single out a single artist as “This is my absolute favorite!” But they’ve had a significant impact on my life, like “Star Trek.” I grew up watching “Star Trek” and I think it’s one of the reasons I went into science. My mom played classical music, and I do think that has an effect on you. When you have kids, you should play classical music for them.

SP: But you are a big Cure fan right?

SS: I’m a big Moody Blues fan, a big Cure fan and a big R.E.M. fan. Robert Smith doesn’t think that a tuned guitar sounds right, and I like that. It’s kind of mystical, and I think their fantasy side makes them really good at ballads. Now is he the world’s greatest singer? Well, no. If you know the personal lives of musicians you might not like them as much. One nice thing about Robert Smith: he’s stayed married to this one girl since 1988. You can look at Alice Cooper, that guy’s been married for 35-something years, but he does keep his daughter in the act, up there with a snake, so, it is a family operation. They do brain scans on people that listen to music, and it does affect your psyche. As a biologist, that is interesting to me. What is this mind-body connection that we have to music? Grace Slick, who started with Jefferson Airplane that later became Jefferson Starship said [,] “Music is the doorway from out of the darkness and into the light.” Maybe that’s a little cliché, but I think it can be. I think that music flexes your mind. At the end of the day I like bands that will explore several different styles, which is different from having a recognizable sound. Is it going to get you rocking and dancing? When you’re in this cerebral place, are they gonna get you somewhere?

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