On the Pierce College campus, music is crackling through the blown-out speakers at The Freudian Sip, shaking the license plate frames of subwoofer-armed cars, and inspiring breakdancers to show their stuff on the Mall.
But, in the James Bergman’s classroom, it’s being appreciated.
Bergman teaches Music Appreciation at Pierce, which he says is essentially a class on the history of music, but he aspires to convey more than just dates and genres to his students.
“I adjust their antennas a little bit so they get better reception,” Bergman said. “It’s a fast-paced world. I just want to say, ‘Slow down a minute. Check this out.’”
Bergman has an inherent excitement about music that he shares with his students and colleagues.
“How can you not want to sit and just hear some music and think, ‘why did somebody make this?’” Bergman said.
His students are required to attend the free Thursday concerts that he hosts at Pierce as part of the class.
“What makes this class unique is that it’s in conjunction with the concerts,” Berman said. “This class gets a heavy-duty dose of live music.”
“I teach the same class at SMC,” Bergman said, where his students go to three concerts per semester.
“Here at Pierce, this semester we’ll be hearing 11 concerts,” Bergman said.
Ten of the concerts will be at Pierce. He requires his students to go to at least one off-campus concert “to hear a big orchestra: the full-blown, professional-as-you-can-afford show.”
As a professor, Bergman wants to get his students more comfortable with musical terminology so they can communicate their thoughts concerning music more clearly.
“When I begin the semester, I usually spend a few weeks talking about the musical language,” Bergman said. “Everybody likes music, but not everybody knows what’s going on.”
Outside of his life in academia, the alumnus of The Juilliard School can be found playing bass for the Santa Barbara Symphony, the Los Angeles Opera, and the Riverside Philharmonic.
“I play at night, get up and blab about music and tell them why I had such a good time last night,” Bergman said.
“My teacher friends, they’re home grading papers at 10 o’clock and I’m still playing,’” Bergman said. “Let’s just say I drink a lot of coffee.”
Bergman lives a music-centric life. How he conveys ideas when he’s only using the English language is, actually, pretty musical.
“There’s got to be something really important about [music] if every culture at every time around the world values this stuff,” Bergman said. “It’s got to be so deep in our marrow that you have to be interested if you really get the time.”
Professor Cathryn Tortell is a colleague of Bergman’s at Pierce’s music department and teaches choir, voice, and music theory.
“Professor Bergman is a dedicated and enthusiastic educator and a highly talented musician,” Tortell said. “He is a real gift to the music department here at Pierce.”
Bergman, having been a musician for nearly his entire life, has learned a few lessons from music that are perhaps applicable in other arenas.
“Your inspiration is going to come from anywhere and you don’t always know where that’s going to be,” Bergman said. “My main principle is just keep your ears open.”