The conclusion to a piece about the musical proclivities of some Georgetown profs:
Professor Alex Sens of the classics department also uses music to teach students about ancient Greece. Sens asserts that just as musical improvisation draws upon a storehouse of musical elements that have developed over a number of generations, so too poetry continually revisits the customs of its predecessors.
“The dynamics of oral poetry is a snapshot of older traditions,” Sens says. “There is the same tension between tradition and formulation in the Homeric epics as there is in rock ’n’ roll, for example.”
As an accomplished musician himself, Sens would know.
What began as an alternative career option in college turned into a passion outside of his study of ancient Greek and Hellenistic society. Though his creative spirit contributes to his academic life, Sens admits that for him, music is often a release.
Sens is currently a member of Big Chimney, a bluegrass band made up of local musicians, including a member of the SEIU, a staff member of the Department of Energy and a Navy officer. Sens performs on the dobro — “a Hawaiian guitar but louder” — with the band throughout the D.C. area.
Sens has had significant success with his bands in the past, releasing a number of albums and, making appearances at various Georgetown functions, such as Friday Music Concert Series and New Student Convocation. His choices of venue are just as wide-ranging as his repertoire, which spans from traditional bluegrass to rock ’n’ roll covers of groups like Led Zeppelin.
“I thought he was just another failed musician academic,” says fellow classics professor Charles McNelis, whom Sens invited to one of his concerts when McNelis began teaching at Georgetown. But the concert changed his perception, recalls McNelis, who decided to go to hear his colleague play at The Birchmere in Alexandria, a 25,000-seat theater.
“I was really impressed and amazed,” McNelis says.
This selection of dynamic professors demonstrates that art has the ability to both complement and enhance academic study. In music and in learning, the best ideas grow from the place where creative improvisation and structured form collide. Music provides an outlet to challenge norms and create new modes of thinking. In the case of these three professors, it is music that brings this higher dimension of thinking to the classroom. You never know — next time you’re at the 930 Club, you may see your professor rocking out onstage.