by Quentin Singer
Saul Albert is one of the most interesting and well spoken teachers Berklee has in its Liberal Arts department. Hailing from London, UK, Professor Albert has been teaching psychology courses at Berklee since spring of 2017. Having taken his General Psychology course, I can say from my own experience what a poignant and compelling class Saul offers his students. Recently, I had the opportunity to meet up with Saul and discuss what makes psychology and his classroom so engaging.
Berklee Groove: So you teach two psychology courses here at Berklee – Human interaction and General Psychology. I’m currently taking your Human Interaction course. The first day of class you expressed how unique this class is for a musician, in the sense that musicians have their own form of language that can be transcribed, like humans speaking to each other. Do you find music to be a form of social interaction that has yet to be investigated more thoroughly?
Professor Albert: That’s an excellent question. I think there are lots of ways in which human interaction and music making are involved with each other, and we don’t necessarily appreciate that involvement. Often, we’ll see the finished piece and little of the actual work that has gone into creating it. Everybody who’s involved in music production knows there’s an enormous number of processes involved, and we could explain those processes more broadly in terms of the different departments and courses that exist at Berklee: there’s songwriting, there’s music production and engineering, there’s lots of different components of a piece. What hasn’t been studied so systematically are the interactional activities involved in all of those different processes. How do vocalists and engineers interact with one another through the push to talk system in a studio? What are the ways they modify their ordinary conversational behaviors to improve the voice and get the right take without stressing out the artists? How do people interact when they’re composing a piece of music together, and where is the authorship in this shifting relationship? If we look at recordings of human interaction in these situations we can answer some of these questions by studying how they organize their conversation and bodily behaviors. Those are the things that really interest me – the interactional components of music production or anything really. Interaction in the arts but also interaction in and of itself more generally.
BG: What would you say are some of the most common misconceptions people have with psychology or even just psychologists in general?
Prof. Albert: Well I think the first one is everyone imagines you’re a psychotherapist or clinician, and it takes a while to explain my field of research psychology. There’s often an assumption about what science is and what scientists should look like. This figure of the white lab coat-wearing scientist is a powerful archetype. Actually, psychology is a relatively young science and it’s very methodologically diverse. So it’s interesting to me to see when students pick which topics they’re interested in studying for my course, that they find many different ways of asking and answering their research questions.
BG: Do you think a course in psychology is something all students should find the opportunity to take? Or would you say it’s only for students of specific interest?
Prof. Albert: Obviously I think everyone should do my psychology and interaction psychology course! Berklee has a wonderful team of psychologists, and I really think liberal arts at this school are very special. I’ve been very impressed by the range and broad-minded approach that I see my colleagues taking by adapting their subjects to make sure they are useful to students who are all involved one way or another in music and the arts. So yes, I especially recommend any of the psychology courses, they’re really useful!
BG: They make you a better reader and writer for sure.
Prof. Albert: A better reader and writer, and also a more critical thinker. There’s so much nonsense about science in the media and the ways in which…
BG: TED talks!
Prof. Albert: TED talks! Exactly! That’s one thing I say to my students: don’t believe TED talks. There are some good ones, of course, but they’re the exception. Arming yourself with skepticism and the critical tools you need to understand the research problems, claims and methods in the scientific papers behind media stories is a really useful life skill.