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St. Olaf music professor shares insight with the New York Times

St. Olaf College Assistant Professor of Music Louis Epstein (right) and Carleton College Associate Professor of Philosophy Daniel Groll perform the music of Louis and Dan and the Invisible Band.

St. Olaf College Assistant Professor of Music Louis Epstein, a musicologist who also performs original children’s songs, helped a New York Times reporter answer a question every parent has posed at some point: Why Do Kids Love Terrible Music?

Epstein is one of several experts who helps New York Times columnist Paul Underwood understand that the answer is more nuanced than the question. Kids, they note, love five basic things in music: catchiness, adaptability, repetition, relatability, and transgression.

Epstein points out in the piece that kids’ songs often have a little bit of silliness, naughtiness, obnoxiousness, or some mix of the three.

“It’s something that kids are really interested in,” he tells Underwood.

To meet those interests — and create music that both kids and their parents can enjoy — Epstein teamed up with Carleton College Associate Professor of Philosophy Daniel Groll to form Louis and Dan and the Invisible Band.

Earlier this year, the band released an inaugural album peppered with humorous songs like “Underwear Spaghetti” and “Hot Dog”; narrative fiction like “10m Diving Board” and “What Do Princesses Do?”; educational songs like “Rodents” and “Have You Got a Word?”; and comforting tunes like “Big Eared Boy” and “Cry My Baby.” Their second album, Let’s Imagine, will be out December 7.

Epstein joined the faculty of the St. Olaf Music Department in 2014. He has pursued research in the new field of digital, spatial history, working with St. Olaf students to produce a map-based resource for scholars, teachers, and students of music called The Musical Geography Project. His work on this project was recognized with the 2016 Teaching Award from the American Musicological Society. 

Before coming to St. Olaf, Epstein earned his undergraduate degree at Princeton University and his Ph.D. from Harvard, and taught at Harvard and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He has received numerous awards from Harvard University’s Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning and has presented research on music history pedagogy at a number of Teaching Music History Conferences. He is currently a co-founder and associate editor of Open Access Musicology, a collection of freely available scholarly essays intended for use in undergraduate classrooms that will be published digitally by Lever Press.