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Student researchers coordinate project to track music of 2016 presidential campaign

Sarah Kitts and Cannon McClain research music used in the 2016 Presidential Campaign.From opera to classic rock, the 2016 presidential candidates’ campaign music speaks volumes about their political stance and how they reach out to their constituents. Several Georgia College students and faculty members are coordinating a project through which, for the first time, a presidential campaign will be documented by the beats and lyrics played on the trail.

“Presidential campaign music is a growing topic of interest in both academic and journalistic circles,” said project creator and co-editor Dr. Dana Gorzelany-Mostak, assistant professor of music at Georgia College, who is also developing the site with co-editor Dr. James Deaville, professor of music at Carleton University. “Trax on the Trail is a website where scholars, educators, journalists, students and the public can learn about American presidential campaign music and gain insight into how sound participates in forming candidate identity. Our thirty-five-member interdisciplinary team includes students and academic experts from the fields of political science, musicology, sociology, history, communications, media studies and ethnomusicology.”

Two Georgia College student researchers are working tirelessly to bring it together.

“Primarily, we document the music used by candidates,” said junior music major Sarah Kitts. “We search for music used in campaign ads, at rallies and in parodies, as well as identify new candidate-themed songs posted on sites such as YouTube and SoundCloud, then add them to the Trail Trax database. It’s been a great opportunity to learn how much music can impact a presidential campaign.”

Kitts and senior music major Cannon McClain both jumped at the opportunity to get involved with the project and have not only gained valuable research experience but also learned a lot about music and politics through the process.

“I think for me what’s been interesting is the concept of strategy behind the certain types of music or patterns of musical choices each candidate uses,” said McClain.

From Bernie Sanders’s use of “Rockin’ in the Free World” to Donald Trump playing “Eye of the Tiger” at his rallies, the students track the music to add to the growing database. Kitts and McClain are also working with faculty to co-author research papers for the site.

"This is the first time anyone has ever tracked the music for an entire presidential campaign for all candidates,” said McClain. “It’s been an amazing opportunity to be a part of something like this.”

Creating quite a buzz since its launch in December 2015, the Trax on the Trail project has been featured by media outlets including the Boston Herald and Atlanta Business Chronicle, among others.

The opportunity to be a part of such a dynamic and topical project has given Kitts and McClain valuable experience and a leg up as they prepare for the future.

“I decided to come to Georgia College because I saw how involved the faculty were with the students here,” said Kitts. “Experiencing that firsthand, I know opportunities like this will help us stand out from other applicants as we apply for grad school. We’ve been able to do a lot of things students at other universities might not get to do.”

With plans for graduate school to pursue a career in teaching voice, Kitts will continue to work on the project through the election in November 2016. McClain, who will graduate in May 2015, has his sights set on graduate school for choral conducting to eventually teach at a magnet school or work in a church music setting.

"Georgia College emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary inquiry, faculty-student research, engaged citizenship and community outreach. Trax on the Trail’s goals tie in with this mission,” said Gorzelany-Mostak.

Musicologists, educators, scholars and organizations interested in collaborating with Trax on the Trail are encouraged to contact Dana Gorzelany-Mostak at traxonthetrail@gmail.com or 478-445-8630.

 

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