Wednesday, July 15, 2015


I spent my first five undergraduate semesters studying music.  Though the program was performance-track, I had many opportunities to write, and almost always about music. I wrote about the competing "dictates of structure and expressivity" for a paper on George Rochberg's third string quartet (which, in my youthful assessment, "retains the serialist aesthetic of condensed motivic content and recontextualizes it in the more accommodating space of stylistic eclecticism..." a claim that is somewhat difficult to read now with a straight face). I researched American immigrant music; I investigated twentieth-century composers' fascination with clowning and puppetry. I also reported on the musicological experience of browsing a local used record shop. These were rich and varied writing experiences, and I had forgotten until recently the pleasures of describing music's structure and aesthetics, of considering the social and emotional impacts of the choices composers make.

My students also enjoy writing about music. It is among the top subjects they choose for their independent writing entries. They praise music's uncanny versatility as an emotional amplifier or buffer, and students' favorite songs and artists become proxies for their most passionate feelings and opinions. "I cannot live without my music," their journals chorus.

It is a cognitive feat to translate complex emotional reactions and aesthetic judgements into words. I will more deliberately encourage this topic of writing with my students next year-- and produce some new music writing of my own this week. Already in the running: Janelle Monae, Paul Hindemith, Lupe Fiasco, and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

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