WRTG 3020 Topics in Writing: Writing on Music

Instructor Contact:

Alexander S. Fobes, Ph.D.
Email: fobes@colorado.edu

About the Course:

What is the relation between music and language? What does it mean to approach music, not just lyrics, as a text—one that is authored, conveys a message, and one whose message is in part constructed by its audience and context? This course invites you to explore music as a way of knowing and communicating. Drawing on listenings and readings from a broad range of musical and literary genres, students will analyze, share, critique, and create musical texts, select and pursue lines of inquiry related to their areas of interest, and apply their round knowledge of sound, sense, form, and perspective to refine their communicative skills and style.


Rhetorical Knowledge

  • To use texts from rhetoric, discourse studies, communication, and related fields to extend understanding of rhetorical concepts related to both the sonic aspect of language and the composition, performance, and use of music
  • To develop sophisticated strategies for critical analysis of music
  • To learn more sophisticated ways to communicate knowledge to appropriate audiences
  • To apply reflective strategies to the synthesis and communication of knowledge

Experience in Writing Processes

  • To generate multiple drafts to arrive at a successful text
  • To hone strategies for creating, revising, editing and proofreading discourse related to music
  • To effectively critique our own writing and that of our peers
  • To use a variety of technologies for writing and research
  • To learn to evaluate sources for relevance, accuracy, credibility, reliability, and bias

Mastery of Conventions

  • To select and adapt genre conventions associated with writing on particular types of music and in particular contexts
  • To use the specialized vocabulary, format, and documentation suitable for each task
  • To control features such as style, syntax, grammar, punctuation and spelling

Effective Communication Strategies

  • To enhance our ability to compose messages for specific audiences and purposes through a heightened understanding of the sonic element of language
  • To enhance our ability to write about music to a variety of audiences and in fluid, well-crafted prose
  • To enhance our ability to adapt the content, style, and sound of prose to respond to the needs of different audiences, and to befit writing on music in different forms and genres

Advanced Content Knowledge

  • To carry out a sophisticated analysis of the work of artists, critics, and scholars who compose, perform, and write on music, and professionals who use music for various purposes
  • To engage and communicate effectively with specialized discourse communities
  • To create and employ texts on music and musical texts that serve your purposes and those of the community as you communicate with members of your discipline or profession and local leaders

Competence in Writing and Rhetoric

  • To sharpen our skills in critical thinking, written communication, and reading about music and the sonic aspect of language

Required Text:

A Short Guide to Writing about Music, Jonathan D. Bellman, 2nd edition (New York: Longman, 2006).

Grading (out of 100 points):

20 pts — Musical Story

20 pts — Music Review (Album, EP or Song)

35 pts — Performance Review (Concert Review and Musical Ethnography)

25 pts — Preparation & Participation (Peer Reviews, Reading Responses, Contributions
to Discussions, Influence on Others, Misc. Short Writing Assignments,
Preference Analysis Exercise)

Overview of Major Assignments:

Musical Story

This narrative assignment concerns a meaningful experience (or set of experiences) you have had with music. More than tell a detailed story, this narrative should subtly convey some insight into its meaning and be composed in prose that in itself is musical and suggestive. The best narratives often have a sense of discovery about them and leave the reader something to wonder about.

Music Review

The Oxford Companion to Music defines Music criticism as “the intellectual activity of formulating judgments on the value and
degree of excellence of individual works of music, or whole groups or genres.” The music review is a genre of critique that requires extensive knowledge of your subject matter as well as the conventions of both the genre and how the genre is modified for specifics contexts and audiences. Using course readings on “review” and “critique” as well as “sample/model” reviews, and discussions about these, craft a review of a recently released album (or EP or song), by a musician or band, and send it to a publication that would be interested in featuring your work.

Performance Review

Attend a live performance and write about it from two different perspectives (detailed below). In essence this assignment is really
two separate writing tasks on the same topic; students should submit two essays.

1. Musical Ethnography (ethnographic analysis):

Describe the event as a site of cultural production, focusing on the audience, their behaviors, their interactions, and the ways in which they express their appreciation for the music. What conclusions can be drawn from your observations? How did this performance enable certain kinds of experience, whether contemplative or social? What was the meaning of this event in the lives of the participants?

2. Concert Review (music criticism):

Write a review of the concert utilizing a particular journalistic style. In your evaluation of the performance, be aware of whether you are critiquing the intrinsic qualities of specific musical “works” under consideration (however defined) or aspects of the specific live performance at which you were present.

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