Writing About Music

Writing About Music

tapes.jpg

Writing About Music

University of Washington

Honors 345A, Fall 2018

John Vallier

Affiliate Professor, UW Ethnomusicology

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

ABSTRACT

Music has a powerful capacity to convey distinctive moods and emotions. When we attempt to describe these experiences, such as how a certain song or performance makes us feel, words often fail. Despite this challenge, we persevere, struggling to find the right phrase, simile, or metaphor to describe how music moved us.

In this class we will persevere together by developing the technical, rhetorical and related skills needed to convincingly write about music. We will explore a variety of writing prompts, from song reviews and artist bios, to genre descriptions and deeper cultural critiques. We will share our work with one another and learn from guest speakers who are professionals in the field. Ethnomusicology and music criticism will serve as disciplinary touchstones as we develop an intellectual community that supports our growth as productive music writers.

FLOW

With each week we will focus on different aspect or kind of music writing:

  1. Album Review
  2. Live Review
  3. Individual Track
  4. Analysis
  5. Artist Interview
  6. Personal Essay
  7. Artist Profile
  8. Alternative Essay
  9. How it Sounds & Music Scenes
  10. Cultural Critique

Each of these topics are drawn from our textbook:

Woodworth, M. & Grossan, Ally Jane, 2015. How to write about music : excerpts from the 33 1/3 series, magazines, books and blogs with advice from industry-leading writers, New York, NY, USA ; London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Inc.

This book is available for purchase in the University Bookstore. It is also on 2-hour course reserve on the 2nd floor of Odegaard Library. Your choice. Supplemental reading buttress and inform the book. Those texts are provided at no (additional) charge in-class or via Canvas.

While there’s no strict formula to each day, we will more or less engage in the following activities:

  • In-Class Writing: In-class writing that is based on a particular prompt and/or piece of music played in class. Sometimes we will focus more on process over product.
  • Music Share: A chance for you to bring some music and/or music writing to class and tell us what you like about it—or not;
  • Reading Discussions: What did you think of the the readings? Which ones did you like and why? Which ones didn’t you like and why? Can you glean anything from them for your own essays? These are the questions you need to be prepared to answer;
  • Assignment Reviews: Review that week’s writing assignment, with the possibility of in-class time to work on it;
  • Workshop Drafts: On days that drafts are due (usually Thursday) we will break into groups and share them with our peers. I’ll circulate, will attempt to mingle and offer feedback, without being a buzzkill;
  • Focus On…: Tips, thoughts, and/or reflections on writing, music, and writing about music.
  • Guests: Let’s hear from people engaged in music criticism and/or making;
  • And more!

ASSIGNMENTS

  • Writing: There are 10 main essay assignments listed, but you only need to do 9. In other words, look through the assignments, compare their due dates against the schedule for you other classes, and drop one! Some details about the assignments: essay drafts, usually due on Thursdays, are worth 2 points. Final essays, usually due on Tuesdays, are worth 6 points. In total, all draft and final essays taken together account for 72 points. 
    • Draft essays can be rough (no word count required). You must bring them to class (per schedule below) so that you can workshop them with your peers. I will circulate and give you feedback, too. If you would like more feedback from my after class, please seek me out in office hours.  
    • Final essays should be polished (between 400 and 500 words). Upload them into the appropriate folders here: https://tinyurl.com/writingaboutmusic2018 (you will need to login in with your NetID to access this shared drive). Also, please name your files in the following way: lastname_first_week# (e.g., vallier_john_week1).
  • Sharing: A core part of this class is sharing our draft and final essays with one another. Sure, I could be the one and only person to read over your essays, but my vintage Gen-X rooted feedback will only take us so far. By sharing essays with peers, you get a broader and more balanced range of feedback. To help us make this happen, we will be be breaking out into small groups (2 to 3 people), reading our drafts, and listening to/giving feedback to one another (an expert from the Odegaard Writing and Research Center (OWRC) will be leading us through such a process during our first full week of classes). These sessions are meant to be positive experiences, in which both the sharer/reader and listener/responder are open-minded, non-argumentative, and respectful of time so that others have a chance to respond. Sharing is worth 13 points of your grade.
  • Participating: Being prepared for class discussions (reading what’s required and prepared to speak about it), contributing to class discussions, participating in workshops, and generally being a positive, supporting, and engaged class colleague counts towards participation, which is worth 15 points. 
  • Late assignments? I will accept one late assignment up to one week after the due date/time without a reduction in points. After that, late assignments will be marked down by 50% if turned in within 24 hours of the due date/time and by 100% after that (i.e., zero points).

GRADING

Your grade is based upon a possible total of 100 points. At the end of the quarter, I will convert your total points into a numerical grade point using this system: https://pages.collegeboard.org/how-to-convert-gpa-4.0-scale This is what the Registrar asks me to submit.

You may be wondering how I grade. It’s admittedly a subjective process, though I strive to apply my individual biases evenly and fairly. That said, I will be looking for these elements in your writing: a convincing and/or incisive argument, a structure that is neither overly wrought nor dysfunctional, use of evidence, thoughtful analysis, appeal to sources (when needed), and engaging style. Still have questions? Let’s talk!

ETTIQUETTE

Writing can be challenging. It can also be very personal, revealing aspects of ourselves that we wouldn’t normally share with strangers. Because of this, we need to all agree to be supportive of one another, especially as we share our works. Being supportive doesn’t mean being mute. It means actively listening to our peers, thinking about what we are going to say before we say it, and sharing feedback in a positive vein. We are here to support one another and make our writing the best it can be!

POLICIES

Original Work - Any course in which students are asked to do original work outside the classroom can be abused through inappropriate collaboration and plagiarism. University regulations require that any case of plagiarism be sent to the Office of the Provost. If you have any questions about documentation, quotations, or related matters, please consult the instructor before submitting your work.

Citations: Please follow the Modern Language Association (MLA) style guide for citations in your papers: http://guides.lib.uw.edu/research/citations/mla-style

Always bring a pen or pencil and paper. Unless you can convince me otherwise, in-class writing prompts will be executed in an old-school analog manner.

Respect for Difference and Diversity: "At the University of Washington, diversity is integral to excellence. We value and honor diverse experiences and perspectives, strive to create welcoming and respectful learning environments, and promote access, opportunity and justice for all” (http://www.washington.edu/diversity/). By participating in this seminar, we all agree to embrace this commitment to diversity and will continually strive to provide a welcoming, inclusive and respectful learning environment for everyone.  

Disability Accommodations - To request academic accommodations due to a permanent or temporary disability please contact Disabled Student Services, 448 Schmitz, (206) 543-8924 (V/TTY).  If you have a letter from Disabled Student Services indicating that you have a disability that requires academic accommodations, please present the letter to us so we can discuss the accommodations you might need in this class.
 
Changes in Syllabus - Seminars often have a fairly large degree of flexibility, and some changes may be made in specific reading assignments and other activities during the course of the quarter for a variety of reasons.

-------------------------------------------------------

SCHEDULE

WEEK .5 – WELCOME

Th 9/27

  • Welcome!
  • Please come to our first meeting with a song or instrumental track that is important to you (we will play part of it in class from a website such as YouTube or SoundCloud or as an MP3 or CD or LP or… perform it for us). Choose a track that you love or that is especially important to you. Be prepared to say a few words about it and your connection to it. We’ll introduce ourselves to one another by playing and talking about this music.
  • Overview of syllabus.
  • Writing about music is… [let’s fill in the blank]
  • Visit from the Odegaard Writing Center.

 

WEEK 1 – ALBUM

T 10/2

  • In-Class Writing
  • Syllabus continued!
  • Peer Feedback Writing Workshop with Tait Bergstrom (PhD Candidate - Language & Rhetoric, Department of English). Bring a written, and somewhat more fleshed-out, version of the self-introduction you shared with us today. You can stick with the same music and message, or change it up with a new piece and message. It's up to you. 
  • Discussion: please read Rick Moody’s “Forward” (p. xi), Rick Woodworth’s “Introduction” (p. 1), “The Writers” (p. 7), “Overture: Expert Advice from Our Writers” (p. 13).
  • Choose an album to review per the assignment. 
  • Focus On...

Th 10/4

  • Draft Album Review Due: “The Blind Review” (p. 36)
  • In-Class Writing
  • Music Share
  • Workshop Drafts: Break into small groups and share your drafts.
  • Discussion: Please read HTWAM Chapter 1, The Album Review (pp. 17-42). 
  • Live Review coming up: where can you catch live music?
  • Focus On...

 

WEEK 2 – LIVE 

T 10/9

  • Final Album Review Due: “The Blind Review” (p. 36)
  • In-Class Writing
  • Music Share
  • Discussion: please read HTWAM Chapter 2, The Live Review (pp. 43-63).
  • Chose a concert to review per the assignment “The Live Review on a Deadline” (p. 57)
  • Focus On...

Th 10/11

  • Draft Live Review Due (“The Live Review on a Deadline” (p. 57)) or, at the very least, what concert will you be attending before Tuesday? 
  • In-Class Writing
  • Music Share
  • Workshop Drafts: Break into small groups and share your drafts.
  • Discussion: HTWAM Chapter 2 continued.
  • Focus On...

 

WEEK 3 – TRACK

T 10/16

  • Final Live Review Due
  • In-Class Writing
  • Music Share
  • Discussion: please read the HTWAM Chapter 3, Track by Track (pp. 65-90).
  • Focus On...

Th 10/18

  • Draft Track Review Due: based on HTWAM p. 80.
  • In-Class Writing
  • Music Share
  • Workshop Drafts: Break into small groups and share your drafts.
  • Discussion: HTWAM Chapter 3 continued.
  • Focus On...

 

WEEK 4 – ANALYSIS

T 10/23

  • Final Track Review Due: based on HTWAM p. 80.
  • In-Class Writing
  • Music Share
  • Discussion: please read the HTWAM Chapter 4, Analysis (pp. 91-110).
  • Guest Speaker: Dr. Julia Day, ethnomusicologist and academic editor

Th 10/25

 

WEEK 5 - INTERVIEW

T 10/30

Th 11/1

  • Artist Interview Draft Due: based on HTWAM p. 138.
  • In-Class Writing
  • Music Share
  • Workshop Drafts: Break into small groups and share your drafts.
  • Discussion: HTWAM Chapter 5 continued.
  • Focus On...

 

WEEK 6 – PERSONAL

T 11/6

  • Final Artist Interview Due: based on HTWAM p. 138.
  • In-Class Writing
  • Music Share
  • Discussion: please read HTWAM Chapter 6, The Personal Essay (pp. 143-184).
  • Focus On...

Th 11/8

 

WEEK 7 – PROFILE

T 11/13

  • Final Personal Essay Due
  • In-Class Writing
  • Music Share
  • Discussion: please read HTWAM Chapter 8, The Artist Profile (pp. 211-260). 
  • Read the The Local Artist Profile assignment (p. 256) and choose a local artist to write about before next class.
  • Guest Speaker: Jacob McMurray, Senior Curator at the Museum of Pop Culture

Th 11/15

  • Draft Profile Essay Due: based on HTWAM p. 256.
  • In-Class Writing
  • Music Share
  • Workshop Drafts: Break into small groups and share your drafts.
  • Discussion: HTWAM Chapter 8 continued.
  • Focus On...

 

WEEK 8 – ALTERNATIVES

T 11/20

  • Final Profile Essay Due: based on HTWAM p. 256.
  • In-Class Writing
  • Discussion: please read HTWAM Chapter 9, Alternatives (pp. 261-295). 
  • Choose one of the three Chapter 8 writing prompts for your Alternatives essay this week, pp. 288-290.
  • Focus On...

Th 11/22

  • TG! No class, but work on your essays and answer this question: what music do you associate with Thanksgiving? If none, make it up and be prepared to tell us why next week.

 

WEEK 9 – SOUNDS & SCENES

T 11/27

  • In-Class Writing
  • Music Share
  • Discussion: please read HTWAM Chapters 10 & 11, How It Sounds and Music Scenes (pp. 297-344). 
  • Workshop Drafts: Break into small groups and share your drafts.
  • Focus On...

Th 11/29

  • Final Alternatives Essay Due
  • Draft Music Scene Essay Due: based on HTWAM p. 341.
  • In-Class Writing
  • Music Share
  • Workshop Drafts: Break into small groups and share your drafts.
  • Discussion: HTWAM Chapter 9, 10 and/or 11 continued.
  • Focus On...

 

WEEK 10 – CULTURE

T 12/4

  • Final Music Scenes Essay Due: based on HTWAM p. 341.
  • In-Class Writing
  • Discussion: please read HTWAM Chapter 12, Cultural Criticism (pp. 345-366). 
  • Focus On...

Th 12/6 (final class)

  • Draft Cultural Criticism Essay Due: based on HTWAM p. 364.
  • Workshop Drafts: Break into small groups and share your drafts.
  • Party and Performance! Party is somewhat self-explanatory (will will celebrate) but what do I mean by “performance”? Choose an essay you have written for the class and be prepared to read, perform, and/or in some way present it to a broader audience (this class will be open to guests). As of Sept. 25 this is still in the ideation phase, so let’s talk.

 

FINALS WEEK

T 12/11

  • No class, but your Final Cultural Criticism Essay is due: based on HTWAM p. 364.
  • Have a great break, and keep on writing about music!

 

Course Summary:

Date Details Due