Tag Archives: analysis

Music Lit Classes Don’t Always Kill My Love of Music

So one of my oldest and favourite blog posts expresses my deep dislike of music lit classes. Today I admit that this has not lasted. See, I’m taking the class Music of the Romantic Era right now, and it is fantastic. It is probably my favourite class right now. I don’t think this is just to do with my teacher, though he is awesome. Even though at times it feels like he knows everything, and he is very funny, my first Music Lit teacher was amazing too. Not to say that having a good teacher doesn’t help, it just doesn’t always make the class.

The time period the class is focusing on(19th century) is definitely appealing to me, as I am partial to the experimentation that really became the norm during that time. I love dissonance, and pieces that aren’t written to any particular form, but are just meant to evoke emotions and sound amazing. I admit that the rules followed in earlier eras of music don’t usually result in pieces that take my breath away.

In addition to the 19th century in particular, I like that we are focusing on a time period at all. My first Music Lit class was more of a Greatest Hits class and did not go into depth very much. We rapidly went from the 13th century to the 20th, with most of the class being memorising the birth and death dates of composers and learning to recognise their best-known works. My second Music Lit class did focus on the Medieval Era, but the teacher was dreadful. I think her best moment was when she asked us to name which medieval instrument was which, on a recording with them all playing at once, before we had heard or even seen pictures of any of them. All we had was a list of names. (Then there was the time when she insisted on continuing to mispronounce “violoncello” after I pointed out she was saying it wrong because changing her pronunciation would “confuse the other students.”) So yes, the focus and the teacher are much improved.

The other major difference I have noticed is my fellow classmates. Whereas before Music Lit was a required class for all music majors, this class is optional, so the people taking it have chosen to, and approach the work differently. Discussions are more interesting, and people don’t goof off during class.

All of this being said, there are some parts of the class that fit into my previous blog entry. For instance, whilst listening to Schumann’s Carnavale, we had an article written about his use of masculinity and femininity in the piece. And maybe it’s just me, but nothing really jumped out at me as overly feminine or masculine. Also, taking this class has made me realise that I don’t like Mendelssohn anywhere near as much as I thought I did, which has made me very sad. I suspect there will be a few more cases like both of these, but for the most part, I am happy with this class. My personal interests play a big part in how I perceive these classes, and I know I only truly feel comfortable discussing music in terms of how I perceive it and relate it to my own life, rather than to try to speak for both the composer and everyone else. I am fortunate in that my teacher is good about supplying letters by the composers and reviews written by their fellow composers of the time, both of which relieve my discomfort a bit.

0 minutes left – the 5 minutes that I worked on this on Monday = -5 minutes left.

Music Lit Classes Kill My Love of Music

First off, let me say that I think it is important for music students, wait, no, everybody who likes music, to listen to a wide range of music. I am not against that exposure. However, I do not like music lit classes. Maybe I’ve had the wrong teachers, but in every music lit class I’ve been in, there was more focus on analyzing the music to death than widening our musical taste and knowledge. I don’t want to analyze single notes and why the composer might have used that note instead of this other one. I don’t want to pick different phrases of music and say which era/other composer/whatever influenced each one. By doing this, it takes the impact the music has on me away.

Anything we might say about any piece of music and why it is the way it is is just speculation. The only one who really knows is the composer, and even the composer may not have had a specific reason for picking the note he did. As an example, drawing from an english lit class, I remember having a book assigned on “how to read literature.” The author wrote down all these different things that could be in stories and what they apparently always symbolized. The one that comes to mind is(and paraphrasing from memory here) “A key represents a penis, or a man’s sexuality.” Really? Does every author who mentions a key in their story think “This key is a symbol of male sexuality” when they type the word? In the same vein, does every composer think “Okay, this next phrase will be reminiscent of Mozart, to contrast this other phrase that is clearly influenced by the Baroque period”?I don’t know about anyone else, but when I write music, I write what I think sounds good. I don’t have some complex plan of fitting influences together.

Let’s make music lit classes what they should be, an appreciation of music, a way to experience new music with our peers, and discuss it, yes, but please don’t analyze it to pieces. That’s not how music was intended to be listened to. The magic of it lies in the whole piece, not in individual notes.