[Update: I got this grant, so once January comes it will be time to start working on this in earnest…]
So, every year I declare that I’m going to be more reflective in my teaching - take time to assess what is going well and what isn’t, on a daily or weekly basis. Sometimes I’m better at that than other times. This year I started out doing well, and then naturally, things got busy. But in general, I find that I’m happier, more productive, and more effective in both my teaching and my research when I’m taking time to reflect, to do things deliberately, and to track my process in some way.
So I’m trying another new approach. This spring I’ll teach a new (to me) course, an advanced Form and Analysis seminar for junior and senior music majors. I’m going to write and reflect a little on my process throughout December and January, in the hopes of crafting the best version of the course that I can.
So today, I’m posting an excerpt of a grant application that I just sent in to the teaching center here at Gettysburg. It’s a program that lets profs work closely with librarians to build research and writing projects for 200 and 300 level courses.
MUS CLAS 342 (Form and Analysis) is one of three courses that may be taken to satisfy the advanced theory requirement for BA and BM majors in the Sunderman Conservatory of Music. Compared with the other 34x courses ("Counterpoint and Composition" and "Orchestration") Form and Analysis has been historically unpopular: offered every other year, it has often attracted only one or two students, and frequently must be taught as an independent study. Thanks to my active recruiting since I arrived on campus last year, I currently have seven students registered for the fall. This will be my first time teaching 342, and the time is right to re-imagine the course and give it a new identity.
I am applying for the JCCTL Information Literacy Grant because I would like that new identity to be an introduction to scholarly research, writing, and communication in music theory. During the two-year music theory sequence (taken by all majors and minors), music theory is often presented as a set of axioms: a skills-based sequence, introducing students to a fixed body of knowledge, and focused on an established canon of repertoire. This is due not to the failings of any teacher or any school of instruction, but rather because of the sheer volume of technical information that must be conveyed in the early semesters—the need to teach music theory as a kind of second language, as it were, one in which even the most advanced high school musicians must learn essentially from scratch when they reach college. I would like to use Music 342 as a (re)introduction to music theory as an active research discipline, one in which the questions—even questions about old, much-discussed repertoire—are far from settled, and in which students can learn the skills to contribute to the scholarly conversation through critical writing and original scholarly research.
Throughout the “core sequence” courses that I teach—one section of Theory II, and the sole section of Theory III—I try to prepare students for scholarly writing about music through a series of short assignments, which supplement the lecture/textbook/problem set approach that characterizes the four-semester sequence. A podcast recording project in Theory II helps students learn to discuss popular music in a quick and accessible manner (while building media production skills as well), and serves as scaffolding for two short analysis papers in Theory III: one on the relationship between text and music in a Schubert song, the other on narrative archetypes in Beethoven’s “Pathétique” Sonata.
With the aid of Musselman Library’s Research and Instruction librarians, I would like to build Music 342 up into a semester-long research experience that will serve as a capstone to this process. Alongside the introductions to advanced techniques of music analysis (such as Schenkerian analysis, Neo-Riemannian/Transformational theory, form theory, and motivic analysis), students will undertake a major analysis project. They will select a piece or group of pieces from the course’s general repertoire—music in the western tradition, primarily from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries—and analyze it using the techniques discussed in class. This analysis will be based on in-class materials, and on the students’ surveys of primary and secondary literature in the relevant areas of music theory. I intend to incorporate workshops on research and writing, with a particular emphasis on the processes of doing research in the arts and humanities, and communicating those results. To that end, my students will not only write traditional academic papers, but report their progress and results in a series of blog entries on a class Wordpress site.
Consultations and Preparation
In preparing this application, I have consulted with Clint Baugess and Chris Barnes from Musselman Library. The three of us talked about ways to use Musselman's Special Collections to support the project, as well as how they and I can teach research and writing techniques that will be useful to music theory students in particular. The aspect of our conversation that excited me the most was the notion of using scaffolding exercises throughout the semester to get students to report on their research in various formats, at several levels of detail, and for different audiences. If I receive the grant, I will undertake future consultations with Musselman’s Research and Instruction Librarians in January, designing a series of milestones for the major research project, which will serve as bi-weekly checkpoints during the spring semester. These will include pre-writing and research exercises such as an initial proposal, a literature review, and a “state of the [sub]field” report; research summaries such as an ‘elevator pitch’ and an academic abstract with keywords; and final products, including an oral presentation, a written paper, and a documentation of the seminar’s work on the course website. Throughout the project, as is appropriate for a course in music analysis, I will be encouraging my students to find, curate, create, and employ media objects such as sound recordings, educational demos, and performances as a supplement to their written work.
Learning Outcomes and Assessment
Developing a semester-long research project and interweaving it throughout Music 342 will help the course to reinforce several existing learning outcomes, as articulated by the Sunderman Conservatory itself, along with the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM, our accreditation body) and the Music Library Association (MLA), a national organization which maintains learning goals in Information Literacy.
Regarding conservatory outcomes, most theory courses (including this one) already meet Sunderman’s first outcome, helping students develop the ability to “analyze … structural and expressive elements of music.” And while most music theory classes approach the second outcome, by teaching students to “identify, explain, and compare compositional processes,” it problem-based courses and problem set- or exam-based assessments are not always as successful at attaining the second half of that learning outcome: articulating how [compositional processes] are shaped by diverse social, historical, and cultural forces.”By granting students the time and space to delve deeply into a single work, or the music of a single composer, traditionally articulated technical and analytical goals will be further integrated with the study of historical and cultural contexts. The Conservatory learning goals closely reflect those recommended by NASM for students studying music theory; in a similar manner, this information literacy-oriented redesign will help to more fully meet each applicable learning goal.
A reimagined Music 342, integrating musical study and a comprehensive introduction to academic research, will also directly address all five of Musselman Library’s five learning outcomes in Information Literacy, from the perspective of musical scholarship. By engaging with primary sources and secondary literature rather than textbooks, students will learn not only that scholarship is a conversation, but also that authority is constructed and contextual. These outcomes take many forms in the discipline of music theory, but they are most implicated in one of the central lessons that I try to convey to every student who comes through my classroom: that despite the usefulness of the term as a shorthand, there is no monolithic “music theory.” Rather, there are many theoriesthat address many musics; the authority of any given approach is defined not only through reference to particular composers or compositions, but through the shifting cultural and academic norms of music theory’s interactions with cognate disciplines such as history, philosophy, psychology and cognitive science, mathematics, and acoustics. By exploring diverse repertoire that is personally relevant to them, students in Music 342 will engage first-hand with the notion that research [is] inquiry, as they forge ahead in new areas of the discipline. And the many scaffolding devices along the way (in the form of both pre- and post-research exercises, and hands-on sessions in Musselman Library) will help students to understand information creation as a process. Finally, I hope to hold a series of conversations with my students about public outreach and the accessibility of theoretical research—an important conversation that is unfolding across American universities and music departments, as scholars and practitioners are taking a greater interest in the notion of the “public humanities.” I hope to teach my students that information has value by helping them to document their research not only in the form of a thoroughly researched academic paper that conforms to the disciplinary norms employed by specialists, but also in accessible, bite-sized, and media-augmented artifacts on a course website.
My assessment plan for this project is still in development; working with subject and research/instruction librarians to develop appropriate assessment techniques for this multi-stage, multimodal undertaking is one of my primary reasons for applying for the grant. Any assessment, however, will be sure to take into account each students’ mastery of analytical techniques (measured by how students are able to select the proper approach to a piece, contextualize their research within the field, and present convincing results); their ability to locate and employ primary and secondary sources appropriately; and their success in articulating their research goals, results, and the significance of those results, in both short- and long-form media.
For a sample of what some aspects of a course website might include, see https://marginalizedmusic.wordpress.com, which documents the final project of a similar course I taught at Tufts University in the Fall of 2016, while ABD.
For more information on the Sunderman Conservatory’s Learning Goals, see http://www.gettysburg.edu/academics/conservatory/about/goals.dot.
For instance, skills-based courses often teach analytical systems, but a project-based approach may allow students to more effectively compare the results of different approaches to the same music (Item 3a). Similarly, this re-designed course will teach research and technological skills alongside musical and verbal skills (item 3c), and partially compensate for the fact that, in the absence of a dedicated degree program in theory or musicology, most students undertake performance-based capstone projects rather than research projects (item 4). See the NASM guidelines at https://nasm.arts-accredit.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2015/11/B_BM-MusicTheory.pdf.