The Informed Composer

A blog about becoming an informed musician in the XXI Century

Also a requirement for MUTH 65200, “Bibliography and Research in Music”

Reading 10: Onwards and Upwards!

So here we are! Last blog of the semester, and although it has been fun, I’m looking forward to doing more legwork for my own projects and less for Oxford Music Online entries (we love you, Prof. Shanton).

At the end of this journey, we ask ourselves this question: What role should (or does) research and critical thinking play in the life and career of a performer, conductor, composer, teacher, etc.?

My answer: research and critical thinking mean the world to a musician. As with somebody who doesn’t understand how a dominant-tonic works, one can tell when somebody’s work (performance, conducting, composing) comes from a place of information versus “just doing whatever:” sometimes “whatever” is ok and by luck, it works. But luck really runs out after a while, like an empty barrel making noise stops after the impetus is gone.

I bet I can ask any of my peers if they think getting in contact with the subject of research in music and learning about the practice was really useful to them, and I’m pretty sure I’d get a unanimous “YAAAHS.” But really, I think a better question to ask ourselves is, how could everyone know about these resources? Why is it that the habit of research, important as it is, only gets stressed in grad school and not before? Perhaps it does here at IC. I know one of our undergraduate students was doing a mini annotated Bibliography, so maybe this institution is putting an extra effort and gets it, and that’s why Ithaca has such a great reputation for being a good school for undergrads.

My point is, I wonder if something could be done in order to make sure our students (private, school system, collegiate) get into the habit of good research as early as possible. Do you imagine if our students had to wait until graduate school before knowing that playing their scales is important? That’s how important I’ve come to think this stuff is.

Now, I know this isn’t for everybody and I can’t expect for all musicians to be as inquisitive and thorough as my statements ask for. But hey, like always, I think a middle point between total lack of knowledge and exposure to these research tools and uses and going to the library every day isn’t something too crazy to wish for. My argument is that early exposure to this stuff would generate more love for information, and those who can balance information with talent and feeling and all those abstract things we need as musicians would earn the kingdom.

Something important that would come out of this is that it would be almost inevitable that some people would start writing and expanding our knowledge base; It would be as inevitable as somebody who studies piano scores at some point they’ll venture into playing these scores themselves!

Enter the Creative Commons, a way of granting permissions for use that encourages collaboration and is definitely a workaround for the vague copyright laws that (as we read a few weeks ago) are in dire need of revision.

Creative Commons is the way WordPress is licensed, and one of the fundamental reasons sites (like this one) exist. It is how sites like Unsplash are able to provide many people with Free and Royalty-Free photography, so others can benefit from having high-res photography. It is the ultimate “sharing is caring.” Content sites like Soundcloud allow you to choose if you’d like to offer your music under the Creative Commons license, and this is how many entities are able to find high-quality music for video or other uses. But like Keehun mentioned, it is not as useful out of the box for music or writing, so how can we make it work more efficiently for music? IDK. I am confident we’ll find an answer for that in the future, and I hope libraries benefit from CC in order to offer their content to their users, thus solving the problem of music licensing for libraries we identified a few weeks ago.

Some parts of this world, the world in which research and access to content and information are of utmost importance, are changing really fast. Databases, Open Access sites, streaming services, digital collections, are shaping our research habits differently, and I think, for the better. However, there’s something about going to the library and learning cracking RISM B, the beauty of being in an environment that draws you in, because everybody else is doing the same thing. It is comparable to the reason I have for coming to music school: the degree doesn’t mean anything, but the experience of hanging out with others in similar circumstances is priceless. Maybe electronic access will evolve to the point in which this experience can happen by researching electronically — I’d wager we’re quite far from that still! But at least ideas and options like Creative Commons definitely bring us closer to such a future.


— E

Reading 9: Making Arguments About Music; Balancing Connections and Knowledge

These readings described two typical entities who are charged with the wonderful task of making arguments about music. Analysts look at our craft usually from an academic standpoint, usually for other musicians to read and for the purpose of understanding music from a technical standpoint. Critics/music journalists also make arguments, but their job is to rely information to the regular concertgoer who didn’t study at music school for 6+ years (minimum). As well intentioned as this bridging of the gap is, sometimes it falls short from explaining music satisfactorily to the audience, and some authors are very vocal about this fact. Spoiler alert: even in academic analysis we never make fully-satisfactory claims about the craft. At the end of the readings we had a good example of music journalism: Claims about music made from a journalistic standpoint (AKA a “Critic”). This critic (AKA “journalist) made a few claims about the current state of music as an art and as a business. That said, let’s get right into this!

Although I hate dry readings, I must confess I found the readings on Analysis and Criticism very rewarding. I, as well as Keehun, Craig, Dallas, and James, have spent the last few weeks talking about the practice itself of musical analysis in our Analytical Techniques class (affectionately known as Anal. Tech.) (:-P), so I would rather weigh in and expand on the discussion of the concept of the “Musical Analysis” rather than just respond to this reading.

In Analytical Techniques we spent a considerable amount of time discussing just what it meant to Analyze music, and after discussion we came to the realization that what we’re trying to achieve is a communication of a certain musical experience (Yes! Even the gray I-ii6-N6-V-I type of analysis tries to communicate a certain experience!). It gets tricky: being music SOOO subjective to begin with, how could we expect to make claims about how we experience a certain piece AND at the same time convince people about it? This vast difference about how we perceive musical experiences is what causes our grandparents to go:


A technique like Schenkerian Analysis sought to standardize how we explain harmonic prolongation in common-practice music, and it’s all dandy — until we realize that a Schenkerian approach would usually render our analysis dissatisfactory. If everything is about just I, V, I, scale degrees 3, 2, 1, then music really SUCKS.

The article makes a reference to the use of hermeneutics, which is, I think, what we’re looking for when understanding a piece. Not “what does this piece mean,” but “HOW does this piece mean?” entails that we’re not trying to convince people of how great a piece is by proving insight into the dry architecture beneath it, but how does it move us and makes us happy, sad, angry, or what.

While music analysis is a process that starts by the power of the analyst and is a RESPONSE to a piece of music, musical criticism is –usually– a REACTION of somebody who gets paid to do it. Can we see where this is going?

The article on Music Criticism defines some of the issues with the profession, although like a good Schenker graph, fails to articulate the visceral response of apprehension musicians have towards the practice.

I am in the same camp of Ted Gioia: for music criticism to be worth anything, the critics should make it a point to make the criticism objective, craft-focused, and looking at quality. But are we not venturing into the realm of musical analysis then? As far as I understand it, music criticism is, after all, for the non-technical reader, as was “American Idol” not a show for music experts, but for people who just got home from work and want a little bit of entertainment to chill for a bit. Gioia’s depressing afternoon was earned and looked for: If he wanted a more satisfying analysis of music, popular periodicals weren’t the place to look for it.

Of course critics need to use “badass,” “hot,” “sexy” to talk about musicians! These are the terms that the general public is using to refer to their artists. And I am totally not saying this to defend critics, but rather as a means to understand why they act like this. I think people won’t understand a higher-level commentary of music simply because people won’t talk to them like that. For a baby to expand their vocabulary, their parents need to talk to them all the time, so they learn by exposure. I think the general market should grow their musical palate by exposure as well, and critics should help by making the conversation a little bit more elevated (just a tad bit). Of course this reasoning also entails that the public won’t understand why something sucks (a poorly-played guitar solo or a drummer who can’t play very well) if the ones who have the “voice” won’t articulate it for them.


Mr. Soller Seltz drives a point home applying Gioia’s rant about lack of technical knowledge about the craft to filmmaking: Dude, if you’re going to put something out there criticizing a piece of work, then really make sure you’ve got the chops to know what is REALLY going on with the piece. This makes perfect sense… but at the same time the critic should be really careful: the profession should be about finding a sweet spot in between being technical about the critique, enough that you honor the craft, but also explaining what you think about it in layman’s terms.

Mr. Havighurst makes, I think, a great point when he mentions that the importance of music in the schools is not because of it’s side-effects for other things. One time I read an op-ed about how people should really stop making the case for music as if it were important because of its consequences (e.g. that “music makes kids smarter” argument the author depicted), but rather just because it’s music! So here we’d have another way for the non-musician to understand quality, and at the same time we’d be making the world a better place. I do not agree that video game music has hurt the industry though: If anything it has allowed people to get exposed to orchestral music.

I can understand where the Havighurst’s arguments that digitization of music creates a problem for the value of music, but I disagree: Access to music allows people to get exposed to it more, but I seriously do not think it negates value. If anything, what we ought to do is inform people on how to improve their music-listening habits (hint hint: a better support for music school programs could help). I do see how Commercial Radio has become some part of the problem, but I think that medium doesn’t have much more than 50 years left, tops: as long as you can listen to the music on your smartphone on your car, why listen to radio (aside from NPR)? I might be living in a bubble and be wrong, so take what I say with a grain of salt. If anything, commercial radio is the perfect vehicle for the music played therein, commercial music.

I’m not an expert in Jazz, so I won’t discuss Jazz. However, I think Art music lost its seat at the table when composers chose that public taste didn’t matter (“they just don’t know anything!” “who cares if you listen?”) and then the genre just went out of the loop, as if you’d jumped out of a train moving 200 miles an hour. That train is gone, baby.

I think that like critics, composers should also consider looking inwards to find a sweet spot between technically-rewarding work, and work that audiences can understand: At the end, if music is expression, then we also ought to make sure our expression is interpreted by someone too, right? Otherwise we’re just the mentally-ill person who stands at the intersection yelling whatever and nobody listens to. Composers will say that they’re ok if nobody listens — I do think they care and just lie to themselves when they say this (I’ve seen many severely hurt when performers or audiences don’t like their stuff). This said, I think the composer’s role should work similarly to the critic, but the other way around: While the critic should ideally balance a connection with general audiences and sprinkle it with a little bit of technical knowledge in order to educate, the composer should ideally balance their handling of technical knowledge about our craft and sprinkle with a little bit of care for their listener and performer.

— E

Reading 8: Preservation, Copyright, and Sound Recordings

The Apocalypse is upon us! “How Streaming Media Could Threaten the Mission of Libraries” (cue timpani roll and dissonant chords on low brass)

I am not sure how to feel about this article — Is the advent of new avenues of distribution for recorded music a CHALLENGE? Absolutely. However, I think calling it a “threat” is a little bit of an exaggeration. And by a “little bit,” I mean “a lot.”

Libraries buy subscriptions to Naxos, and tons of other databases for articles. Why is this different? I wonder if that particular recording is on Naxos — they do have a recording of Dudamel with the LA Phil playing this work.

Of course, the challenge for libraries is that before they paid $25-$30 dollars to be able to perpetually supply their users with a specific audio material and now they gotta pay services like Naxos to provide the same competitive access. An individual would have to pay a considerable amount of money to get a subscription to Naxos (right now it stands at $31.50 a month or $315 a year). They don’t even give a special discount for the yearly membership :(. So yeah, people will still use library access for this one. Mr. Kolowich can chill. Or can he?

Sound Recordings and Copyright. What is going on here??

I will not touch on the issue of commercially-available recordings of today, however, there should be a minimum of permissiveness when it comes to access to things which are really old and might serve a purpose larger than just entertainment and sales (of course for a holder, anything that might generate money is important).

So the first thing that caught my attention from Brooks’s article was four pages into it, when the author explains that a certain company didn’t really own the rights for a recording he needed, but a librarian thought they did and that was enough to pose a roadblock for the researcher. In this particular paragraph, Brooks makes a simple-yet-incredible claim: NOBODY HAS ANYTHING TO WIN when it comes to really old recordings, unless we have substantial amount of market research proving that recordings with wax-cylinder quality are breaking charts on iTunes. However, the author’s interactions with libraries showed less of a preoccupation for “providing access” (as Kolowich was concerned), and more of a preoccupation for libraries to “cover their behinds.” Of course, libraries have to be particularly careful about observing the law –their reputations could be jeopardized and people’s jobs could be on the line– but the librarian who didn’t really know who was the owner of that recording should’ve known better.

The second thing that caught my attention was the argument that copyright ownership can be used as a means of censorship: even when holders want to avoid controversy they are still holding back the often politically INCORRECT content that was out there before 1972, and people have the right to know: we wouldn’t know better if we hadn’t heard/seen/read histories of World War II. Likewise, we can gain more insight into our history by being able to access the media that copyright holders are not sharing, and using their ownership to protect it.

Hopefully agreements will be made with regards to historical recordings. If no one has anything to win by holding on to these recordings tightly, as Brooks argues, then why keep them out of reach from everybody? At least, let organizations like libraries have access to it for preservation purposes.

I still think Mr. Kolowich’s statement that streaming media could become a “threat to the mission of libraries” is exaggerated. Even a little irresponsible: Why would we require open-mindedness and adaptation from the rights holders, when authors like Mr. Kolowich spread fear with such a clickbait-y title? Consider both articles were released with considerable amounts of time in between them for one to be informed by the findings of another. At the same time there is a big gap from 2009 to 2016 and we’d have to look at how the situations described by Brooks actually played out.

Belfer Audio Archive, National Jukebox

It is great to know that there are organizations funded and put in place with the sole purpose of sharing recordings that would otherwise be inaccessible to the general public. Particularly interesting are other branched efforts from the Belfer, like Sound Beat, a 90 second podcast hosted by VO artist Brett Barry, with the goal of highlighting the holdings at the Belfer. It must be noted that these are a little clunky on Safari and work their best on Chrome, FYI.

This is a nice recording of the spiritual, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” from the Belfer collection, click here.

At the National Jukebox, I found a curious recording of “Hail to the Chief” for male vocal quartet prefaced by an intro played on bagpipe. I wonder what the circumstances for such a performance were. Check it out.

– E

Reading 7: For the Future

There is SO MUCH to think about the issue of digital access to information nowadays: on one hand we’ve got issues of copyright and ownership; on the other hand we’ve got the benefits of equalized access to information for everyone with access to Internet. As we discussed in-class when we reviewed digital access to previously-printed materials, there are a few catches to this new economy of information happening through the Web*.

The way I will structure and share my thoughts will be like Miami Ad man Gonzalo Lopez Martí – I will opt for a bulletpoint-oriented narrative.

“The impact of digitized collections on learning and teaching”

— What caught my attention the most about David Harrington Watt was not necessarily what he had to say, but the quotes about the profession he had gathered. These bits, shared with him colloquially, are sometimes more eye-opening about what’s the sentiment of a group of people than the regulated language of research. Some times I think about my conversations with other composers: I learn more from them while having a beer or lunch than in a classroom. My conversations with Dallas about sound have been as enlightening about my relationship with sound as all my composition and electronic music lessons together at Florida International University. My conversations with my friend Darwin, or the times I’ve had lunch with my Maestro, Evis, have taught me more about how to think about music than private lessons on Wednesday from 1 to 2 PM have. I’d say there’s something to be said about the value of physically living in an environment in which everybody is revolving around a certain activity (research, Music, etc.), and this colloquial approach to the activity happening between the agents of said environment.

— The other side of this is that library access is a lot easier today than it was during the speaker’s time (prof. Shanton will say, jokingly, “back in my day…!” :P), and I would like for us to acknowledge that we, new inductees in the world of research, have the opportunity to maximize a lot of time because of electronic access to information. I don’t have to sit next to the periodicals stack to read “Perspectives of New Music,” and this is wonderful. I am able to plan a trip on a weekend before an assignment is due, and still be able to get my work done wherever I am. Hell, I’m typing this at 12:53 AM from my couch. While watching Legends of Tomorrow. Time maximization: 110%.

“International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP)” – If you don’t know about this, you’re in serious trouble.

— This neat description of one of our most powerful tools as Music researchers today gives an insight not only into its history and basic way of operating, but a neat feat usually overlooked: its intricate cataloguing process and browsing options for retrieval. Since this tool is digital, music can be organized in ways other mediums (namely, printed) cannot be: When you have a collection of works by one composer, you have to group it a certain way. However, when you’re referencing a hyperlink, you may reference it in many ways – kind of the same thing that happens with controlled vocabulary at the library, just that IMSLP takes you one step further: it gets you to the actual thing you’re looking for. Regretfully, many works and editions are still under copyright and we many not access them with this tool, but still it is good to see we’re heading towards a more comprehensive and more intricate library of music on the web – the fact that the information is maintained by members of the community helps in keeping it relevant, organized, and useful.

Rants about Google initiatives that probably looked great on paper but then died.

— This is the best example of corporate digital initiatives gone wrong. Google wanted to be a leader by creating this digital super library with the help of librarians worldwide but they were left alone… and the project died eventually.

— An unrelated project, Project Gutenberg, had the vision to digitize all PD books, also this is where one of the best anti-spam tools came to be (ReCaptcha): They needed to digitize many books but the OCR scanners got stuck at some point, so a Guatemalan computer scientist (who later created Duolingo) developed a tool that would crowdsource solutions to the words OCRs could not recognize. CLEVER! The solution that would later become ReCaptcha was later acquired by Google. I wonder what’s in it for Google to maintain this service if they’ve killed Google Books – surely many other important pieces of information are being indexed at this point with the help of users who respond to the new ReCaptcha?


— Although Google didn’t really go very far with their noble initiative (and really no matter how many years it was between Google Books’s dawn and twilight, it wasn’t enough), I personally didn’t grasp how many other pieces of 0’s and 1’s were to be archived: Audio, Music, Videos, Audiobooks, TV news, etc. Enter the Internet Archive.

The Wayback Machine: “Can the Internet Be Archived?”

— As I went through the New Yorker article I could not help but notice the rhythm of the text: Jill Lepore went constantly back and forth between planes, as a composer would go back and forth between registers, resolving them one at a time. She discusses the architecture of the Web Archive’s physical building almost with reverence (the temple of information, as Kahle would probably like it to be), the history of the Web Archive (introducing it with a brief history of the Internet), and Kahle’s involvement in efforts of unifying entities in creating all-encompassing archives. We can’t deny there’s a musical element to the way this article is written.

“And the past will be inescapable, which is as terrifying as it is interesting.”

— I wish I could escape some of the pictures I posted on MySpace when it was a thing. Maybe this move towards the permanence of the internet will make us re-think what we share in the future (don’t count on it), although the tone of the article made me think that the Web Archive does not really index social profiles of regular joes as much (I bet and hope they index Donald Trump’s Twitter a few times a day, for the sake of future research in American politics). As much as I wanted to escape the cheesy relationship things I posted back then, I do wish I wouldn’t have lost the music I posted in MySpace though. Some of my earlier experimentations with creating music posted in there were, at the very least, interesting for me to trace growth.

— Ever since I learned about the Wayback Machine a few years ago, I was fascinated with the concept: an archive of every website created in the history of the internet (since 1996 as I now know). Whoa.

— These lines really got to me: “We were so young then, and the Web was so young,” Berners-Lee told me. “I was trying to get it to go. Preservation was not a priority. But we’re getting older now.” Made me think of how we behave when we are younger, indestructible know-it-alls who have all their energy placed on the present and little concern for the future. When we mature a little bit more, then we start giving some more thought to our legacy: “what’s going to stay behind when I’m gone.” At least this is how I feel. Idk.

— Herbert Van de Sompel has a point when he mentions that “a world with one archive is a really bad idea:” let us reflect on what happened to the great Library of Alexandria. Thank you.

— Something tells me this archive will serve a much larger and much better-defined purpose in the future. I bet Copland didn’t save his manuscripts thinking “hey! Maybe one day the Library of Congress will create a collection to tell the history of our country through song!” Same here: we don’t know which research will be impacted by this, but we know that this will come in handy when researchers of the future start referencing the information published on websites today.

Reading 6: To be, or not to be [historically accurate]?

To play a [historically accurate] note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable!
— Beethoven? (maybe).

As dry as a dictionary entry might be, the Oxford’s entry on “Historical Performance” sparked some really entertaining thoughts in my mind. Whenever I find myself reflecting about the issue of authenticity, performance practice, and the “composer’s intent,” I find myself pulled in two different directions. On the one part, there is great value and it is a show of fine musicianship to be an informed performer, and that our approach to the masterworks shows an understanding of the music we’re playing, not only from a purely musical standpoint, but from a historical, and even a little mythical standpoint. A great example of this kind of prized understanding and curiosity is Daniel Barenboim’s video about the Moonlight Sonata. See below.


On the other part, I am all for reinterpretations of music and originality in performance — I feel like there is little room for originality in today’s performance, a product of both the recording industry and the interest of replicating the piece of music “as it was intended to be heard.” I suspect that as we advanced more and more into historical performance, and more historical performances were recorded, people might have started to just emulate one another and just play everything within the same set of parameters. Except Glenn Gould. He didn’t give many of “them.”

Now, I feel that having a fervent love for “the score” or “authenticity” just to have “a fervent love for the score or authenticity” is at best, boring. At worst, it shows that we have nothing better to worry about. The goal has to always be to make the musical experience of the performer and the audience richer, to frame the musical experience into a trip to another world. Exciting the senses of the listener and the performer. The [deceased] composer won’t really know if we changed a note. Richard Taruskin agrees with this.

“We can no longer allow anyone to stand between us and the composer!”

… well unless they’re dead of course.

Particularly resonant with this is the newspaper cut, “Composer’s Intent? Get Over It.” Again, Schoenberg (may the master forever rest in peace) won’t know that Boulez and Barenboim gave different renditions of his masterworks. It is rather gratifying to know that Glass approaches his own music freely (I feel I approach the performance of my music the same way). I suspect we composers don’t really care for the actual note we write: we care for the feeling we want to transmit. After all, “to play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable!” right?

As a stray thought: Do you, my reader, imagine if we cared so much about historically recreating other situations outside of music (or arts)? Like:

“I’d like to experience a car ride as it was first thought of in the late 1800s! Please take this 2016 Tesla out of my sight!”


Moving on! Talking about LOL, reading the entry on the Urtext in Slonimsky’s Lectionary of Music was entertaining! Especially this quote:


Of course the passion for the Urtext is a peculiar obsession of 20th-century scholars! Is it not in the 20th-century that music theory and musicology REALLY established themselves as a field of study within the world of academia? (although I know it became an academic discipline in the 1800s).sI feel that this passion for the Urtext, “the composer’s intent!”, is amplified today by the worship of the score that 20 and 21st-century composers instituted for contemporary music. This worship of the score and rigor in performance, which calls for every little detail to be accounted for in an effort to respect and pay homage to the tidy composer, who dutifully created the piece.

I feel that WE DO need to have access to an edition that is very close to the original manuscript/first printed edition – we need to have access to the original edition, if we are to know how to interpret it either faithfully, or to make adventurous decisions in performance.

And to speak about adventurous decisions (not made), I wonder if Taruskin’s article means to expose a deeper issue than his apparent criticism of historical performers: It makes sense to argue that these are not sounds of Bach’s or Mozart’s times, these are sounds of TODAY. Maybe we call it “historical performance” because it has a ring that “historically-informed-but-actually-modern performance” has not?

Maybe what “The Spin Doctors of Early Music,” as Taruskin calls these musicians, bank on the remembrance and longing for the distant past, as a way to express our discontent with the present. But hey, again, if they are enriching the musical experience, more power to them. I feel that a performance interpreted from the heart that veers from the score a tad is a thousand times better than a dry, gray, “accurate” reading. That’s why I think I would’ve probably liked Barenboim’s performance better than Boulez’s.


* This post was written while eating ‘Member Berries.

Reading 5: From hand to paper – A note about sources.

Definitions, differences, and importance.

When researching music, one might find interesting things, erased content or notes to self that composers (or copyists) left themselves in their manuscripts – be it autographs (handmade copies by the hand of someone), or holographs (by the hand of the composer/author themselves).

Let us be clear that we might find different sources of these hand-made pieces, as the Holograph entry read: CPE Bach did autograph some of his father’s works.

Why do we care, though?

Again, there are interesting things that don’t make it to the perfectly readable, edited, type-set version of any given piece of music. Indeed, how would we know how disgusted Beethoven was at Napoleon, if not for the enraged scratch of the dedication of his 3rd Symphony, on the cover of his holograph?

Aside from historical add-ons to the background of a piece of music, further understanding of music may be achieved by looking at the original sources of the work. If historical accuracy is sought, then we might want to avoid judgment calls made by editors and go to either early prints and manuscripts, as described by the “Source” entry in the Oxford Dictionary of Music – this is especially true for early music performance.

Another category of sources is the sketch, and I believe it makes sense to value them now more than ever: If we imagine a scenario in which most of the things there are to be said about a well-established piece like the “Moonlight” sonata, have already been said by looking at the published versions we have today, then why not go back to the sketches in order to look for new arguments to be made about the music? If not for the sake of pure knowledge, I’d say getting to see these documents would unlock new ways in which pieces could be understood and learned, or at least the performer’s relationship with a certain piece of music would be strengthened.

In comes the advent of historical musicology with the creation of Historical Editions. The Oxford entry guides us through the early beginning of these collections, how they evolved, and how they stand today.

I feel these editions are particularly good sources for musicians devoted to the study of early music, and maybe up to the end of the Romantic period. After that, the amount of documentation we have about compositions created in the turn of the Century and beyond is vast, and we are closer to the composers themselves anyway — we have, for example, recordings of Stravinsky discussing his pieces, whereas we do not have anything like that for Mozart. Perhaps this love for amassing documentation of current music started when the practice of creating Historical Editions started. Maaaybe historians started to tell themselves “hey, look at how much we’re struggling to collect these manuscripts and historically-accurate catalogs, maybe it’d be great if we made sure these pictures, manuscript, sketches, et al, were kept safe and archived, for the future, ya know?”

The Urtext edition, as explained in the Oxford, are editions of the earliest official version of any given composition. A very interesting question posed in this entry is: “But wait! What if the piece changes after this ‘earliest’ manuscript??” I believe this is particularly true for pre-18th Century music: For example, there cannot be an Urtext of continuo-based pieces because, who knows what a good composer-sanctioned continuo would be?

As noted by the blog entries of G. Henle Verlag (the major editing house behind Urtext editions of the catalogs of the great masters), these editions are thoroughly researched and agreed upon by a number of scholars, but are not 100% definitive, especially if new sources are found, as it happened with the dilemma surrounding Brahms’s Hungarian Dances.

I think Boulez shows us the same would be true for 20-21st Century music, when composers published their work, and then either reviewed pieces years after (what about them “Notations pour Piano” that later became “Notations pour Orchestre”?), or just disowned them altogether?

Books and words made by hand.

The most charming content we reviewed for this time around was in the form of these two short films, “The Art of Making a Book,” and “Upside Down, Left to Right: A Letterpress Film.” These two videos show the art form that is representing printed words, something we just don’t see every day (I would’ve added “anymore” but truth is, I was born into an already computer-driven way of producing printed words :P).

I think there’s a connection between these methods of production and music, because the same is true for new pieces: the computer took over, and made it easy (too easy) for anybody to prepare something printed. Any small error would have cost a tremendous amount of time to correct before the advent of word processors, computer-powered printing press, or binding machines.

The most important thing I see in these processes is that there is a mindfulness to each decision made by the typesetter, the printer, the cutter, or the binder. Every aspect of the creation process takes time, so the creator has to be mentally present.

Composer Augusta Read Thomas, in a video by the University of Chicago (embedded below), explains how much work she puts into creating her manuscripts: one could say that she takes great pride into her process. As the typesetter has a personal relationship with words, or a printer/binder has a personal relationship with the books they produce, people like Augusta, then, have a personal relationship with their music — as she notes that it is as if she can really “touch her sounds” as they are making it to the final score. See the video below!

Reading 4: The dreadful P-word!

This week’s blog report is about the delicate and complicated subject of Plagiarism (I knew we had to go there at some point!), and we have some ideas that would make us think twice about what we consider plagiarism. Kenneth Goldsmith definitely has his ideas contrasting what we’ve learnt about the topic, but the main idea of this week’s reading is that plagiarism is best avoided, for our career and credibility’s sake. Now, the issue here is not that we need to come up with 100% original content all the time, but rather that we need to know how to properly give credit to others when we use their ideas to support our conclusions. Sands raises a really good question: how do we deal with it if accused? The answer: it depends. But definitely, we’ve heard that our credibility as authors could be severely hurt if we’re proven to have plagiarized someone’s work, so what do we do to avoid being accused in first place? Read on!

Plagiarism: Maybe It’s Not So… Bad?

Before we all go and crucify Kenneth Goldsmith (and if you look at the comments section you’ll find that many listeners of the show totally did), I would like to say what he is saying is actually not THAT crazy, at least in part. If we look at some history sources which I’m not going to bother to properly cite (in the spirit of this week’s topic), we will find that composers would heavily borrow from each other and from themselves in the common practice musical canon (Diabelli variations anyone?). What he seemed to be OK with was just taking these ideas, and string them together as our own, giving merit not to our creativity, but to our ability to make new stuff with previously-created stuff, and this is the very thing that academics fight against in the War on Plagiarism®.

(I hereby claim the “War on Plagiarism” term as my own, super-creative spin on the “War on Terror”)

So the question I ask myself is, at which point in history did borrowing an idea to put in another context become such a bad thing? I am not sure, but what I know is that whenever serious borrowing has happened, we know what the source material is and where it came from — the Diabelli variations where based on a theme by a guy named Diabelli. Another example are all the “Variations on a theme by Paganini,” (Rachmaninoff, Lutoslawski) or all the pieces written based on the Dies Irae (Liszt, Saint-Säens, et. al.). Composers seem to keep doing it and that’s A-OK, as long as I know what the source is (btw check out The Beethoven Machine by Michael Colgrass — great piece IMHO). Now, as a composer I DEFINITELY value credit, and if somebody uses my work I will definitely expect to be named, and in turn I put good energy into the Universe by doing the same whenever I write a serious academic paper or use work extraneous to my own as inspiration. Do not get me wrong on that one (I read that composers borrowed from each other and themselves in Barbara R. Hanning’s textbook Concise History of Western Music, by the way).

In the context of academic work, where Goldsmith failed to “nail it” is that we repurpose information for the sake of supporting our own ideas (or at least conclusions we got to on our own, ideally). We don’t “string together ideas to create a paper,” or “point to sources” just for the sake of pointing, like news aggregators do. We point because we want to say “Hey! This is my idea, and these are the solid, academic reasons that prove my idea right!” Goldsmith’s success seemed to stem from the fact that he came forth and said “I am not writing anything new, but here’s how I repurpose some of the stuff already created,” and maybe that’s why his concepts are so dissonant in a world that values originality.

Off topic: Something that caught my attention was when Goldsmith mentioned that visual art went abstract because 150 years ago it met the camera. Made me ask myself, could it be that something similar happened to art music? Well, he did mention that sampler and magnetic tape made music go in a different direction, and that totally applies to pop music, and to some extent, art music. Something I was discussing with a fellow grad student the other day is that some composers write “for the computer,” and maybe notation software and technology is what is shaping the future of art music. Idk. Hopefully I am alive by the time historians do put something together that explains the music of these decades.

How-to guides of the week: “Citing Sources and Avoiding Plagiarism,” and “IC Library Plagiarism Tutorial” — Real world examples.

After a long introduction on the purpose of citing and the avoidance of plagiarism, a talk which many of us grads and undergrads have gone through already, the bottomline purpose of Sampsel’s text is to give us some examples of what do poorly cited (plagiarized) and properly cited ideas look like. Also, there is a link in the IC library plagiarism tutorial with a great short guide about avoiding plagiarism.

Sampsel does let us into the fact that plagiarism could be a complicated thing to prove. Teachers sometimes use Turnitin, sometimes rely on their knowledge of the field and its prominent authors, and sometimes it is just plain obvious that “this guy/girl did not write this.” It could also be hard for us, as students, to really be aware of when we are plagiarizing or not. It certainly was for me, as a student from another culture coming into the academic world in the US, to know the difference: things were just done differently in the Dominican Republic, although the academic panorama has been changing for the better over there (it should have in almost 10 years, anyway).

The key takeaway from these readings is: know that the right thing to do when writing (not only academic papers) is to give credit where credit is due. The IC library does remind us that not everything requires citation, but to be mindful about when it is appropriate not to cite stuff. If we’re doing research, and have found a cool way of supporting your idea(s), use it! However, we better MAKE SURE that author’s name makes it to the paper, make sure the text does not sound like the idea is our own, and make sure to cite the source correctly according to one of the style guides out there: after all they are there to help us avoid being charged with intellectual property theft.

“It’s complicated: plagiarism in our culture” — Yeah, indeed it is, but there is a way of avoiding it.

How to avoid plagiarism.

How to avoid plagiarism.

After citing some career-breaking instances in which plagiarism was proved, Sands mentions that it is true that plagiarism can be accidental and an honest mistake, but regretfully the consequences we face from it are real and may some times be severe. But geez… the similarities between the Harvard Sophomore case and the original book were too striking to be an accidental, honest mistake, and it didn’t even seem like Viswanathan was putting the same words in another context, at least according to the Harvard Crimson’s report on the case (Click here to see the FIRST version of the report, which lists many of the similarities).

Sands gives us an interesting tip: if we question the originality of our work, it is a good sign. I will rephrase that idea and say: if we are constantly asking ourselves if our work is original, it is a sign that we’re thinking about not plagiarizing someone’s work, and that is good. She notes that her students who worry about it almost never plagiarize, and the ones who are careless do it often. No surprise: people who worry about making typos make less mistakes than people who don’t care about it (side note: the “your” and “you’re” thing drives me nuts).

So please, let us question our own originality, and think about it. Depending on the degree of success the work containing plagiarism, an author will face varying consequences, like the Harvard student who lost a $500k contract (ouch!), or George Harrison, or even Melania Trump’s plagiarizing Michelle Obama’s speech, the consequences to an accusation could be devastating — the Internet had a field day with Melania Trump! So the key takeaway for this reading is that yes, plagiarism is a messy subject, but a good way for us to avoid it would be to always keep it in mind and taking necessary steps (“when in doubt, cite!” as the IC Library Guide reads) to ensure our credibility is kept intact.

Reading 3: Beware of Predators — A definition, a new way of doing business, and a danger.

This week’s reading had interesting ideas about periodicals (more specifically, journals) and the matter of open-access publishing and the issues it might pose against legitimate research and authors’ financial well-being. Also, we have our “how-to” of the week! Read on:

A definition: “Periodicals”

The most important takeaway from this entry in the Oxford Companion to Music, is that periodicals serve to bridge a large gap between pillars in history: books are usually devoted to key figures or happenings, but might leave us wondering about what else happened at any given period of time.

There are different periodical publications devoted to many different subjects (just in music!): Musicology, Older Recordings, different instruments (Tibia, The Clarinet, Piano Quarterly), and even periodicals devoted to the life, story, and music of some of the most prominent composers (how nice would it be to have the “Berrido Digest” in about 100 years?).

If we need to find out about what happened in the day-to-day (not literally) of musical life in a certain subject area, the best and most official way to get to this information is periodicals. There are also periodicals that spread musical scores like the SCI Journal of Music Scores, an anthology of music by members of the Society of Composers. It becomes, then, incredibly important to pay attention to these publications, if we are to discover the smaller-scale circumstances that push the poignant happenings of history.

A new way of doing business: “Do Open-Access Articles Have a Greater Research Impact?”

It is quite curious that we read this one (by read I meant SKIMMED, as advised on “It’s Not Harry Potter”). Because we just read about “Periodicals” and their importance, and Periodicals are usually subscription-based sources. The new business model, open access type of resource (OA from now on), provide readers with the ability to purchase the full text of articles, without the need to subscribe to a specific publication. The impact of these OA publications has been researched, but the current evidence existing around these premises is still indirect, or being collected at the time of the publication of Antelman’s study.

Antelman lets us into research that proves open access to articles maximizes their impact, which is not a surprise: there are more people that don’t have a subscription to JSTOR, than people who do. She notates that this is a complex subject, and sharing articles openly will have many publishing considerations for entities looking to support this initiative, but “Studies such as this one can help to shed light on the “dark matter” of open access.”

I think the premise behind OA is fantastic: Open the gates so everyone can have access to knowledge easily! But there are other considerations about this matter too, and it’s about publishers who reverse the business model and put the financial burden on the AUTHOR, making it more difficult for knowledge to be even generated in the first place.

A danger: “Predatory publishers are corrupting open access” and “Scientific Articles Accepted (Personal Checks, Too)” — Welcome to the dark side of OA.

These two readings are very connected, as Jeffrey Beall’s “Predatory publishers…” serves as support for Kolata’s NY Times article.

As much as OA publishing is very good for spreading knowledge and for researchers to generate impact in their field, as established by Antelman, there are also predatory Open Access publishers to be aware of. These publishers will spam researchers, look legitimate, ask for a submission, and when the paper is accepted (spoiler alert: most of it is) the author gets billed a big sum of money.

Some may say “well, just exercise caution.” But Beall’s article presents an issue: in some places, like in India, researchers look for publication outputs so they can get tenure and promotions. So I don’t think it’s unreal to expect some people just take whatever route convinces them in order to get a publication (depending on how much a person needs this “publication”). Another example pops up in Kolata’s NY Times article: Scientists thought they would go on and make a presentation in a highly-regarded conference, only to find out not only that they weren’t accepted to the conference they thought of, but also that they had to pay for “the privilege” of being there. Lastly, there’s the issue of quality: the dishonorable publishers promise faster publication times, and one of the ways of ensuring that is to cut the peer-review process short.

The question then becomes, if anybody can publish fast, as long as they have the money, how do we distinguish the real deal, from garbage research? If you can pay your way to be in a conference, how do we distinguish garbage conferences from legitimate ones?

Hopefully the fantastic open access philosophy doesn’t become corrupted by fraudulent publishers that damage the prospects for everyone else. Until we find out a way of ensuring quality of the publication (both for the reader and the researcher), researchers will have to take it easy, and some times opt for a stronger resume built slowly on publications in legitimate journals and peer-reviewed sources.

As a composer, a producer of content just like many of these researchers, this reading makes me think about call for scores for festivals, conferences and such. How do we make sure we end up submitting our music to calls that really matter? How do we make sure we don’t end up in a commitment that we later wished we had not gotten into? I’d say to myself and my fellow composers… “exercise caution.”

In the end, people just need to do their research about whomever is asking for permission to publish their work (unless it’s a mammoth in their industry or a publicly-recognized institution). If it’s not a known publication, (meaning most likely the author will be asked to pay), people need to ask themselves how beneficial it would be for them to be there, from a career strategy standpoint. Odds are that if the publisher has already gained a fame for publishing poorly-reviewed articles, the opportunity is one to pass on.

Jeffrey Beall maintains a list of these “predatory open-access journals” and you may access it here.

How-to of the Week: “It’s Not Harry Potter” and “How to Read a Scholarly Article”

Rob Weir immediately connects with the reader (his audience) when he explains the struggle of convincing undergraduate students to consult experts and not pop culture icons (or bloggers, although I would argue some bloggers are experts), and reliable sources versus Wikipedia or other not-scholarly or reviewed texts.

However, Weir identifies an issue that is more fundamental than the typical “oh it’s just that teenagers don’t read!” answer: The problem might just be that his undergraduate students don’t know how to tackle heavy readings like this, and in particular, journal articles. In a manner that connects with Leyba’s how-to guide on reading actively he proceeds to lay down useful advice, this time not for the student, but for his intended audience, the teacher.

Similar pieces of advice from last week come up in this reading: By all means read the abstract and introduction, and skim through the article. However, the new pieces of advice that come up are:

  • Take the reading in small doses: this is heavy stuff, so break it up!
  • Evaluate the sources: Instead of determining if “this is a primary or secondary source,” make sure that the article’s sources are “legit.” Are these sources credible? Do we have sufficient evidence to carry the weight of the thesis?
  • Determine the writer’s habits — how do they communicate? If you know their M.O. you won’t have to decipher what you are reading every new paragraph.

He offered these (and more) pieces of advice to his peers regarding undergraduate students, but he did say that other kinds of students (mainly upperclassmen/women) or professionals do need to read articles carefully — as we move up the academic ladder, reading these sources becomes easier, so understanding them more and more becomes expected of us.

By stating the fact that scholarly readings are not stories (or “Are Not Harry Potter”), Weir and the Western University video give us the simplest of insights into scholarly reading. We are to read smart, so don’t read in order, like a novel! No final plot twist would be spoiled, but rather we will save ourselves the necessary time we need to evaluate if the source is or isn’t relevant to our research.

Reading 2: Clearly, Briefly, Boldly, Actively, Charmingly

Angell – Writing Clearly

Writing is hard for people who have practice at it, so imagine what it is for people who are not constantly writing?

Roger Angell is the stepson of E.B. White, and he recounts how his stepfather would sit every week for hours in his studio, writing his “Notes and Comment” page for the New Yorker. After a day of typing, deleting, changing, he would rarely seem satisfied by the work — typical of creators. But when the column was published, Angell mentions he would sit back and seem to say to himself that at least he got the elements [of style] right.

A praise to clarity seems to be the main point of this foreword, something that in the arts (not only in writing) is invaluable. The occasional writer doesn’t have the practice to be clear in putting his thoughts down on paper (or on the web), and that is why we struggle. As a praise to clarity, I feel this piece connects with Blog #1 (Reading 1: A step-by-step guide to Getting Started) because in order for us to be clear in writing we have to absolutely know what is it we need to communicate. This is why composers sketch, and search, and search for the right theme or motive (one just need to look at one of Beethoven’s manuscripts).

White – Writing Briefly and Boldly

E.B. White remembers his teacher Will Strunk, Jr. when writing the prologue to The Elements of Style, a small compendium of clear and concise rules for plain English writing. White spent the most of his introduction praising two traits of Will Strunk’s personality that shine very brightly throughout the little book: Brevity and Boldness.

“Omit needless words!” cites White. In connection to Angell’s tribute to Clarity, I would say that needless words obscure meaning, and distract our reader from connecting with us and what we try to say in our prose. Struck, in his wisdom, wrote that no unnecessary words are to be used “for the same reason a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts”. I found this small analogy to be gold on clarity and brevity: could you imagine how the Mona Lisa would look with extra lines?

When discussing Boldness in writing, White goes right away to Rule 11 of the book: “Make definite assertions.” How many times do we fail to communicate because of vague and irresolute statements, clouded by indecisiveness? According to White, Strunk felt that it was worse to be irresolute than to be wrong. I strongly believe that to be assertive in writing means that we stand behind our own ideas and findings and believe in them; it’s a lot easier to move the reader to be behind our ideas if they know we believe in them ourselves.

Provost – Writing Charmingly

Now, even as Will Strunk yells “Omit needless words!”, White also remembers how his professor told him that some of the best writers will also disregard the rules of rhetoric (that he wrote down in his book). I believe this is where Provost’s small text comes in: Yes! Let us be brief, clear, bold… but let us also make music with our writing. Let us not sacrifice beauty for practicality. If we are to write briefly, clearly, boldly, we need to be sure we’re not becoming machines. Please see Provost’s charming text below:


Leyba – Reading Actively

After getting some useful advice on how to maximize our writing – be clear, be brief, be bold – Ashley Leyba gives us a step-by-step on how to effectively maximize our reading for research. Her guide is situated in the context of a History course, but it is fitting for research in other fields as well.

The main advice we should take home is to read actively: How many times are we reading a chapter for class, or a report for work, or just reading an article with a clickbaity title on Facebook, and we find ourselves just consuming and hypnotized by the words on the page or the screen? Leyba then gives a series of practical steps on how to attack the task of reading sources.

Annotating the text is paramount according to Leyba, because it is an active step that requires us to be in the present. A passive reader will not have taken the time to write their own thoughts while reading. Also, it is important to tackle the reading from the outside in – normally the juice of the ideas will have been manifested there and we will have been able to get the meaning of the reading without spending time in the body of the chapter / article / book.

She then proceeds to give us a series of questions we should ask ourselves when evaluating sources. Some of the most important ones:

  • Who wrote this? When? Why? For whom?
  • Is the argument compelling? Why?

By asking questions like these, we will always stay on top of our sources and know clearly how they fit within our research.

Reading 1: A step-by-step guide to Getting Started

If seen as a whole, we could consider the prescribed readings as a step-by-step guide on how a student may navigate through the first steps of a competent and well-sourced research project. The three articles touch on different parts of the possible beginning steps of a project; some of these questions are of a more philosophical nature (e.g. defining the topic of the research as specifically as possible), and some are more practical in nature (guide on how to create an annotated bibliography).

The subjects treated are relevant to a music graduate student, and particularly relevant to me as a composer: a creator needs information to feed his/her energy to create more. In the 21st Century, era of the hyper-connected world and information readiness, it is expected and almost demanded that we as composers, performers, or educators are aware and draw from what came before us, in order to continue to push Music into the future.

Barzun: Defining the “what” is essential

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.
— Abraham Lincoln

Barzun gives us a simple, yet important (and maybe often overlooked) pointer: we, as researchers, have to check ourselves for relevance, reliability, and accuracy. He mentions us to know how to keep ourselves in check throughout the research process, it is important to know exactly the “what” of the project, our subject. It is important to ask, “What is it that I am trying to find?”

It is not enough to only define what the subject is, as subjects can be very broad (e.g. “Song Cycle in the 20th Century”). The article states that focus and specificity are paramount in order to cover more ground usefully. The process of narrowing the focus of our subject —defining what our scope is as specific as possible— is painful, but a necessary one in order to keep research relevant and anchored to a defined set of questions and goals.

Specificity in our subject matter helps us know which pieces of information are relevant, and which are not. There will surely be an immense amount of bibliography about “Baroque Performance Practice” —so immense that it would be impractical to try to review all of it. However, a researcher might find that “Performance Intricacies of a Baroque stylized dance” might yield better results in terms of focus.
If we wanted to further narrow the focus of this hypothetical chosen subject even more, “Performance Intricacies of a Baroque stylized dance: Analyzing and establishing Articulation, Phrasing, and Ornamentation for Georg Philipp Telemann’s Courante from his Suite in A major for harpsichord” would then, give the researcher even better starting points for their research. The more specific the subject, the more space there is to go deeper with the points to be discovered and presented in the research, and also the bigger the opportunity for both the researcher and the audience to review and absorb more relevant information about the subject matter. We could then see the step of defining the subject as specifically as possible, as sharpening ourselves before cutting the tree, which is the task of beginning a research project. It may be compared as defining the address we need to get to, in order to plot the map on our GPS towards further understanding of our chosen research topic.

Knott: After you know what is the “what”, define where the information is coming from, and why.

Knott connects with Barzum in pointing at the importance of the “what” (what our subject is) before conducting research. Rather than emphasizing on specificity, she takes a step back and invites us to ask ourselves about matters that could lead to a more specific definition of a subject, the first one being “what question(s) do I want to answer with my research?”. By answering a question like this one, we are able to define where we are going to look for information.

The second set of questions the author suggests we ask ourselves pertains to the nature of the information we are finding, or rather “what kind of material am I trying to find?” In the case of a work of research in our Musical world, some of the questions regarding the nature of our information could be:

  • Am I looking to find information contained in Scores? Different editions of the score
    for a piece?
  • Am I looking for reports pertaining to any particular piece? For instance, a researcher looking for information regarding the premiere of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 could gather newspaper reviews of the premiere, articles about the orchestra or the concert hall where it was premiered, and many other pieces of information relevant to the performance.
  • Could I find light in lectures about this subject?
  • Could I find useful information in program notes written about performances of the piece(s) I am researching?

I believe that the more questions we ask ourselves about the nature of the information we are looking for, the better chance we have of finding more about our topic. These questions are important because the answer points us in the right direction in determining why will the information end in our research. For example, it could be that we find extensive data in a lecture or a set of program notes for a performance, but we find that the legitimacy of the origin of the information is dubious (in other words, the quality of the data is bad). In that case, we know this information might not belong in our research, and we move on.

Knott also gives suggestions of a more technical nature in order to create good entries for an annotated bibliography, overlapping with the information presented in the reading from the University of Toledo.

University of Toledo: After “what” and “why”, what to do?

More technical in nature, the text from the University of Toledo guides us through the necessary steps to create a well-crafted annotated bibliography. This resource should be seen as the depiction of the last step to be taken at the beginning of our research: the actual thing.

Given the coverage of the first steps of beginning a research process by the creation of an annotated bibliography, it is safe to say that this set of readings is a good guide to getting said process started. Brazun prompts us to ask ourselves “what is my subject?”; Knott prompts us to find out what is the actual information we are going to look for and why should it be there. Afterwards, both Knott and the researchers at the University of Toledo give us the necessary tools for us to create the actual bibliography, a key with all the information we are going to include in our research.

Where will I apply this “guide-to”?

As a graduate composer, I will eventually be required to craft a significant piece of music that will require extensive research on pieces and other sources will make my work informed, therefore improving the quality of my work. Therefore, I find it useful to keep these readings as resources, and the opportunity to create an annotated bibliography for this class as a first step towards the creation of this work, which will be the thesis for my degree.

Since I have been considering the composition of a song cycle with instrumental ensemble as a thesis, I think one of the following subjects could be relevant:

  • A monument of the 20th Century post-tonal song: Compositional and orchestration techniques in Arnold Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire”: Text setting and instrumental accompaniment considerations.This subject would be focused on Schoenberg’s work, as he is often considered one of the most innovative composers of the first half of the 20th Century. What new singing techniques did he establish with the cycle? What is the significance of the ensemble he used as accompaniment for the soprano, the “Pierrot” ensemble, which would later become an established ensemble type, almost as common as the string quartet or the wind quintet?

As a broader and more original look into the genre, and since I might not necessarily set American (or English) poetry, it could be interesting also to focus on song cycles by American composers, setting poems of non-American poets. Therefore, this subject could also work:

  • A look at non-American poems set by American composers: An analysis of Bernard Rands’ Walcott Songs, Peter Lieberson’s Five Neruda Poems, and George Crumb’s Songs, Drones, and Refrains of Death.Are there any considerations regarding how American composers treated non-American words? Derek Walcott is a poet from St. Lucia and the words in Walcott Songs are in English, however the pieces by Lieberson and Crumb set words in Spanish. Are there any noticeable vocal techniques explored in these compositions? Especially George Crumb, who is famous for his use of extended vocal and instrumental techniques.


Emmanuel Berrido

I am a dominican-born-and-raised composer with a passion for telling stories through sound. I’ve composed music for different settings such as the concert hall, the radio, or even the dance floor.