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.