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The Core Curriculum

UW: Readings in Music

Writing and music have been closely linked ever since Plato exiled both flutists and poets from his ideal society. Yet music also seems to resist words: how can you describe the power of a symphonic masterpiece, or the pleasure of singing along to pop hits on the radio? This course will focus on the many strategies that critics (from scholarly musicologists to rock-and-roll journalists) have developed to write about music. We will investigate the histories of music composition; the political stakes of listening to music; the kinds of communities that form around musical genres; the role of media and technology in the production and reception of music; the intersections between music and gender, race, class, and sexual identities; the use of music as an inspiration and foil for artists and philosophers; and the role of the performer in the creation of musical meaning.

Music opens up diverse possibilities for analysis across disciplines and levels of critical writing, and as such exemplifies the essay’s potential to foster conversation across disciplinary sites, including Columbia’s own Music Department and its Centers for Ethnomusicology, Jazz Studies, and Computer Music. This course will challenge students to participate in these conversations by examining the practices of close reading, analysis, research, revision and collaboration demonstrated by essay-writers who turn to music – and then by using such practices to develop, write, and refine a series of their own essays. The course does not presume that students will arrive with any background in music history or performance, but instead aims to equip students with the skills they will need to identify the central rhetorical methods of critical discourse and deploy them thoughtfully in future writing. Sections will be numbered in the range .070-.075.