MUS 390 Spring 2007

Guidelines for Test or Alternative Project Covering Material in Weeks 1-6

Your traditional-format essay, private oral-exam discussion with me, or creative alternative project, should show that you have a basic understanding of the following:

  • different types of/focuses for improvisation (i.e., improvisation as mode of learning, improvisation as a mode of self-expression/healing, improvisation as part of an idiomatic, nonidiomatic, or polyidiomatic performance or recording);
  • the “work concept” as described by Lydia Goehr in The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works;
  • Christopher Small’s concept of “musicking”;
  • the Music for People philosophy as embodied in the MfP “Bill of Musical Rights” and basic MfP improvisation starting points such as one-quality tones, freely improvised melodies, melodies over drones, and melodies over ostinatos;
  • improvisational aspects of historical Western music making up through the Renaissance period, as experienced in class and/or described by Ferand and in the Grove Online “Improvisation” article.

Click the link to read the rest:

It should also show your understanding of the relationship of each of the above to each other, and how engaging with these ideas and practices has affected your own thinking about the nature of music and music-making. The format, medium, etc., are what you have as much creative freedom with as you want.  The basic content, though, needs to include the above.

A good way to go about this would be:

  1. Write out a description of each of the topics listed above.  What is the “work concept”?  What does Small mean by “musicking”?  What was improvisational in the practice and development of plainchant? And so on.
  2. Write out your thoughts on what you find interesting about each topic.
  3. Ask yourself (and answer) questions about how things connect:  How is a freely-improvised, self-expressive melody, like, say, a jubilus?  How does Small’s idea of “musicking” relate to Goehr’s understanding of music-making before the dominance of the work concept?  How are these ideas the same as or different than the understanding of “classical music” you’ve been taught in the past? What’s the common element between improvising a vox organalis and improvising Renaissance-style divisions on a melody?  How is a Renaissance ground bass similar to a cantus firmus used in organum and later polyphony? 
  4. Of all the topics we’ve read about and discussed, and the musical activities we’ve done, what is the most interesting to you?  Use that as a starting point and work out how the other topics and activities relate to it. 
  5. Then ask yourself what would be a fun, creative way to present what you have learned. If you enjoy writing, as I do, then feel free to write a traditional essay.  If you’d prefer to discuss your ideas in person with me, we can do that.  Or if you want to do something unusual, do something unusual.

 Some alternative ideas (generated by class members or my own imagination) that I’ve endorsed so far:

  • a (vocal) blues or other song with verses about the ideas we’ve covered;
  • a composition with program notes;
  • a documentary-style video with a self-interview and musical examples;
  • a recitative-style opera scene;
  • a fictional story in which characters discuss the ideas listed above;
  • a fictional interview with an imagined musician or musicians.

Other important points:

  • Yes, this may be done as a group project.  If you do a group project, there needs to be documentation that each member of the group has developed an understanding of each of the topics. 
  • Academic honesty: all the usual rules of academic honesty apply.  Be sure to attribute and document sources as appropriate.  If you are doing an alternative, creative project, some sort of attachment or separate document explaining sources and references is appropriate.  Consult with me for guidance on how to do this if you aren’t sure.
  • As long as you document them, you can use sources in addition to the Small, Goehr, MfP, Ferand, and Grove Online. 

(Non) Grading:

I won’t assign a letter grade for this.  I will give you written and verbal feedback, and if I don’t feel you’ve covered something well, I’ll ask you to revise your essay or project, or otherwise show me that you understand and have thought about that particular topic and how it relates to your life as a musician.  (If you would prefer me to give a grade, I will.) 

As I’ve explained before, at the end of the semester, we’ll meet and discuss your class participation, your tests/test alternatives, your focus project, etc., and your assessment and description of your overall learning, and decide together what final grade is appropriate.