March 1, 2008

Where writing and music connect...

I wanted to share some ideas about the relationship between writing music and writing prose. This was written by Michael McHugh, a muscian, composer and educator currently working in Japan. Mike is also currently taking my online 6-traits class. (Thank you Mike for letting me post this for everyone!) ~ Dennis


It continues to amaze me, as we progress through this course, how many techniques for crafting a great paper can be related to similar techniques for writing interesting pieces of music. The lead, or even the title, of a narrative or essay can make a reader hungry for the story or message that will follow, just as a beginning melody will "hook" a listener within the first few measures of a piece. What follows, of course, will determine whether or not the reader or listener STAYS engaged.

I always tell my IB students not to attempt to title their music compositions--even if they already have a pretty comprehensive idea of where it's going to go--until the piece is at least near completion. They sometimes surprise themselves with where they actually end up in their impressions, and how they finally choose to encapsulate the piece with those few words at the top. And when their peers go to listen to the pieces, there seems to be a sense of intense curiosity about how the title applies--what's going to happen here?

What kills me is that I have never asked any of my students writing their experiential papers on their outside musical activities to attempt to do the same. There is a huge amount of character--"voice"--in much of their work, yet there in the top corner of all of the papers is the same stale "name, due date, assignment name" that I told them to put there, absent any kind of focus or hook to give the reader (which is only me at this stage) that initial jolt of anticipation. I dare say that some students might actually produce more engaging works if they believed they had the choice of giving their papers a more narrative flare (another revelation that I need to make sure to employ this semester).

Roundaboutedly related to the above, I do have a question about leads. Can they be like titles, in that sometimes a student really can't come up with a good one until they have a clearer idea about the direction of their paper? Or should a lead be a part of the student's organizational process from the beginning, as a focusing tool? Is there necessarily a right or a wrong?

Thanks much,

Mike@Kobe, Japan

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