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Beyond Syntax: Exploring Words and Music

Semester and Year FA 2017
Course Number ARTS-UG1340
Section 001
Instructor Roy Nathanson
Days M
Time 12:30 PM - 3:15 PM
Units 4
Level U



How can we integrate words and music to resonates in a deeper way? How do we make our songs more lyrically alive and our words more singable? In this course we will investigate a structural approach to a “whole language” strategy for creating text/music pieces. ­Beginning with written material generated from in-class writing prompts, students will learn to decode words as sounds and turn them into music by looking at hard and soft stresses, notating phrases and pauses musically (and phonologically) and attaching pitches. The process of underscoring poems and stories will also be investigated, giving attention to the magical way music can heighten mood and affect the meanings of words. No formal musical training is required for this course but musicians who love words and writers who love music are welcome. Readings will include essays by poets Denise Levertov, Robert Pinsky, Robert Haas, James Fenton and essays in the semiotics of music. My own work (archived in NYU’s Fales Library), which explores a range of these strategies with my band The Jazz Passengers and singers Elvis Costello, Mavis Staples and Debbie Harry will also be discussed.


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Course Type

Arts Workshops (ARTS-UG)