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Writing About Music: Stage and Floor

Semester and Year SP 2017
Course Number WRTNG-UG1041
Section 001
Instructor Ben Ratliff
Days T
Time 3:30 PM - 6:10 PM
Units 4
Level U



In writing about music—any music at all—writers look either toward the stage or the floor. “Stage” writing might mean describing what’s on the score paper, or what comes out of the instruments on the bandstand. “Floor” writing might mean interpreting music through the desires and interests of the audience, and understanding the generative, identity-shaping culture that forms around any kind of song. Most great music-writing achieves a mixture of both; this course considers the virtues of each. Our readings will come from a hundred years of critical or clarifying writing on hiphop, jazz, rock, the classical tradition, electronic music, and beyond; here and there, some maverick musicology, eulogies, memoirs, and fiction. They will provoke basic questions about why we make music and why we respond to it, and establish—if it needed establishing—that music criticism is a literary endeavor with its own traditions of style and strategy. Three essays are required, as well as reactions to assigned texts, and to music that the students seek out and experience. Texts include those by Amiri Baraka, Whitney Balliett, Nik Cohn, Alec Wilder, Greg Tate, Ellen Willis, Albert Murray, Ciaran Carson, Christopher Small, Virgil Thomson, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, George Bernard Shaw, Ralph Ellison, Marcel Proust, John Darnielle, Marianna Ritchey, Geeta Dayal.


All Syllabi

Course Type

Advanced Writing Courses (WRTNG-UG)