Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Bloggin' the thesis, day 1.

I've been enjoying bike blogging, I have a MA thesis to write, and they say blogging your dissertation can be amazingly helpful. I make no claims that an MA thesis even holds a candle to a PhD dissertation in terms of amount of research, length, and tendency to life-suck its author, but they're both independent, long-term projects during which very few people care what it is you're doing. I really enjoyed writing my undergrad thesis, and I was pretty self-motivated to do the work for it. Still, having a real human to check in with once a week who was genuinely interested in my project and academic development probably helped quite a freaking bit in getting the project done. So as I've had a tendency to do since moving to Seattle for grad school, I'm outsourcing interpersonal communication to the internet (because the guinea pigs, while wonderful and cuddly, aren't a great academic sounding board). Each week, on Wednesday, I'll publish a post here about what I'm doing or finding interesting as it'll relate to my MA thesis. Wednesday works for two reasons: 1) I thought of this today, a Wednesday, and 2) Wednesday was my favorite check-in day in college, both for cello lessons and research-y meetings.

I'm genuinely interested in my topic, even if I see its life in my hands ending with a ProQuest submission this spring quarter. It seems that some people in my internet circles think I have a cool topic, and might be interested to see what's up (and even comment? That may be asking for too much). Really, I need a bit of accountability, and to at least have the possibility that I'll be writing for people interested in what I'm doing for reasons other than being on my committee.

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I got into musicology in the first place because classical music and the United States have a very strange relationship.* Learning about that relationship sheds a lot of light on classical music as a conglomeration of genres, and also on the US and its capacity for taste-making. I'm interested now in how the US is musically constructed through Coplandia, music that sounds like a watered-down version of Aaron Copland's populist ballets and chamber music. It works through film music history, something I didn't think I would find interesting but am now seeing as a gold mine. For me, the most self-aware instance of this was in John Williams's "Air and Simple Gifts," for Barack Obama's inauguration in 2009.
Barack Obama was the first president I voted for, and though I was out of the country for his inauguration, I sure as heck knew about this piece when I returned. Anne Midgette rightly pointed out that this is hardly a new composition, but rather a really transparent copy of Copland's treatment of "Simple Gifts" in Appalachian Spring (1944), and also a musical exaggeration of Obama's campaign message. Before the "Simple Gifts" melody enters (in the clarinet, just as Copland had introduced the melody 65 years earlier), and after it ends, there is a generic post-Romantic film music sound. It's not the Americana of Coplandia, but it is tonal, palatable, and accessible.

My project has several angles, and I haven't entirely figured out how it will play out. I'm more interested in the body of commercial music I'm calling Coplandia than in Williams's "Air and Simple Gifts," and see the two existing in a sort of type/token relationship. One step in figuring out how everything comes together is exploring the compositional sources of Coplandia, and their work in constructing part of the American classical music canon. I'm thinking about the way that canon gets gendered in a seminar this quarter, and currently preparing a project on masculinities in mid-century American classical music. That'll be the focus of my next post, where I'll hopefully be able to explain why gendering of this particular canon matters.

*Actually, that's a lie. I got into musicology because I wrote a hermeneutic analysis of the scherzo movement of Beethoven's A Major cello sonata for a music history class, and found that super fun. Don't ask me why.