Dan Dressen: Tone and Text and Musico-Poetic Synthesis

Expanded Description:  We will begin with an introductory presentation on the science of voice and singing, and a discussion about the human impulse to sing and its effect on the performer and listener.  Though the primary lens of our study will focus on art song (songs created primarily in the 19th and 20th centuries by composers in the European classical tradition), we will apply knowledge and techniques learned to vernacular song forms as well.  At the end of the course, we will each try our hand at song analysis and unpack the structure, content and meaning of a particular song we hold dear.

Readings and materials:  With one exception—Virgil Thomson’s Music with Words—all readings will be pdfs supplied by the instructor (either in hard copy or via email attachment).  The Thomson book may be purchased via bookfinder.com for as little as $15 new or $5 used. 

The Singing Revolution is available for digital download via the official website for the documentary at https://singingrevolution.com/store/.  The price for a download for personal use is $12.95 plus tax.

Week 1 (January 12)— A) How Can I Keep From Singing? B) The Science of Voice and Singing.  In this session we reveal and discuss the human connections to and benefits from singing. We also discuss the anatomical and acoustical elements at work in human speech and singing.  Readings and Viewings: James Tusty and Maureen Castle Tusty, Documentary Film: “The Singing Revolution”.  Eric Friesen, “The Human Singing Voice,” Chorus America-The Voice, Fall 2012.  William Vennard, Singing: the Mechanism and the Technic, pp 1–17.

Week 2 (January 19) —In this session we will explore several philosophies about music and meaning.  This topic has engaged scholars and philosophers for centuries but is an important one to explore within the context of merging language with music into a singular expression.

Readings:  Selected fragments from Deryck Cooke, The Language of Music; Martin Cooper, Ideas and Music; Donald Ferguson, Music as Metaphor; Susanne K. Langer, Feeling and Form; Leonard B. Meyer, Emotion and Meaning in Music; C. C. Pratt, The Meaning of Music.

Week 3 (January 26) — The instructor will be out of town today but will prepare for the class an annotated list of recordings of songs, with links to specific recordings, that we will encounter during the remainder of the course.  The class is asked to listen to these recordings as an overview of what is to come.  Readings and Recordings: TBD

Week 4 (Feb 2) — The Anatomy of Song.  The essence of musico-poetic synthesis will be our focus in the next two sessions.  In this meeting we will study the nature of poetic construction and how it is mirrored (or not) in the architecture of song form and musical devices.                                                                       

Readings: Virgil Thomson, Music with Words, Chapter 1, “A Formal Introduction to the Subject,” and 2, “Word-Groupings.”

Week 5 (Feb 9) The Projection of Image.  Building on our previous topic that focused on the mechanical and structural correspondence shared by music and poetry in song, we move to the ways music can provide meaningful significance to the image the poet intended to project and the poem’s emotional content, aspiring to an essential synthesis of poetry and music.

Readings:  Virgil Thomson, Music with Words, Chapter 8, “The Musical Idea,” and 9, “Both Words and Emotions Are Important.”

Week 6 (Feb 16) — Song Form.  In this session we will explore various iterations of song form and methods of expanding this normally miniature form.                                                  

Readings: Deborah Stein and Robert Spillman, Poetry into Song, Chapter 9.  Laura Turnbridge, Cambridge Introductions of Music: The Song Cycle.

Week 7 (Feb 23) — A) The Vocabulary of Musical Styles and Its Manifestation in Song; B) An Application of Our Method of Analysis to Vernacular Styles of Music.

Each age or era in music contains its unique vocabulary that informs the nature of musical expression and form, including that for voice.  In this session we will explore how song composition mirrors and is shaped by the parameters of a particular era and its culture.  Our study will expand into song outside of the classical tradition to include more popular styles.

Readings:  Kurt Adler, The Art of Accompanying and Coaching, Chapter 9, “Elements of Musical Style”.

Week 8 (Mar 2) — Applying Our Understanding of Song and Musico-Poetic Synthesis.

It is our final session and time to apply the knowledge we have gained and apply it to an analysis of a song you will choose.  In small groups, participants will select a song to analyze and prepare to present the analysis to the class.