“You are important only because you are part of the structure.”

I love to teach Form and Analysis. Of all the parts of my job, it is the one I cherish most.

But the name of the class stinks.

Form and Analysis is the last course in a required five-semester sequence of music theory for all our music majors. Given its status as the end of the road for our students’ formal theory training, the class title implies that:

  • Determining form is the final and most important destination in music theory.
  • Analysis is secondary, put in service to form.
  • Analysis leads exclusively (or at least primarily) to an understanding of form.

That’s not a class I would want to teach. No wonder students don’t look forward to it.

The emphasis on form reinforces the notion that it’s the structure that’s important; parts exist to serve the whole.

“You are important only because you are part of the structure.”

But analysis leads to many other destinations than an understanding of form, and understanding form itself is good only insofar as it, too, leads to other destinations.

The critical absence is synthesis, with its corollary:

“The only reason the structure has meaning is because you are a part of it.”

If I were to retitle the class, it might read something like:

  • Meaning in Musical Structure and Design
  • Telling Your Story through Music
  • Music, the Universe, and Everything

I suppose we will keep the title. Meanwhile, I expect to continue problematizing it.

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