I’ve been working on this essay for about a week now, and I’ve found it’s really hard to write authoritatively without sounding like a pompous ass. I fully admit I’m working way too hard on this, since it’s just a prove-that-you-can-write assignment. Either way, I’d love to actually get some some input, especially from those of you who write, edit, play music, philosophize, or are generally literate.
Please, do not take this seriously. And yes, I know the Nietzche thing is a stretch. Call it my private joke =) And I already know the introduction has to go. Yuk!
Peace! and Thanks!
It has been said that art imitates life. However, I suggest that art also converges with philosophy, music, literature, and history to give us an informed glimpse at who we are and how we have arrived at this moment in time. Each element serves its purpose, without which our understanding is rendered uneven, lopsided.
My first revelation of the humanities as a holistic field of study came during my junior year at Azusa Pacific University. I was preparing for my senior thesis, which I had ambitiously titled, “Studies in Postmodern Music.” A music major, I was fairly certain that I possessed the necessary knowledge and resources to successfully deconstruct trends in 20th-century composition, a genre rife with dissonant and often disturbing tonalities, non-idiosyncratic instrumentation and performance practice, and a budding dependence on electronic manufacture and synthetic sound. However, an interview with Music Theory and Jazz professor Tom Hynes turned my thesis on its head.
We were discussing Jimi Hendrix’ historical rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” when Dr. Hynes posited that the violent and aggressive imagery of his particular interpretation stemmed from the overwhelming anti-war philosophy so prevalent in the 1960s and ‘70s. This intersection of art and worldview challenged and intrigued me, and I returned to my paper with a new focus. And that was only the beginning: nearly every composer I had chosen to cite in my thesis had an ideological counterpart in literature, fine art, or philosophy. For example, a paper on the influence of Schoenburg in the Second Viennese School revealed a unique parallel between his radical musical innovations and the theological postulations of Frederich Nietzche, whose abandonment of traditional theistic absolutes could be seen to have influenced the composer’s work at the turn of the century. Schoenberg, in the meantime, had side-stepped the modal structure established by centuries of composition and had instead embraced a pantonality found by many to be musically sacrilegious.
A second clarification regarding the role of the humanities in my educational endeavor arrived in the form of a concert. I was a member of my university’s Oratorio Choir which, as the name suggests, specializes in sacred works. The selection for the spring semester was the Requiem by Gabriel Faure. Now it is no revelation that music has long been linked to religious institutions; however, I became increasingly aware of the intersection of ideas (art, music, and philosophy) during the course of my preparation for our performance.
Beautiful, inspiring music aside, the Requiem, like so many masses of its time, is simply constructed on major and minor chords. Specifically, the composer’s intentional avoidance of complex or diminished tonalities speaks strongly toward the philosophies and superstitions of his contemporaries, who were convinced of the satanic qualities of discordance. Perhaps more practically speaking, an accurate performance practice demands vocal “clipping” of the lyrical line, made necessary by the vaulted architecture of the classical period, which prompted sonar amplification and echoing. The influence of art on musical production could not have been made more clear.
A third insight into the complementary nature of the humanities was a result of a conversation with a close friend. He divulged his preference for the poetry of e.e. cummings, known for his irregular approach to structure and punctuation. When my friend read his favorite selection aloud, it became immediately apparent to me that cummings’ odd style could be seen as a parallel to the musical and philosophical trends of his time. For example, the poet’s deliberate deviation from literary morays closely mimicked Schoenburg’s dissemination of tonality at the turn of the century in Verklarte Nacht and Pierrot Lunaire, which stripped the music of a modal center as his predecessors had never even attempted. Furthermore, cumming’s clear use of alternating metered and unmetered verse as well as the implementation of irregular punctuation echoes the equally fluctuating time signature of Igor Stravinsky’s 1913 Le Sacre de Printemps as well as the later works of aleatoric composers.
Excited by this discovery, I wrote a paper suggesting cummings’ poem “my sweet old etcetera” as an example of written song, complete with recurring motifs, polyphony, and contrapuntal devices. Moreover, I postulated that the author’s sensitivity to the spoken word could be paralleled to the librettos of the modernist movement. Suddenly, music, art, literature, philosophy, and history were revealed to be inextricably bound up together.
As my undergraduate degree came to a close, numerous conversations with professors from the History, Fine Art, and Music Departments impressed upon me the need for further inquiry into the humanities as a whole. I knew that entailed the pursuit of graduate studies, so I applied to several programs in music and literature; however, none of these degrees provided an interdisciplinary approach. When a friend and graduate of the HUX degree suggested that I look into the Dominguez Hills program, I felt that this would be a perfect fit.
I have high hopes for being a high school history or literature teacher, eventually obtaining my Ph.D. and pursuing employment at the university level. I am convinced that a well-rounded degree in the humanities will more completely train me to be effective and thorough in that capacity. In conclusion, I believe the last few years have prepared and even spurred me to pursue an MA in the humanities. I trust that your program, addressing not one but five related disciplines, will provide a crucial perspective for my future work.
PS Congrats if you actually made it to the end! Thanks again!