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Department Programs

Music Department Writing Program


A main priority of the college writing program is the frequency and variety of writing assignments students will complete during their study at Calvin.  Each department is responsible for its share of these assignments in both major and non-major courses.  Given the very large number of students who are active in its courses, ensembles, and studios, the music department bears a special responsibility in this task. 

Yet, music can be a recalcitrant subject for writing—analytical prose tending toward dense and complex jargon, and critical writing lapsing into vague, subjective description.  Writing assignments in non-major classes may be open-ended and thus prove challenging for students, but these serve to force students to grapple with their thoughts and to be able to articulate them.  Such assignments range from journaling and response papers about ensemble repertory, to concert reviews/reports and listening analysis in the Core music appreciation/history classes.

  1. Frequency.  Writing about music is a challenge that accentuates the need for a wide variety of types of writing assignments, so that students have opportunities to face the subject from many angles.  The department ensures, therefore, that its music majors and minors have these opportunities for structured thought through writing in a wide variety of classes spanning six different areas of musical study – applied lessons, ensembles, theory/composition, history, appreciation, and pedagogy.  During any given semester, music students will be involved in at least three (often four) of these areas.  They definitely will, therefore, in the words of the Criteria, “always be at work on some writing project” pertaining to music.  Of course, a critical balance of assignments must be maintained so that students will not only write about music, but often more importantly understand and analyze works toward the goal of producing and reproducing actual music, either in musical score (another form of writing) or on the performance stage (another form of communication).
  1. Feedback.  As will be discussed in Roman numeral II below, this element occurs throughout the department in a number of ways.  In general, professors employ a variety of means to insure frequent feedback:  use of the Rhetoric Center, peer review, re-write opportunities, and of course their own written and/or oral comments.  Following are just a few examples of the guidance and mentoring that take place in this regard:
    1. In Theory II students are given a series of short writing assignments of increasing complexity, which are marked with specific suggestions for improvement..
    2. Music 390 (Independent study) for Music History and Theory Concentrates developing and writing an extensive research or analytical paper in stages with feedback from the instructor.
    3. Program notes written by students in preparation for recital performances.  These begin with students getting used to speaking about their pieces in studio classes, receiving feedback from students and faculty, then translating that information
    4. Music 359 (Seminar in Music Methods) for Music Education majors preparing a paper on teaching philosophy which, with guidance, is revised and expanded in the wake of their practical experience.
  1. Variety.  As is stated above, writing requirements in the music department span six different areas – lessons, ensembles, theory/composition, history, pedagogy, and appreciation.  In each of these areas, students are given writing assignments that are to reflect that particular area of musical study.  Therefore, writing in lessons and ensembles will typically take the form of a discussion of a particular piece from the perspective of a student describing the various musical, technical, stylistic, dramatic, and interpretative challenges being encountered on the journey toward public performance.  Such writing may then culminate in program notes for an audience written from the unique perspective of the performer, someone who has extensively wrestled with the piece in the practice room.  Writing for theory/composition is primarily more analytical in nature, discussing the intricacies of what make a piece work from the smallest to the largest of scales, and also involves the actual writing of music.  The style of writing changes once again for those in history classes wherein the continuity (and lack thereof) of style from one period of composition to another is researched and highlighted.  Finally, in such classes as Music 339 (listed above) and Music 308, students reflect on their own music and teaching philosophies.  Thus, papers in this area tend to more significantly explore their own personal beliefs as to how they will engage, promote, perform, and teach music through their career and life pursuits.


A.  The basic major/minor sequence

All music majors have the following courses in common (those indicated by asterisks being required of minors as well):

*Music 105  Introduction to Music  [also fulfills Core arts requirement]
*Music 108  Music Theory I
Music 207/213  Music Theory II
Music 208  Music Theory III
*Music 205  Music History and Analysis I
Music 206  Music History and Analysis II  [minors take Music 204  Music History 1750-
Music 305  Music History and Analysis III
Music 308  Order, Meaning, and Function

Taken together, these courses form an integrated six-semester sequence in Music History, Theory, and Criticism.  Assignments in Music 105 require students to begin moving beyond merely impressionistic writing and subjective response, while assignments in Music 308 require both a solid background in music history and theory, and a mature reflective stance on music as vocation.  Starting in Theory II and continuing in Theory III, students submit a variety of written assignments in which they are expected to describe and analyze musical passages in clear and precise prose.  The variety and complexity of these assignments gradually increases as their ability to use analytic prose strengthens and new musical styles and techniques are introduced to them.  Each of the History and Analysis courses will include a few short writing assignments (or oral presentations) such as essays, reports on composers or genres, position papers, concert reports, and persuasive letters to a friend.  The written component of the history/theory sequence gives students the new experience of writing within the discipline (i.e., to their colleagues), and of addressing a wider public from within the discipline.  The paper on vocation in music in Music 308 would then be the final writing project required of all majors.

B.  Culminating written project for Music Majors

The Music 308 paper on vocation is important for all majors, but the department insists that each major have a culminating project exploring the type of writing most suited to the student’s future goals. This will be a large written project in the student’s area of concentration.  Each of these projects would be written under the supervision of faculty in the student’s area, with considerable feedback and guidance from the professor, and with an expectation that the first draft is never the final product.  (General Music Majors should be encouraged to take as an elective one of the courses that would require such a project or an independent study in an area that suits each student’s main interests.)

Music Theory/Composition Concentrates will develop and write an extensive analytical paper as a Music 390 (Independent study), supervised by their primary instructor in theory or composition.  This project will necessarily be done in stages, and the instructor will provide feedback on the work in progress.  In the course of revision and rewriting, the student may be encouraged to consult others on the history and theory faculty as well.   (This proposal would add Music 390 to their program listed in the catalog.)

Applied Music Concentrates will prepare extensive program notes as part of the requirement of their senior recital.  This writing assignment will be overseen by their applied instructor, or—if the instructor is on the adjunct faculty—may be overseen by the head of the applied area or by a designee within the department. In the course of revision and rewriting,  the student may be encouraged to consult members of the history and theory faculty as well.  At the option of the student, this project may be undertaken in the course of a Music 390 (Independent Study).

Music History Concentrates will develop and write an independent research paper as a Music 390 (Independent study), as already specified in the catalog, to be supervised by their primary instructor in music history.  During the work on this project, and the instructor will provide feedback on the in-progress drafts.  In the course of revision and rewriting, the student may be encouraged to consult others on the history and theory faculty as well.

Music in Worship Concentrates will develop a philosophy of music in worship in an extensive paper for Music 336 (History and Philosophy of Music in Worship; non-majors enrolled in Music 336 may have an option for a different sort of assignment).

Music Education majors will prepare a paper on teaching philosophy in Music 339 (School Music), to which they will return in Music 359 (Seminar in Music Methods) to revise and expand in the wake of their practical experience.

The intermediate and advanced courses in the various major have written assignments that serve directly to prepare a student for the culminating project.

C.  Writing assignments in Applied Music courses

Applied music courses are unlike courses in any other academic department—combining intense training of the body with training of the mind and its aesthetic sensibilities.  Writing can too easily be squeezed out of an applied course because of other pressing demands.

      1. applied lessons:  The department will require any student intending to perform in a Recital Hour to submit with their program information a short written program note (no more than 4 sentences) about the work to be performed.  This will be included in the program; if no such note is submitted (or if it is unsuitable) the student will not be allowed to perform.   All students preparing “half-recitals” (Junior recitals, non-required recitals, and recitals by non-performance concentrates) will be required to supply program notes with their program information, and are encouraged to use any of the faculty as resources as they prepare this.

        In addition, the department encourages applied instructors to assign a written response, character study (for an aria), or musical analysis as part of applied lessons.  This may be done when deemed appropriate, and would be more likely in the later years of study of an advanced student. 

        Note:  the primary objective of applied lessons is to develop the skills and intuition necessary for the performance of a variety of repertory.  It must be stressed here that writing is a means to an end, and the point of such an assignment is not the writing itself (that is, to be drafted, written, and rewritten with feedback from the instructor); rather it is to make the student more aware and able to articulate in words the musical process which he or she deals with in performance.

      2. conducting courses:  a wide variety of assignments have proven successful: self-critiques (based on video analysis), and also critiques of professional conductors; analytical/critical papers about the music being studied or of particular problems posed to the conductor; in more advanced courses; rehearsal reports and subsequent performance reports

      3. music ensembles:  some written component is expected each semester:  free response papers, journals, or reflection papers, particularly those that would draw connections to other disciplines.  Again, the primary objective of an ensemble is musical performance together; these written assignments are secondary, and will generally not go through a formal process of drafting and revision.

III.  Departmental Core Courses

The Music Department offers the following courses for core-credit primarily for non-music majors/minors:

Music 103: Understanding and Enjoying Music
Music 106: American Music
Music 107: World Music
Music 238: Music and Community

All of these courses share the following writing and rhetoric assignments:

  1. concert reports
  2. an oral presentation and/or written mini-paper

IV.  Faculty Awareness & Development

The Music Department commits itself to bring the Writing Program to the attention of its faculty members in the following ways:

  1. at least bi-annual discussion of the Writing Program at a music faculty meeting, with pre- and/or post-discussion at our departmental Curriculum Committee, and sharing of sample rubrics for assessment of our Writing Program goals
  2. raising awareness of the Writing Program in the mentoring of new full-time faculty members
  3. sharing the Writing Program document of our department with each new part-time instructor
  4. encouraging our faculty members to attend music pedagogy conferences and to explore new ways to meet the objectives of our Writing Program

V.  Assessment

The curriculum committee of the department is responsible for the implementation of the departmental Writing Program.  The Music Department office will maintain a portfolio for each music major (with an appropriate checklist of major projects, resumé, etc.) which will be reviewed before the student’s final semester; it is the responsibility of the student to ensure that the portfolio is complete.  These portfolios will be retained after a student has graduated to aid in the overall music program assessment.

Assessment procedures will be both formative and summative for individual students. Periodic evaluation of the program as a whole will also be conducted.

The following methods of assessment are recommended to the faculty for individual projects.

A writing sequence that includes some or all of the following:

  1. Student turns in a brief proposal that is evaluated by the professor with suggestions and guidance when appropriate
  2. Student writes first draft
  3. Engages in self evaluation using a recommended departmental rubric
  4. Engages in peer evaluation using a recommended departmental rubric
  5. Student makes revisions and submits draft 2 to the professor for evaluation
  6. Student revises paper and submits final draft for summative evaluation

Throughout this process, students will be encouraged to utilize the resources at the rhetoric center.

Professor grades paper using one of the recommended departmental rubrics. Grade is determined by the score derived using the rubric. Comments relating strengths and weaknesses of the paper are also encouraged. Students will be given the rubric and grading scale when the paper is assigned.

The music department will collect and record rubric data from the following key assignments.
  1. Music 105 – reflective or research paper
  2. Music 308 – Vocation paper

These assignments reflect writing at the beginning and end of the music major program. The curriculum committee will review this rubric data for all graduating music majors to determine the effectiveness of the program. Any weaknesses of student writing will then be addressed by the committee and faculty as a whole. A brief report will be made available to the writing committee upon request. Over the next two years, the department will consider adding other assignments to this list that may include projects from music theory, history, or education.