The Beginning of a Dissertation Prospectus

Sure, you’ve noticed I haven’t written lately. But I have–just not here! After returning from two weeks in Germany (including some amazing times at the Remake | Remodel conference), I’ve been plowing through my dissertation prospectus like nobody’s business. So for your reading pleasure, here’s my (unapproved, yet) beginning paragraphs. (I’m rather wildly excited about this project.) (“Rather wildly excited”? That’s like a negative modifier followed by a positive one, yet without negating either. Weird.) It’s followed by a Wordle image of my entire draft, unfinished as it is.

Definition of Purpose
This project investigates the intersections between musical and written composition through qualitative research of student composers in both music composition and English composition courses. Through this investigation, I will identify aural literacies that help composers both understand and use sound effectively for diverse audiences in many different contexts. I’ll gather composers’ explanations of what how they learned to use sound strategically in online videos and interactive websites, to hear the musical qualities of spoken language and written composition, and to decide how to proceed when composing music. Studies in various literacies are nothing new in rhetoric and composition, but my project fills a gap in those studies in two specific ways: my focus on music and sound, areas that receive far less attention than visual literacies, and my focus on how composers describe their choices, as opposed to analyzing texts or studying the reactions of listeners.

My main research questions can be simplified as queries into what goes into a composer’s mind and what the composer intends to come out of it. In other words, I’m interested in how student composers describe their reliance on sources, both purposefully and naturally “cited,” and in how they describe the choices they make to shape their compositions for their audiences. More formally:

Research Question 1: In what ways do students search for and integrate sources into their compositions?
Research Question 2: What effects do students try to achieve in their compositions?

Both of these questions are designed to apply to a wide variety of texts: alphabetic and musical, discursive and nondiscursive, rhetorical and artistic, logical and emotional. For instance, concerning question 1, students in English composition courses practice integrating sources effectively and ethically into their compositions by learning to cite paraphrases, summaries, and quotations; however, in a more slippery sense, they also rely on the genres, structures, words, and delivery choices with which they are already familiar through the intertextual nature of language and rhetoric. In music composition courses, sources also affect the work that students create, both through purposefully cited or modified musical phrases from other work and through the natural ways that instrumentation, musical structure, voicing, and genre are leaned on whenever any new music is created. Concerning question 2, composers of alphabetic texts often have a variety of overlapping aims for how their texts will affect readers; following James Kinneavy’s aims of discourse, texts can have expressive, referential, literary, and persuasive aims. But I’m also interested in how nondiscursive texts (including music) are composed with overlapping but potentially disruptive categories of aims, as some aims are wrapped into mediums like music that are perhaps more suited to aesthetic immersion than rhetorical persuasion.

In a deeper sense, then, my study purports to use questions of sound composition as an inroads into questions of how creative work functions as a blend of heteroglossic complexity and individual volition. I find that many writers make claims about how composers “stand on the shoulders of giants,” though few systematically have talked to composers themselves about their reliance on influence and their creative purposes. And as a rhetorician, I also seek new ways of understanding the traditional split between rhetoric and poetics; though Jeffrey Walker has successfully argued for a more unified view of rhetoric and poetics in antiquity, much analysis remains to be done on the aims used today by contemporary composers in digital spaces, who often blend aesthetic decisions with audience-attuned meanings with impressive sophistication.

Wordle: Dissertation Prospectus

(Clearly, I use the words work and ways too often. Who knew?)

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