Engaging Music - Essays in Music Analysis, ed. Deborah Stein reviewed

Author(s): 
Gordon Sly
Volume: 
21
Year: 
2007
Material: 
Abstract: 

New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. Reviewed by Gordon Sly. Writing in 1971 about articulations of the musical surface that can inform analytical interpretation, John Rothgeb expressed surprise "that there have been so few attempts to specify procedures for the derivation of musical analyses." He qualifies this remark in a footnote: "This is not to deny the existence of pedagogically valuable descriptions of musical structure, but only to observe that such descriptions almost never concern themselves with procedures by which an analysis can be derived or critically evaluated." Were he writing today, that surprise would surely have grown to fullblown astonishment - perhaps colored by a little dismay - she described a landscape that appears pretty much unchanged. Rothgeb's remarks bring into focus what I would argue is the central issue in evaluating the usefulness to students of analysis papers purported to be exemplars for their work. Simply put, while any written analysis may have some qualities that can instruct students, what is most important is that its processes be transparent and intelligible rather than obscure and unfathomable. How was its analytical point of view developed? What informed analytical decisions? Which possibilities were rejected and which embraced, and why? What implications flow from those decisions? These are the things that students need to have illuminated.This transparency of process can be achieved explicitly, of course, or more indirectly. However accomplished, analytical writings meant to serve as guides for students must begin with the premise that they need to know how and why decisions are made. By this measure, Engaging Music earns a modest grade. Some of its papers are successful; most are not.