Monday, November 30, 2015

A Quick Guide to Analyze Written Sources

The most essential skill honed in academia is the analysis of written works. In the history of the written word, human beings have demonstrated a tendency to see truth in those works whose authors they agree while dismissing the arguments of challengers. Often it is the works of ancient writers to whose authority we appeal. Many of us fall prey to the mistaken belief that given two sources, the older one must necessarily be more accurate. In certain research contexts this is helpful, for example:
If we want to know what a first century Roman citizen likely thought about the German people, we would probably start with Tacitus first century account, depicting them as primitive, drunken, lazy and barbaric though with a few noble qualities to be admired.
Up through the end of the 19th century and beginning of the early 20th century this once accepted view is where historical research stalled.  But,
If we want to know what those same German people were actually like,  inquiry demands that we challenge and examine the authority of Tacitus (as we would any other writer) and take him to task on his own use of sources material; his biases as a Roman writing about another culture for which he has no first hand knowledge and a culture(s) whose territory borders an ever expanding Roman Empire.(perhaps his view was informed by the limited experience of soldiers involved in skirmishes and thus his depiction emphasizes traits of the warrior rather than a fully nuanced society?) Thus we would need to widen our field to include a critical evaluation of recent discoveries of archaeological research, other written accounts, and various other methods available. 
It is this second example which reminds us as readers to remain vigilant as we embark on our quest for knowledge.  With the world full of bargain books on history, education, philosophy, talk radio, media depictions, and bloggers (ironic, eh?) we cannot afford to take any source at face value.  All must be met with critical examination.  

As your bibliography accounts for 50% of the grade of your Final research paper, and must be submitted prior to your rough draft, I am presenting below a handout developed by Professor James Hepokoski, Chair of the Music Department at Yale University to aid you in your research.


  1. Research the author and determine his/her expertise in the field.
  2. What basic question(s) is (are) the author attempting to answer?  Is this (according to the author) a sufficiently worthy problem? Has the author articulated this question within the article or is it merely implicit?
  3. Is the author’s answer to this question (i.e., the central argument) implicit or explicit?
  4. With what types of evidence does the author buttress his or her claims?
  5. Is the author relying principally on primary sources? If not, how much of the work relies on secondary sources? Has the author represented accurately his/her reliance on these secondary sources?
  6. Has the author omitted relevant evidence that might contradict his or her argument?
  7. Does the evidence (presented) lead inevitably to the author’s conclusions?
  8. For what audience has the author written the article? What terms, analytical concepts, historiographical orientation, or musical repertories must the reader know in order to fully understand the article?
  9. Is the author’s treatment overly complex or overly simplistic?

Writing Style and Organization:
  1. Are the opening paragraphs sufficiently intriguing to make you want to read further? How well do they articulate the central argument and establish the author’s authority?
  2. Does the article follow a logical path, leading inevitably to the author’s conclusions? Try to separate those sections of the article which bear directly on the author’s thesis form those which, while engaging and informative, form a momentary digression. Does this rhetorical strategy work in this instance? Similarly, evaluate the organization of the article’s sentences, paragraphs, and sub-sections.
  3. Can you locate any particularly well-written or poorly-written sentences? What makes them stand out?
  4. How has the author concluded the article? Do the closing paragraphs summarize the article’s central point? Do they broaden the question to hint at a larger context? Does the author end with a rhetorical flourish?


  1. Has the author explicitly or implicitly aligned him/herself with any of the methodological prescriptions that have emerged in musicology over the past fifteen years? If so, how closely is this methodology followed? Is it acknowledged?
  2. Does the author rely on methodologies from other disciplines? Again, are these approaches explicit or implicit? Does the author question aspects of these methods? If any terms concerning these methods are new to you, look them up and make sure that you understand both the methodology and its implications.
  3. In articles which are theoretical in nature, does the theory grow out of the problem at hand, or is the problem itself subjected to a pre-existent theory?
  4. How reliant is the author on authority?
  5. Does the author look at music in its context(s), contexts in music, or some combination?
  6. Do the article’s conclusions result form musical analysis? What analytical methods has the author employed? Are these successful?
One final thought, for a refresher on the the distinction between Primary and Secondary sources, I encourage you to review the following video:

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What Classical Education Means

Way back when, I earned my undergraduate degrees as a double major in Philosophy and Classical Languages from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa (with a year studying Philosophy abroad at the University of Nottingham.)  Pretty much from its inception in 1861 through my graduation in 1992, the majority of those who served as President and Deans of Luther College were Classics Professors. In this environment it was stressed that Classical Philosophy is the pinnacle of Education, developing skills transferable to all disciplines.

Why is that so? Well, At the heart of Classical Philosophy is Investigation and Analysis.  The developed method and refined skill, for sifting through (and acknowledging) prejudice and bias in pursuit of some underlying Truth.  It is with this background (or chip on my shoulder) with which I approach issues of education and life.  Ensuring that we are careful to define our terms with appropriate meaning and acknowledgement of the history of their concepts.  So that when we discuss things like “Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Happiness, Liberty as well as the traditional 4 Cardinal Virtues: Justice, Temperance, Prudence, and Fortitude --  that we not rely on our everyday common usage, but rather their deeper philosophical understanding.

Today, there are many schools out there which bear the moniker "Classical" and even more which boldly proclaim "Academy."  Yet a careful look at their curriculum demonstrate their casual usage of these meanings.  So in the interest of clarity, I would like to share below the impression that faculty at Institutions of Higher Learning understand when they discuss the words “Classical” and “Academy.”

When a school adopts the appellation  "Classical Academy"   they communicate a commitment to an educational pedigree inherited from the first Academy founded by Plato in Athens in 387 BCE.
Since Socrates first challenged the convictions of the Athenian elite, we see in example after example --from antiquity through our modern age -- that our shared purpose as Classical Educators is to build character through the continued Pursuit of Truth. This is quite a different task than teaching students to "know Truth."  For Classical Philosophy as well as our modern common sense demonstrate that "knowing Truth" is available only to the omniscient (All-Knowing).
The frustrations faced by Socrates, and the inheritors of Classical Education, is embodied by those who claim special privilege in knowing Truth.  While perhaps well meaning, they assert dogma as universal without aid from the tools developed from Classical Philosophy.  They are unable to challenge their own cultural, temporal, and personal biases and become enslaved to their Convictions.
Convictions are the traditional enemy of Learning for it presumes that Truth is known.  If truth is known, then there is no further need for inquiry, and thus no need for Education and the Pursuit of Truth.  Convictions are often rooted in misinformation and fear and sustained by arrogance.  They provide a convenient excuse for willful ignorance. When held fast they provide self-justification for bullying. They are the un-virtuous stain on the character of the Warlord and thus a detriment to a just and virtuous Democratic citizen.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Boethius and the Relevance of Musical Understanding - my response

Instead of a full on blog, I am submitting this month a response I made to another Blog with whom I disagree on Boethius' division of 3 kinds of musician.
"Hi Todd,
I dig your web page. A few comments on this particular post I am compelled to address..
You begin with a decent introduction, however you miss some crucial elements in the history of Greek Philosophical Thought, of which Boethius is heir, and improperly conflate 2,500 years of terms (e.g. equating modern classical musicians with the musicians experiences of Boethius time) and in the process flip-flopped some of the terms as received in the early 21st century. 
Let me begin with the history of textual transmission. After Boethius, De Institiutione Musica Is a Latin translation (with some original points) of the Greek Nichomachus of Gerasa's "Handbook of Harmonics" (books 1-4) and Ptolemy's "Harmonia" (book 5). As with most texts) these were not handed down to each generation in its entirety. Only a handful of complete mansucripts contain all five books existed. Most often however Monestaries contained only anecdotes (i.e. florelegia) with a few lucky monasteries containing Book I. Nonetheless this work was the primary "textbook" for Musical study from about the 9th century thought the 17th, (even though the trasnmission of his work was always debated and typically ignored by composers especially from the 12th century on -- and its instruction largely forgotten with the rise of experimental science (Beginning with the efforts of Vincenzo Galilei and the Florentine Camerata in the 16th) - This lead to our modern concept of music (Melody with Bass/Chords) upon which all popular music and the the bulk of Classical music from 1600-now is based today. As well as the rise of the Virtuoso instrumentalist. Its a very different concept of music in which we live than what Boethius describes.
Secondly we must understand that Boethius aim is not instruction for the practical musician. His aim is Philosophical - part of that long tradition established by Plato with the goal of creating ethical "Philosopher Kings.: As such: the underlying principle in Classical thought is the concept of Harmonia..The philosophers did not seek discord -- and education is not an adversarial system. Though there are many examples, such displays of common adversarial contests (typically fought over pride, money, power) are typically derided by the educators. We retain the word Harmonia rather than balance precisely because of its ties with Greek Philosophical Thought. For the Greeks recognized that Music was the central discipline which so readily revealed the connections between the soul and universe. Acting in accord (again another musical term) with the nature of the Cosmos is the foundation of Ethics.
So with this in mind, if we are to take the path and ascribe to our modern age, Boethius description of the 3 musicians. Those who play by instinct the first group are really the buskers, the self-taught street musicians, garage band guitar heroes, who have not actually widened their knowledge base through study of theory, ear training new strands of music, but are self serving and only play the kind of music they want. In the composer realm, we'd put the typical Classical Musician, or open minded rocker who is not afraid to learn theory. And despite your remark to the contrary, MOST Classical Musicians improvise, its kind of a requirement at such a high level of playing, they might improvise in a different manner, but most of the cats I've played with from the world class Minnesota Orchestra know love all music and they certainly know how to jam in all styles.
The 3rd type of musician is a Philosopher. They have studied not only music and performance, but the rest of the sciences as well as rhetoric, logic, ethics, etc. As such they do not cloud their mind with schemes for personal gain (power, wealth, prestige, honor) but direct their minds and efforts understand the workings of the Cosmos (i.e. Good Order) and society as a whole - which is why the Liberal Arts education has been a necessary component of education since Plato founded the Academy 2,500 years ago. They do not act without careful examination. Think Socrates maxim, "The Un-examined Life is not worth living"
This does not mean you cannot make a living as a musician, but music does not begin with the limited and false motivator of "MONEY" or "being a famous star." -- These are the lures of the "Sophists" which lead to the quick and easy temptation to defraud and exploit others for personal gain. In the whole of Boethius works, he asks us to reject that the sake of civil society.
Christian McGuire