Interview with Dr. Linda Fairtile, University of Richmond Music Librarian
Content by Lauren Oddo
Adapted for Web by Kelsey Shields
(printable version here)
Q: What are some common misconceptions about music writing?
"Music doesn't have a specialized, technical vocabulary."
It's actually very difficult to write meaningfully about music without employing at least some terminology that is unique to our discipline, or is applied in very specific ways. But be aware of your audience: when writing for amateurs, keep the technical terms to a minimum, or briefly define them at their first appearance.
"Music writing is mostly about feelings and opinions"
Writing about music is difficult because it's an extremely personal medium: most people don't feel passionate about chemistry or economics, but just about everyone has a favorite song that makes his or her heart beat faster. Even so, there is a long and rich analytical tradition that examines how music functions and in what context.
"Only books and scholarly articles can be used for music research."
Of course, your professor is the final authority on which types of sources to use for a research assignment. but if you have the option, don't overlook things like documentary films, articles in CD booklets (if you can identify the author), and introductory essays in music scores. Frequently these are created by scholars who are experts in their fields. But, as always, check out their credentials first.
Q: What mistakes do you often encounter in student music writing?
Mechanical errors in titles.
Students frequently fail to distinguish among large-scale works, whose titles should be italicized, small-scale works, whose titles should be enclosed in quotations makes, and works with generic titles, which require neither. To get a sense of which is which, it can be helpful to consult reference works such as the Grove Dictionary of Music, or even the library catalog.
Q: Do you have any general advice to help students write "successfully" about music?
To write well about music, you need to read about music. Find a scholarly article and study its arguments and writing style. Regardless of the discipline, it's always a good idea to talk to your professor about his or her expectations. In music, it's also very important to consider the type of paper that you're writing. Theory papers, musicology papers, and concert reports each have their own particular tones and voice.
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