English Discussion

craft a 1-2 paragraph response to each prompt.

1) Find an article on the web that you have recently encountered via social media or browsing. Provide a link to the article, a short summary, and then categorize the article into one of Ruzskiewicz’s three genres (Narratives, Reports, Arguments). Explain your categorization in detail. Quote at least one sentence from the article that illustrates your categorization, and use MLA guidelines to quote and cite it. 

2) The “language” that Felsenfeld describes in “Rebel Music” is the language of music. What aspects of musical literacy are similar to literacy in reading and writing? What aspects are different? What parts of Felsenfeld’s experience with musical literacy remind you of your own experiences? What parts of Felsenfeld’s essay that surprised you? In your response, use at least one quotation from Felsenfeld to support your analysis, and use MLA guidelines to quote and cite it. 

Rebel Music Article Below

Music may be the universal language, but those of us who spend our lives with it are expected to know it in depth, from early on. Many composers, whether traditional or experimental, have been steeped in Western classical music from the cradle.  That was not the case with me.

My primal time was the middle of the ’80’s in Orange County, Calif.  I was 17 years old. The O. C. was billed as the ideal suburban community, but when you are raised in a palm-tree lined Shangri-La as I was, it is hard to grasp what’s missing without that crucial glimpse beyond.  Now I realize: even though we had enough water to keep the manicured lawns just so, I was experiencing a personal drought, an arid lack of culture of all kinds, especially music.
 

I was by no means unmusical, though any talent I have remains a mystery, coming as I do from perhaps the least musical of families (who would be the first to admit this).  To her credit, my mother signed me up for the de rigueur piano lessons.  Each week I dazzled poor Ms. Shimizu with either an astonishing performance of a Mozart sonata or a heretofore unseen level of ill-preparedness. I slogged my way through Chopin Preludes, culminating my high school piano study with a middling performance of Beethoven’s “Pathétique” sonata.  Probably not unlike most kids’ first encounter with formal music study: uninspiring.
Eventually I quit lessons, but had developed chops enough to work in both piano bars (an underage piano man, traveling with my own snifter) and community theater orchestra pits. The music was dull, or at least had a dulling effect on me — it didn’t sparkle, or ask questions.  I took a lot of gigs, but at 17 I was already pretty detached.  I was attracted to music for some reason I lacked vocabulary to explain, and neither “Oklahoma!” nor “Annie” offered answers.

That might have been it — working my way through junior college playing in pits or at Nordstrom’s, settling into some career or other — a piano studio, weddings, writing songs for mild amusement. Thankfully, it was not.

Some afternoons I would go to my friend Mike’s house at the end of my cul-de-sac to listen to tapes of bands a lot of my friends were listening to: General PublicHoward Jones, the Thompson Twins (or David BowieBauhaus and The Clash in our edgier moments).  One day, bored with the music, Mike flipped his double-decked cassette case over to reveal rows of hidden tapes in a concealed compartment.

“Want to hear something really wild?” he said.

“But of course.”

At 17, rebellion was of course a staple in my life. The smartest kids I knew took the route of dolling themselves up in anti-establishment finery — goth, punk, straight edge — forming bands, going to clubs in Los Angeles, spouting manifestos.  I had auditioned this mode, joining a band (whose name escapes me) and, in one of my great (mercifully unphotographed) late high school moments, taking a long, throbbing solo at a school assembly on one of those bygone over-the-shoulder keyboards.

It seems implausible now, but the “something really wild” Mike held was not goth, metal, or punk.  It was a neatly hand-labeled tape of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  He put it on, and I listened.  I think it was then I actually heard music for the first time.

Was this the same Beethoven to whose sonata I had done such violence? It unrolled from the small speakers, this big, gorgeous, unruly beast of a thing, contemporary, horrifying, a juggernaut that moved from the dark to unbearable brightness, soaring and spitting, malingering and dancing wildly, the Most Beautiful Thing I Ever Heard.  This “symphony” by this Beethoven had a drug-like effect on me.  At my insistence we listened again.  And again.  I wished it would just keep going.

Mike, who was just a kid in the neighborhood with odd — evolved? sophisticated?— taste, had dozens more tapes: Brahms, Mozart, Bach, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, Rachmaninoff, Strauss.  I may have known that this kind of music was called classical, but I certainly did not understand that it was considered “great” or that it was revered as the foundation of musical culture in the West.  I just loved it more that anything I’d heard before, and I must have sensed it was also miles away from Orange County, exactly as far as my adolescent self longed to be.  I dubbed Mike’s tapes, and listened to them in secret.  Driving to school with Beethoven blaring, I’d switch to KROQ as I entered the parking lot, swerving into my spot believing I’d put one over on people again.

My passion for this “other” kind of music felt like the height of rebellion: I was the lone Bolshevik in my army.  I loved this new (to me) music, but loved my abstract role in it even more.  Rebels sought to break the mold, to do something that was exclusively “theirs,” to be weird by way of self-expression.  And since I was the only one I knew listening to symphonies and concerti, operas and string quartets, I felt I was the weirdest of them all  it served my adolescent need to be misunderstood.  And so I decided, with little prior experience or interest, to become a composer.

Little did I know, right?

All too soon, I came to understand what hard work this was.  I studied scores, read biographies, got a serious piano teacher and logged hours a day practicing, traded up Mike’s cassettes for the then-novel compact discs, and boarded the spaceship bound for planet New York once or twice (always returning, at least then, to warmer climes).  After signing up for theory classes at Fullerton Junior College, I met my first living composers: Brent Pierce taught me counterpoint and harmony (one summer I wrote a daily fugue), and Lloyd Rodgers was my private teacher (who encouraged me to copy out the entire “Well Tempered Clavier” by hand).  In the meantime, I heard my first examples of what is called “New Music,” that is, classical music written more recently than the 19th century.

Of course, some of my illusions vanished as soon as I realized there were composers I could actually meet.  I was no longer a rebellion of one, but this halcyon innocence was traded for the ability to interact with artists who were always taking on the obscene challenge of creating music that was totally new, completely theirs.

Now I live far from the O.C., in New York, having long ago colonized this distant planet and gone native, an active member of a community I once admired from what seemed an impossible distance.  And while there are moments I lament not having been raised in a musical family, or my late and clumsy start, I also strive to make my less-than-ideal origins an asset.  I’ve learned I do my best work when I remove myself and try to return that Age of Wonder when I first heard the gorgeous dissonances of pieces like Samuel Barber’s “Hermit Songs” or “Prayers of Kierkegaard,” Elliot Carter’s Second String QuartetMichael Nyman’s “The Kiss,” George Crumb’s “Black Angels,” Arnold Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire,” Benjamin Britten’s “Turn of the Screw,” John Corigliano’s First Symphony, and Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd,” and took them to be the same dissonances, not contrasting sides of a sometimes-contentious or politicized art world. When I am composing, I try to return to that time and place of inexperience when I was knocked sideways by dangerous sounds.  Why else write?  Why else listen?

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