Pursuing the Leviathan

Quick back story:

Ever since reading Moby Dick last year, I have a tendency to refer to large, overwhelming, and potentially elusive things as the “leviathan.” While I do have a tendency to be slightly dramatic at times, given the nature of this project, I think the comparison is justified. The translation, for anyone who was lucky enough to avoid this novel throughout their educational experience, is roughly “large sea monster.” Something elusive and overwhelming. Something that will probably make you a little crazy. Something terrifying. But also an entity that sublime and awesomely beautiful all at the same time. From hence forth, this project will be referred to as my own personal leviathan.

Moving right along:

I threw out a pretty random idea in class the other day that I am still working on, but since Ray already provided me with some basic feedback, I thought it best to post about another idea that I am equally interested in developing for this project. Something that I am really interested in and would really like to write more about is music. I started playing piano at age 9 so music has been a rather integral part of my life until I got to Ann Arbor. Once I started my journey as an undergraduate student, there just wasn’t enough time to keep up any sort of relationship with actually playing music, so that passion was pushed aside while I spent my days reading and writing for classes. This semester, I enrolled in Musicology 103 (titled Opera!) to try and incorporate some music into my education once more. (Also I started dating an opera singer). Regardless, it reminded me how much I loved listening to and performing music, and I would really like to use this project as a way for me to try and reignite that part of my life by combining my love of reading and writing with music.

The actual project: 

I was thinking about doing a sort of close reading of a piece of music. Reading a musical piece is rather similar to reading a book. There are many different elements that create the piece, all of which are important and have a variety of interpretations. Dynamics, rhythms, tempo, style, and the type of instruments used are all examples of aspects of a piece that can be analyzed in depth, just like sentence structure or word choice would be analyzed in literature. While I have a previous background with reading music, there are many things I have yet to learn which would require some additional research and probably a trip to the music library, but I wouldn’t ever be completely lost. This adds an educational and enriching aspect to the project so that I am learning, not just falling back on knowledge I already have. Basically, there are some amazing similarities between music and literature that I would really like to explore with the project and a really hands on experience (probably involving some sort of audio/performance aspect) would be central to its development and completion.

10 thoughts to “Pursuing the Leviathan”

  1. This sounds like a really compelling idea and sounds like you are pretty excited about it. I think it would be great to have a connection between music and literature. I have often felt like there is some connection, but there is no words or description for it. It would be difficult but great if you did so successfully. I think you could go beyond applying a technique to analyze literature (close reading) to music. Maybe you could find a way to connect the way that literature and music place people in stories and make them feel? On a side note: I remember an author that provided playlists with her novels and that was an incredible experience for me, maybe that sparks an idea in you?

  2. I really like the direction you are going with this! You’ve got this intriguing contrast going on where music is something that everyone is familiar with and almost everyone appreciates (to varying degrees, and of course various styles), but very few people can analyze with the level of detail you plan on supplying. Although not totally off-the-wall or “academically incompatible, you definitely succeeded in comparing two unique art forms that are not typically paired together–and in my mind should be! I enjoy comparisons between different creative expressions, and I could definitely see how music and literature have many hidden similarities. Perhaps you could find somebody that is both an writer and a musician (or I guess a lyricist..?) and see if they have anything to say about how writing influences music or vice versa, or how the process of creation differs between the two. I like that you plan to provide an audio/performance aspect in the portfolio, would this be your “centerpiece” as was discussed in class?

  3. Hi Sam!

    This sounds super awesome. I took a similar opportunity last semester in a new media writing course to explore the process of self-taught music and I am satisfied with that decision as well as its results. I haven’t ever learned to read music (planning on getting to that one day) but even by sticking to the style of learning I was most familiar with, I ended up learning a ton. And if you’re really passionate about incorporating it into your life, and it sounds like you are, you’ll surely find fulfillment in it! I get super enthusiastic about this stuff.

    But anyway, I also think that connecting it to literature universalizes its appeal, lending it the potential to motivate people who weren’t otherwise interested in musical notation, into exploring it. I think it would be interesting to even compare a particular song to a particular book to provide a concrete example. You could also analyze the rhythm of a piece of music similarly to that of a poem by observing how it’s used in a film, for example. Just some ides. I’m super excited to see where you go with this if you choose it!

  4. I’ve always really loved the relationship between words and rhythm, and so I think this project idea is just beautiful. It’s not just important in poetry but also in prose, even long-form. It also has a universal power over people, so basically yes! Great idea!
    I guess what I would recommend you think about is how you can explore these instances that you are observing in different forms of music, and also to explore more deeply how you would draw a parallel between written word and music.
    I know this might not be exactly relevant, but I’ve seen multiple projects involving music and its relationship with seemingly unrelated things (tree rings, math) that could guide some of your thinking/creativity with this project.

  5. As someone for which music is also very central to my life (both playing and listening), this idea really excites me. What came to mind when reading your post was to treat a piece of music like a poem or passage from a novel, and then to analyze it line by line, hopefully also drawing on some larger conclusions as you do so. Picking a piece that you have an emotional connection to could also allow you to analyze how the musical choices that the composer makes correspond to what you like about it as a listener. Doing this with sheet music would probably be beneficial (if the piece/song is published). Great idea and I look forward to see how you progress!

  6. Hi Sam,

    I love this idea as well! Some ideas that are bouncing around in my head are what if you took a short story that people know (or create one yourself!) and then try to create a musical composition that fits the general moods, themes and story line of your piece? I would say you could do it the other way too, but I feel as though most songs are already stories in their own right. With that, especially if you decided to create both a short story and then a musical composition, I’d be interested in how similar or different the processes of creation would be. Or if you wanted to take a short story and make it into a song, I’d be interested in how certain words, or feelings, or themes translate into notes . What constitutes a key of C? What about the minor keys? And are there any key changes within the story? This is fascinating. I cannot wait to see what you do with it if you do decide to go the music route.

  7. This sounds like an amazing project. I would love to learn more about the connections between literature and music. I think you could also explore literature that has been turned into other mediums that have music, whether it is a musical, an opera, or even a TV show/movie. After making all of your connections and conclusions, I would love to see you take some of your writing from college and write music based on it. I think that would be fascinating.

  8. There’s a lot of potential in doing a project on music. It’s interesting in substance, and also allows for very engaging modes of presentation. Maybe you could do a first-person piece paralleling the experiences of reading music and reading some sort of literature that had a logical connection with the music. Or maybe you could compare how popular music and popular literature have evolved, and see if there is any connection there–though that would end up being more of a social science-y type work. Regardless, I think a hands-on final project would definitely be a great idea and could work well with whatever you decide on.

  9. I think that this idea has a lot of potential and would be a great learning experience for you. I think that my main comment is that you should make your final project visual in some way. I think that it will be hard for an audience to read someone interpreting music and have it still be interesting. I think that if you can bring them on a visual journey of some sort so they can be put in similar situations as the interpreter, you could have a really engaging piece.


  10. Hey Sam,

    Brilliant idea per usual. I’m really curious about what sort of format you see your project taking, and if you see it being a more something multi-media (as you mention in the post), and including both a textual, written component as well as some type of performance. Do you envision yourself researching a lot of music/literary theory? Since taking on the thesis project, I’ve heard of a lot of people reading up on this stuff, so there are definitely tons of resources available to you if you chose to go that route.

    One thing that comes to mind as I read through your post is something that my cousin, who’s a professional musician presently attending Western for his masters in jazz performance (or something like that). He once told me about the difference between active and passive listening by describing an activity he once did in a music class, wherein the kids listened to different songs and then drew a picture to accompany what they heard. This sounds a little related to what Hannah’s talking about with regard to a novelist who includes a playlist to her novels, though perhaps in reverse. Maybe you could look at an opera, album, or even a single song that inspires you and write an accompanying poem, story, or essay? Maybe even you could look into the practice of “active listening” even more to see if there’s other research done on its relationship to generating other types of art?

    On a similar note – I remember when I was a kid seeing a composer perform a series of songs she’d composed to accompany the children’s book Beneath a Blue Umbrella by Jack Prelutsky, and when she performed she didn’t use any sheet music, but just looked at the illustrated book. Funky, huh?

    I hope this helps! Let me know if you ever want to get together and bounce ideas off of each other!

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