All semester in Mu 101, you’ve been honing several skills of good writing and critical thinking by developing the art of conversation in online discussions (processing new information, sharing your own ideas, responding to the ideas of others, and asking questions to learn from your peers). All of these skills are what you need to do in order to produce good writing: absorbing new ideas, linking them with ideas and experiences you already have in a new, surprising, or interesting way, learning to see all sides of an issue, and anticipating what others will say.

At the scheduled final exam (J2 Tuesday, December 19, 2:30p-4:30; // C3A Wednesday December 20, 10a-12p), you will be putting these skills into practice in two ways: 1) an in-class discussion (approximately 1 hour), and 2) a writing project (approximately 1 hour). These assignments are worth 7.5% of your final grade.


Assignment prompts

Part 1: The in-class discussion (4% of your final grade)

A loosely-structured seminar discussion is the typical format of upper-level undergraduate courses as well as all graduate work (masters and doctoral level). The point of a seminar discussion is precisely that: to discuss. In the process of discussing, you are forced to clarify what you think by articulating your ideas in a clear and persuasive manner, and at the same time you learn from the wide array of perspectives and experiences that your peers bring into the conversation. The discussion may organically move to unexpected topics, but the main takeaway from a learning experience like this one is that all of your knowledge and resources are related; there is no such thing as a separation of academic subjects when you really approach a topic critically. Your familiarity with the assigned material, your own initiative in doing additional research, and your engagement with each other is what will make for an effective and enjoyable class.

Your task:
Read the post below, read as much of the linked web pages as possible (read multiple times, take notes, reflect on it—in other words, do what we do in class on your own).
Refer to notes you’ve taken in class over the course of the semester, past lecture slides, and previous Online Discussions to make sure you’re correctly understanding as many concepts as possible. Read additional sources as necessary to ensure that you know what you’re talking about with this topic.

Prepare thoughts, questions, and ideas that you have about the topic. These can approach the topic from any and all angles—make use of the various brainstorming methods we’ve undertaken in class, and draw upon your outside knowledge, expertise, and experiences.

Be ready to have a rich, engaging, and involved discussion with each other as an entire class. Ask each other questions. Offer comments. Respond to each other. I will not participate in this discussion.


This discussion assignment is worth up to 4 points in your final average. If you are late, leave early, or step out during the discussion, the maximum number of points you can earn will be proportional to the amount of the discussion you miss; if you miss half of the discussion, you can only earn up to 2 points; if you miss a third of the discussion, you can only earn up to 2.7 points; etc. If you do not participate, do not contribute to the assigned topic, or are absent, you will earn 0 points.

The better your contributions to the class discussion, the more points you will earn (and the more prepared you’ll be do produce a thoughtful piece of writing). You will be graded on the amount and quality of your contributions to the class discussion; ideally the answers to all of the following questions will be “Yes”:

  • Are you prepared for the discussion? Have you read the assigned web pages? Have you done additional reading (as necessary) that allows you to have a reasonable baseline of knowledge about the topic?
  • Are you contributing to the class discussion in a meaningful way? Are you offering new insight that no one else has adding? Are your contributions compelling and interesting rather than vague, superficial, or cliché? Are you building upon what other people have said rather than ignoring them?
  • Are you demonstrating knowledge (rather than ignorance) of the course material and technical vocabulary, and are you drawing from past discussions we’ve held in class and online?

I look forward to being a fly on the wall for your discussion!


Part 2: Writing

The first stage of all writing happens away from the computer—it consists of thinking thoroughly about a topic, and that’s the purpose that the in-class discussion will serve. The in-class discussion is an opportunity for you to try out and refine your ideas, arguments, and point of view regarding the assigned topic before crafting a first draft of a brief essay.

Your task:

Following the in-class discussion, you will outline your plan to “fix” classical music. Your writing will include:

  1. At least two distinct things that should be done by specific groups of people (e.g., concert programmers, performers, composers, marketing staff, audience members, educators, government officials, etc.)
  2. Three (3) distinct reasons you think that your plan will work and is the best course of action. Support your plan with specific evidence in the form of statistics, personal anecdotes, or specific examples that answer the ever-present questions of “So what?” and “How do you know?”
  3. Why you think it’s important to implement your plan.


This writing assignment is worth 3.5% of your final grade. Your writing will earn full points if your ideas are original, thoughtful, and clear:

  1. Each of the two (2) distinct things to be done as part of your plan is worth 0.5 points (1 point total).
  2. Each of the three (3) supporting reasons is worth 0.5 points (1.5 points total).
  3. The big “why” question is worth 1 point.

If any components are basically identical (e.g., same thing to be done by two different groups; two supporting reasons that are the same; etc.), the second (or third) one will not earn any points.


The blog post: Background information to set up the discussion and writing

Classical music lovers have been lamenting the “death” of classical music for years — declining interest (and declining ticket sales), aging (and dying) audience, cultural irrelevance:

By this point (the date of the final exam), you have attended a concert of live classical music. Draw upon your experience at that event as well as in this class to help you come up with a means to “fix” classical music.

We’ve touched upon other things this semester that may be a part of the need to “fix” classical music:

Systems and structures that discourage gender (and ethnic) diversity in the classical music field (online discussion)

The process of auditioning for orchestras: dorris-the-audition

How musicians (don’t) make money (online discussion). Funding for arts education and presentation programs. The US doesn’t provide a large amount of money to fund arts education or art making, including music. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was established in 1965. Its purpose is “to nurture American creativity, to elevate the nation’s culture, and to sustain and preserve the country’s many artistic traditions.” The NEA’s annual budget is $148 million, but the budget for the NEA equals only 0.003% of the total US budget (which is $3.899 trillion). (New York City is an exception and the Department of Cultural Affairs published a Cultural Plan in May to address increasing access to artistic institutions in every neighborhood of the City.)

How music is taught and learned (online discussion)

Things you’ve written in class/online about why it’s worthwhile to take a class like this or become a musicologist.

Other things to consider:

Many music listeners’ tastes are shaped by algorithms — computer code designed to guide you to listen to things that are similar to what you already like on Spotify, Pandora, and YouTube:

Music and art programs are often the first programs cut in school curricula, meaning that elementary, middle school, and high school students often don’t have regular music (or art) classes throughout their primary education. Budget cuts like these disproportionately affect urban neighborhoods populated by minorities.

Classical music is an insular community that protects its own, even in the face of charges of sexism, pedophilia, or sexual harassment. The longtime conductor of the Metropolitan Opera, James Levine, stepped down from his post last week after keeping well-known secret within the classical music community for 40 years.

And, finally, what role do you as a listener play in making music happen?


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