ARTS 2020: Computer Music

Arts Department, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Monday/Wednesday, 6:00-7:50pm, West Hall 110

Instructor: Rob Hamilton, West Hall 307

e: hamilr4 [at] rpi [dot] edu



You are required to attend at least three musical concerts our sound-based events during the semester. You may attend concerts from the “iEAR Presents” musical events events, or any other events you would like to attend on or off campus. They MUST be events in which live performed music or sound is the focus. A soundtrack to a film, for example, does NOT count. If you are unsure as to whether a concert will satisfy this requirement please speak to the instructor.

You will then need to submit via email a 1-2 page review of each performance which addresses both technical and aesthetic issues. Reviews should include both a description of the program, instrumentation (when appropriate), and a reasoned critique of the sonic materials and the performance.

In addition, given the nature of this course, consider the use and application of technology (if relevant) in the concert and how the artist and the music affected and were affected by the nature of that technology.

How To Write A Concert Review

This description of how to write a concert review comes from Ted Levin, eminent ethnomusicologist and Professor of Music at Dartmouth College.

Your concert review should describe the performance and in so doing, provide a persuasive account of your own critical interpretation that illuminates the music for one who has not heard it. Your impressions will be convincing to the extent that they stem from descriptions of particular aspects of the performance. Note that the reviewers whose work you have received as models generally do not discuss how they felt while listening to the music, nor what effect the music had on them. Rather, the focus is on the performers and the performance. Note also how good writers judiciously weave together common language metaphors and technical musical terms.

Tips on writing:

It is useful to begin with a couple of sentences that adumbrate or summarize your critical position and show where you're heading in the review. For example, here are the opening paragraphs of three reviews from the New York Times:

"When Liu Sola addressed the audience at her concert on Friday night, she spoke in Cantonese. For a translation into English, she turned and spoke to her partner, the pianist and vocalist Amina Claudine Myers. Their conversations, staged yet intimate, were a metaphor for this collaboration, which places multiculturalism in the context of personal dialogue."

"The bluegrass singer and fiddler Alison Krauss, and her band, Union Station, have sold millions of records and still aren't cool. None of the band members project much of an onstage persona other than affability; they're not the sort of glib technical wizards who appeal to string-instrument gear-heads, and they don't show discomfort with the conventions of bluegrass by playing it like giddy scholars or specter-haunted old-timers.

Instead, as they demonstrated at Town Hall on Tuesday night, they turn their attention to one another and achieve something as close to perfection as can be found in popular music: a fully integrated sound in which the musicians, fully at ease, melt their projections together so that it's hard to tell who's playing what."

"There are times when music really is an art in play, when sound seems to come into being for the sake of pleasure, inspiring thrill at its difficulty and wonder at its powers. This was the sense I had listening to performances of Northern Indian music at Symphony Space on Saturday night, presented by the World Music Institute." (review of a concert that included Ken Zuckerman)

In each case, subsequent paragraphs are devoted to working out the critical implications of the opening on the basis of evidence drawn from the concert program. In your own writing, keep your focus on the main points you want to make and use evidence that supports these points. Details are important, but don't allow yourself to be sidetracked by details which are irrelevant to your critical position. And remember, you don't need a summary sentence or paragraph at the end. An artfully crafted final sentence that provides closure to your review is the best way to go out.

- Ted Levin

Borrowed from:
Additional Sample Reviews: