Reflections on Research and Formality in Writing (it’s not a dichotomy)

I am likely not going to be a higher level academic musicologist than I am right now as I wrap up this 300 level music history class. I took the introductory music history classes as a sophomore and learned about musical terms such as ‘organum,’ ‘antiphonal,’ ‘motet,’ ‘cantata,’ ‘l’homme arme,’ and ‘opera.’ Some of things blurred together or have become filed away somewhere in my brain that needs a bit of coaxing to remember. I lost faith that I would ever actually know with certainty what each of these terms meant in all of their nuance. Then I realized I’ll never know it all, but I might as well start and know a little bit more today than I knew yesterday. I chose to research BWV 140 because the famous Sleeper’s Wake melody is one of my Mom’s favorite melodies and was one of the pieces she had in her wedding. A little personal connection never hurts as a catalyst for podcast-creating-motivation.

Though this topic is definitely of manageable scope (thanks, Prof. Epstein) I still began with the noble Google search: “What is a Bach Cantata.” I know myself and that I always need an accessible point of entry to the topic (read: not incredibly academically/scholarly inclined). So, after reading the wikipedia entries and a few weird websites, I felt confident to jump in…to a Grove search. I read that, “about two-fifths of Bach’s sacred cantatas must be considered lost; of the secular cantatas, more are lost than survive.” There are a lot, so it is surprising that so many have been lost! I learned that Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, is a church chorale intended for the 27th Sunday after Trinity and has text by Philipp Nicolai. (Grove)

I do not plan to write any more music history papers for school in my life (I’m not ruling it out, but signs point to no). However, the hard work required in this process and the gems of knowledge that result in researching and understanding many voices of a topic are rewarding in and of themselves, especially when I have even a slight connection to this cantata. I’m trying to enjoy the research process as I immerse myself in the final music history paper, but I am also really looking forward to the finished podcast product.

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