Blog Post #5

The research I did for the third paper was far easier than for the first two. It was mentioned in class that you will give students in the future a topic and thesis for the first podcast and then by their last podcast they will be able to choose both. I think this is a very good way to guide us in this process. I was/still am mostly lost when it comes to researching and coming up with a thesis out of nothing. I appreciate that we are given the liberty to choose our own topic on something that is interesting to us, and I think I would have gotten off to a better start with more structure at the beginning.

I struggle when I want to use a source that is specific to my topic, but don’t have enough. Learning to use general sources about Bach’s cantatas or even just Bach’s vocal music is something that I am not very good at. In the same way, learning to incorporate the readings we had for class into a paper that isn’t really related is something that I still need practice with. I also know that I could start my research sooner and that is another issue.

I am still working on the process of actually writing as well. I finally tried to outline a paper for my third paper and I will try to do that from now on. I know that I will be able to write more clearly when I can organize my thoughts from the beginning, so I think fleshing out a paper’s components before starting to work out how to say it will work to my advantage. I am appreciative of all the help that I have gotten this semester with writing and with feedback in general. Understanding this process will help me to continue my work on writing and grow toward being a more clear, and concise writer.


One of the greatest things that I am taking away from this course is my experience with research. After most of the semester, I finally realized how essential it is to actually go to the library and open a book. It is so tempting and easy to search and search databases and I think especially millennials tend to think that there is no way that the library would have a book on their research topic. It seems like the chances of finding something online are a lot higher just because of the amount of databases we have access to, but the reality is that the shear amount of sources online does not outweigh the amount of quality sources in the library. I think that the help I received in this class was a good extension of the practice we had in the first music history courses.

I was also impressed with the conversations that were had throughout the course. There was a lot of civil discussion in a class that is very personal for some people. The discussion after the election was a great model for how to have an intellectual conversation while validating people’s beliefs and not taking any hard feelings away from that. I liked how we were invited to set conversational guidelines at the beginning of the course which gave us some ownership to the material we learned and helped to create a safe and dynamic conversation space. Though the space was safe, I didn’t feel like I had much to say in class discussion. A lot of the readings were dense and I honestly skimmed most of them. It was hard for me to see how they all related especially when trying to fit them into a small topic for a research paper.

I appreciate the small class discussions and the work we did which focused on process. I will take away a new understanding of the music I sing and I will always question if the designations sacred and secular are necessary.

Sacred Madrigals and Secular Masses

Every once in a while we come across a piece of music that is categorized in a way that makes us ask why. I’m talking about secular masses and sacred madrigals. I am looking into writing about pieces which exist in a genre which seems questionable. I have found multiple articles on how church music and madrigals are related which is a start. Epstein suggested that I focus on one piece that is in a genre that it wouldn’t normally be in and look into why. I haven’t decided on the exact piece, but I have found some ideas when researching.

One of the hardest things about working with this topic is that I haven’t found a specific piece yet because I needed to find works that are in this category. Searching for those pieces was difficult because of the language used; like how do I put “music categorized in a genre that we wouldn’t expect” into a couple words. I found that a common term used for some pieces is spiritual madrigal. So I was searching for madrigal AND church or madrigal and relig* and there was virtually nothing. Once I figured out the language that writers use, it was easier to navigate the databassi.

I’m thinking I’ll use a madrigal that has to do with the happier parts of a church holiday (I found one about rejoicing in the joys of Lent) so that I can focus on the intent of the composer. There is no way that a madrigal of this kind would be sung in a church, however a secular mass could definitely be sung is a church depending on the text. So I want to look at the intersections (not sucking up) of sacred/secular and come back to our question about if the categorization is really necessary.

Music is a Gift from God

The most problematic aspect of Christmas Fest for me is the pageantry. I will shy away from using the word authentic, but it becomes a replicated experience when it is done four nights in a row. It is very well put together and cohesive as held together by the year’s theme and I think this is consistent with St. Olaf’s reputation, but I don’t think we can call it worship. Most of the people are there because they love to sing and are in choir at one of the best schools for choir in the nation, not because they want to bring a gift of worship to the global community. It comes down to intent for me and I know that not everything that is offered is as wholly genuine as it could be.

I also think that Luther’s ideas on music can be congruent with the institution of Fest. Because music is a gift from God, it should be cherished and celebrated, and this action can take many forms. We do sing secular pieces, but it is the music that can also be appreciated and that in and of itself is something that St. Olaf obviously believes in, regardless of the intent of Christmas Fest. Luther believes that music drives away evil, and in the two Fest’s that I’ve been a part of, the theme has been something inspiring world peace. We may not be celebrating God outright in an overly ecclesial context, but the sentiment still stands that we are celebrating the musical gifts we are given (vocation) and contributing to a global effort to create community and stop evil.

To many people, it is confusing why the festival has verses from the Bible, but I think it should be understood that the purpose of Christmas Fest is to share the gift of music with the world, to spread hope in dark times, and in doing so we are praising God and serving him.


Doing a Good Job

The hardest part of research for me has always been finding the question to research. Partially, it’s because there are so many options and you can’t know how much has been written on a subject until you start researching. For my first paper I initially wanted to follow a text through the centuries and see how it has been used in different contexts. It was really hard to narrow down what text to use. I found an Anglican text that turned out to be written in the late 20th century, so that wasn’t very explorable. I ended up using a text that is from Job which is used in Handel’s Messiah. Using a text from the Bible opened up my scope a lot and I was able to find tons of writings on the text in musical as well as non-musical contexts.

One of the best resources I found for my application was The Catalogue of Choral Music Arranged in Biblical Order by James Laster. Once I decided on the passage from Job, I could go to the Job section of the Catalogue and look up choral pieces where it was used. It lists music that paraphrases the text as well so pieces that don’t use the text word for word can be found too. From that section I was able to search databases for the choral pieces to see if there are writings on them. This catalogue was a great jumping off point for narrowing down specific pieces to compare.

I’m glad that I have some experience using our library resources because there is a lot to sort through. I have felt successful narrowing down the results in the databases as well as finding physical resources in the Music Library. You mentioned in your office that you hoped that we go down to the library and find the books in person to see what is next to them and I found one of my best resources that way. I was looking for a book and I found one on the Messiah right next to it. This book broke down each passage and talked about it in specific. It was a great way to see what I have in front of me and how to use resources that might be partially related.

I am excited to keep researching and narrow down my topic more.

Singing is Distinctly Human

Faith means something different to everyone and as such, faith and devotion to faith are shown in different ways. I believe that music is and has been a universal part of worship because of the way it makes the singer feel. In a world where people cannot read nor write, it was used as a tool to help congregants hold on to text and retain the word of the Lord. Singing, specifically, is a uniquely human ability and because the assumption is that humans are the only animals on Earth to have a relationship with God, singing is an expressive way of communication with God.

As we all know, being at St. Olaf, choral participation builds community and there is something special about singing with someone that with talking can’t be found. McKinnon talks about how the gradual was worked into the mass in the early on as a distinctly musical element in the service (11). This was not viewed as a song, but as an actual reading from the Bible, which shows that music and worship developed together. Not only does music bring people together, but it was for a long time something that only the elites could partake in. It would draw people to churches because they would nowhere else be able to find musicians of such a high caliber and thus confusing their intrigue with the music and the sermon. This is conjecture, but I think that it is probable that it was a tactic to get people into the churches and then say, “since you’re here, listen to this Gospel reading.” While there are many reasons that music is used for worship, they all come down to music being a tool that can engage people with religion like nothing else can.