Gems -


A WannaLearn.Com Selected Instructional Site

This resource is listed with the Classical Music Division of the World Wide Web Virtual Library.

 Dramatic Shape;Parallel Fifths and Octaves;Shortcuts for Undergraduate Theory Homework;Hints for Composers of Canon and Fugue;Serial Materials 
Portable Document Format  version. 

In the summer of 1992, the newsgroup was proposed by Joshua Barinstein, as a forum for the discussion of all kinds of musical composition. The discussion regarding its creation centered on the issues: were the communication needs of composers being served by newsgroups devoted to musical performance or synthesizers, and could these needs be met by these groups without the overhead of a new newsgroup. Several people argued convincingly that mixing apples with oranges would force many participating computers to perform the redundant job of sorting composition articles from the others, and so the overhead of using existing newsgroups would be substantial. But the more obvious concern was that composers would not use newsgroups not devoted to composition. I participated in that discussion as an advocate of the group. 

In July 1992, a vote was taken, in which the idea received overwhelming support, and in August 1992, came into being. After a rocky start in which the participants worked to distinguish the group from existing grouops, some heavy discussion of the complex relationship between compositional craft and intuition emerged. In that climate, I posted a short message offering to write a series of educational articles regarding bits of compositional wisdom that had been passed on to me over the years, with the following proposed contents: 

Drama and Climax 
About Parallel Fifths 
Shortcuts for Theory Homework 
Strategies for Canon and Fugue 
About Serial Materials 

In the discussion that followed, the phrase "gems of wisdom" became a sort of leitmotif, so the idea hatched in my mind to use the word GEMS as the title of the article series, as a way of saying "these are the articles that I promised.": A variety of people wrote news articles or sent me electronic mail strongly encouraging me to write and post the series. 

The readership of the group ranged from musically-illiterate novices to top-notch musical scholars, making every kind of music under the sun, from pop songs to serial music to musical happenings and so forth. For me, this posed some challenges, because, while my articles had to be clear and readable to a variety of novices, the slightest misrepresentation or oversimplification could lead to a flurry of corrective and explanatory articles, at great expense to the computer network. On top of this, I wanted to make sure that my articles would be of interest specifically to composers, but at the same time, be appealing to a wide variety of composers. My prose style had to be at once rather precise and quite informal, in keeping with the informal nature of computer network news. 

In writing these articles, I am indebted to the many teachers who have prodded me towards quality work, especially Richard Hoffmann of Oberlin College, Ross Bauer, Alfred Lerdahl, and Leslie Bassett of the University of Michigan. 

© 1992 Matthew Fields<>



Edited for the World-Wide Web by SandyNicholson

September 1994 / March 1995

Collateral promotion: Alan Belkin's  Practical Guide to Composition is also not to be missed! Please visit it! 

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