Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sample Classification Paper, Option 1

Students, please find below a draft of a classification paper that follows Option 1, as discussed during class.  As with the earlier sample definition paper, keep in mind that it is a draft and not a finished work.  Note also that the genre, progressive rock, remains unavailable to you, and that, again, my prewriting has come from some thought and classroom examples.

One last note: this example is the bare minimum allowable length for your papers.

Progressive rock is a genre of music typified by songs longer than the usual length for rock, intellectualized lyrics, orchestral instrumentation, and unusual-for-rock rhythmic constructions.  "Stairway to Heaven" is typically considered hard rock, given the association of the band that played it, Led Zeppelin, with that genre.  Even so, the song is actually an example of progressive rock.

The length of the song marks "Stairway to Heaven" as progressive rock.  Most rock, hard or otherwise, operates in songs three to four minutes in length.  "Stairway," as the song is often known, is close to three times as long.  This aligns closely with the lengths of songs defining the progressive rock genre.

Similarly aligned with progressive rock is the intellectual nature of the song's lyrics.  The very title of the song, which is repeated in the lyrics, is an allusion to the dream-vision of the Biblical Jacob.  Another Biblical allusion, if a less-concrete one, is evidenced in the lyric that "There's a sign on the wall," which obliquely references the hand writing on the wall in Daniel.  Both serve to ground the song in the prevailing Western intellectual tradition by calling upon long-standing cultural referents.  So, too, does the reference in the lyrics to paying the piper; the allusion is to the Pied Piper, a fairy-tale figure associated with the Norse god Odin.  The lyrics also invoke contemporary literature; the discussion of longingly looking westward through trees and seeking out a white-light lady evokes images of Galadriel from Tolkien's Middle-earth corpus.  In gathering in as wide a spread of material as it does, "Stairway to Heaven" displays a command of cultural referents which speaks to higher intellectual faculties, thus working as progressive rock.

The instrumentation of the song also brings it alongside progressive rock.  The opening strains of the song famously employ woodwind instruments--recorders--which is entirely atypical of rock music.  Recorders do figure prominently in Renaissance and older musics, however, and those musical styles are often assigned to orchestral ensembles.  That "Stairway" uses recorders, then, means it employs orchestral instrumentation, and so is a piece of progressive rock.

Rhythmically, the song also functions as progressive rock.  "Stairway" breaks easily into distinct sections.  The first is that employing the recorders.  At around the time the lyrics offer "You know it makes me wonder," the rhythmic construction shifts to a more typical-for-rock pattern, moving to strummed guitar chords rather than a recorder-accompanied plucked-string line.  During this section, the tempo of the song slowly increases, until at around the time the singer sings "If there's a bustle in your hedgerow."  At that point, the drummer begins playing in earnest, marking a new section of the song, one more solidly rock in nature; the drums mark out a pattern in four, with continual high-hat punctuated by snare and, less frequently, by bass drum.  Afterwards, the song moves into a driving, hard rock passage that culminates in a return to an echoing, almost empty vocal solo.

The rhythmic changes structure the song as a series of short movements, each with a distinct character, but all unified in the presentation of a single theme and variations upon it.  The movement structure typifies longer orchestral and symphonic works, but is rare in rock, in which there is seldom time to effectively sub-divide a song in such a manner.  As such, "Stairway to Heaven" employs unusual-for-rock rhythmic structures and so, along with the other things it does, presents itself as an example of progressive rock.

That Led Zeppelin's most famous work is an example of progressive rock does not mean that the band as a whole is wrongly-identified as a hard-rock group.  Rather, it serves to highlight the band's ability to participate in multiple musical genres.  This makes of Led Zeppelin a better band.

Works Cited
Holy Bible: King James Version. Thomas Nelson, n.d. Print.
Led Zeppelin. "Stairway to Heaven." BBC Sessions. Atlantic, 1997. CD.

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