Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sample Classification Paper, Option 2

Students, please find below a draft of a classification paper that follows Option 2, 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.

As with the Option 1 example, this paper is the bare minimum allowable length for your assignment.

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.  Kansas is recognized as one of the major bands to work in the genre, and so the band's "Point of Know Return" is often thought of as belonging to the genre.  Such a thought is incorrect.

"Point of Know Return" is not long enough a song to truly qualify as progressive rock.  Most progressive rock songs run between six and ten minutes.  "Point of Know Return" is just over three minutes in length, solidly within the range of most rock music but far, far short of that common for progressive rock.

Intellectually, the song also falls short of the mark established by progressive rock.  Most of the lines in the lyrics function as tetrameter, generally iambic.  Iambic tetrameter is traditionally employed in light verse or in works of ridicule.  In neither case is it closely associated with higher intellectual faculties; rather the opposite is true, as evidenced by the traditional "Thirty days hath September."  Additionally, the lyrics contain a persistent usage error.  The dominant American English of the time the song was released calls for the use of "who" or "whom" when referencing a person of uncertain identity.  The lyrics repeatedly ask "Was it you that said" [emphasis mine], using the pronoun appropriate for an inanimate object or non-human animal rather than that fitting for human application.  That it does so not just once but thrice marks the mistake as more than simply an incidental error, representing a distinctly anti-intellectual attitude far removed from that for which progressive rock calls.

Only in instrumentation does "Point of Know Return" meaningfully approach progressive rock.  As with many of Kansas' songs, the sibilant strains of a violin playing are presented in the song.  The violin is also featured in a brief solo between the second and third verses.  It also sings forth in arpeggiated flourishes surrounding the repeated refrain "How long to the point of know return?"  In those flourishes, though, the violin is accompanied by and blends fluidly with electric organ, an instrument not seldom employed in the rock music of the 1970s.  Thus, even in presenting an orchestral instrument, the song integrates it with mainstream rock, frustrating the identification of "Point of Know Return" as progressive rock.

The rhythmic construction of the song also inhibits the classification of "Point of Know Return" as progressive rock.  Typically, progressive rock songs will shift meter, with the shifts occurring frequently and among unusual time signatures.  Measures in five, seven, and eleven are not uncommon.  While it is true that "Point of Know Return" shifts meter, it only does so between the common-to-rock four and the not uncommon three.  Additionally, the shits occur only in predictable places at the end of the second and fourth lines of verses 1, 2, and 4--the third verse serves as a sort of refrain, which is hardly unusual of rock music.  Even during the violin solo, during which time shifts in time signature would be easily negotiated, the meter remains in four.  As such, "Point of Know Return" is remarkably consistent to the common-to-rock four-beat measure, and so scarcely meets the rhythmic qualifications to be progressive rock.

To call "Point of Know Return" progressive rock is to misidentify it entirely.  This is not to say that Kansas is a bad band.  There is nothing wrong with the song itself, and Kansas has released many fine works.  Instead, the problem is with the way in which "Point of Know Return" is classified.  Because Kansas has done so much progressive rock so very well, almost every song the band has released is regarded as being progressive rock.  This fosters (and possibly results from) paying insufficient attention to each song individually, which precludes judging each on its individual merits.  As such, it is lazy listening, and, like all laziness, is to be avoided.

Work Cited
Kansas. "Point of Know Return." Point of Know Return. Epic, 2002. CD.

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