Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sample Comparison/Contrast Paper

Students, please find below a sample comparison/contrast paper, of the kind discussed in 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.
Regarding length, this essay is at the high end of what is expected for class.

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.  Both Boston's "Foreplay / Long Time" and Kansas's "The Pinnacle" fall firmly under the heading of progressive rock.  Of the two, though, "The Pinnacle" is the better example of the genre.

Progressive rock largely relies on songs that play for longer than is typical of rock music.  Most rock songs play for three to four minutes.  Boston's "Foreplay / Long Time" runs for just less than eight minutes, or twice the length of the common rock song; it clearly fits the length expected of progressive rock.  Kansas's "The Pinnacle," however, runs for just shy of ten minutes, close to three times as long as a more mainstream rock song.  As such, its length is well in excess of Boston's song, and so it more fully fits the expected length of progressive rock.

Intellectualized lyrics typify the genre.  That is to say that the lyrics of progressive rock songs exhibit some of the features traditionally associated with "high art," such as references to literary canons and historical events, complicated poetic forms, and epic storytelling.  Boston's lyrics open with a simple stanza of ababcdcd rhyme, but the chorus moves to a convoluted abcbadd pattern, and the song takes on an even more complicated rhyme scheme in later verses.  Additionally, the metrical line-length shifts from an unusual trimeter to a common tetrameter and thence into an oscillating, irregular pattern.  Thus, even though the lyrical content itself is simple, it is couched in a complicated metrical and rhyme structure that partakes of the most critically analyzed verse, thus demonstrating the intellectualism of its lyrics.

Kansas's lyrics, however, display greater variety of metrical construction and rhyme.  In addition, they make explicit reference to the prevailing canon of Western literary tradition.  Metrically, the lines open in iambic hexameter, which is an uncommon line-length in English prosody.  Occasionally, one or two lines of septameter are inserted, such as when the singer snarls "Lying at my feet I see the offering you bring / The Mark of Cain is on our faces, borne of suffering," and a similar structure of a tetrameter line followed by a trimeter is used to punctuate the lyrics.  In terms of rhyme, the lyrics open with couplets, though after a pair of couplets, the lyrics shift to displaying a pair of lines which do not rhyme together but do rhyme internally, a complicated structure that, since the internal rhymes accompany the tetrameter/trimeter construction reinforce the punctuation of the lyrics.  Also, the aforementioned "Mark of Cain" referenced in the lyrics is an explicit reference to the book of Genesis and the consequences of the second human sin.  In making that reference, as well as in utilizing complicated metrical and rhyme structures, "The Pinnacle" fits the requirements of progressive rock; in exhibiting a greater degree of intellectualism than "Foreplay / Long Time," Kansas's song marks itself as a more prominent example of progressive rock.

The genre is also noted for its use of orchestra-style instrumentation.  Boston, in "Foreplay / Long Time," largely relies upon the traditional rock trifecta of guitar, bass, and drums, but it does utilize organ, as well as what sounds like a low-end piano line, extensively; the former is particularly notable in the soft, gentle transition from he first section of the song to the second.  As such, the piece does qualify as progressive rock in its instrumentation, though it cannot do so to the extent that Kansas does.  Violin is integral to the sound of Kansas's "The Pinnacle," so that the manifestation of orchestral instrumentation in Kansas is beyond doubt.  Also, a number of rock bands employ organs of various types, so that Boston's use of it is hardly exceptional; Kansas, for instance, uses a variety of organs.  That it adds violin, and thus another orchestra-style instrument, means that it uses more of the orchestra than does Boston, and so its song is a better example of progressive rock in that respect.

Progressive rock is marked by its use of unusual rhythmic constructions.  Rock, and much other Western music, relies on a four-beat rhythm that divides in pairs.  Boston's "Foreplay / Long Time" does have a fundamental pattern of four, but overlays that fundamental beat with triplet patterns in an oscillating rhythm that occludes the four-beat pattern.  Also, the song divides neatly into two movements bridged by an arrhythmic organ passage, a maneuver unusual for mainstream but well within the parameters of progressive rock.

Kansas's song also employs triplets extensively.  In addition, as with many of Kansas's songs, the fundamental rhythm changes repeatedly in the introductory instrumental passage of the song, beginning in four and diving through a number of far less common meters such as seven, before settling into four for the ease of the singers.  Even then, though, lyrical lines do not begin, as is common, on the first beat or as a pick-up into that first beat; a number begin on beat three, which staggers sung lines over the played, creating an intriguingly confused rhythmic effect far different from the usual easily-danced patterns of rock.  An instrumental interlude separates sung sections, with rhythmic changes not unlike those in the beginning section, and a symphonic finale ends the piece, forming a coda entirely uncommon to most rock but which pervades progressive rock.  Even though the song does not divide into movements like Boston's, "The Pinnacle" does display greater rhythmic complexity, and so more fully exemplifies that part of the definition of progressive rock.

Kansas's "The Pinnacle," then, is a better example of progressive rock than Boston's "Foreplay / Long Time."  As a more esoteric piece, it is one preferable for the usual audience of progressive rock; conversely, Boston's piece is more useful as a means to introduce new listeners to the genre.  Both are well worth time and attention, and reward repeated listenings.

Works Cited
Boston. "Foreplay / Long Time." Boston. Epic, 2006. CD.
Kansas. "The Pinnacle." Masque. Epic, 2001. CD.

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