Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sample Longer Paper

Students, below appears an example of how to expand your own shorter papers into the six- to eight-page longer paper that the course requires.  In this example, which is the bare minimum allowable length for your own papers, I work from my earlier comparison/contrast paper.  The material that I bring straight over from it appears in white.  The added counter-argument appears in red.  The rebuttal is in green.  New material supporting my thesis is in blue.  Sources for each are in the Works Cited according to the color of what they support (the source for the counter-argument is red, for example).

Please note that in your own papers, you are not to color-code; I do so in the example as a teaching device, showing you how the parts fit together.

Progressive rock is a genre of music typified by songs significantly longer than the usual length for rock, intellectualized lyrics, orchestra- or older-style 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.

The superiority of "The Pinnacle" as an example of progressive rock depends largely upon the definition of the genre, and there is not necessarily agreement on that point.  For example, Allan F. Moore, while writing for Grove Music Online, notes that progressive rock is a largely British thing, one "predicated on an achieved maturity of UK rock, divorced from American precursors."  Under such a definition, the works of neither Kansas nor Boston can qualify as progressive rock, as both bands are wholly American in composition.  Additionally, the initial releases of their respective "The Pinnacle" and "Foreplay / Long Time" are in 1975 and 1976, well after the 1967 beginning of the genre Moore cites.  He additionally remarks that progressive rock was an attempt to legitimize rock, and by the time Kansas and Boston are playing, rock is as legitimate as it is going to be; accordingly, neither can be in search of legitimization, and cumulatively, neither can be progressive rock as defined by Moore.

It is not necessarily the case, however, that such restrictive definitions as Moore's are correct.  Moore's own examples of the UK-centric nature of the genre, such as Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" and King Crimson's "21st-Century Schizoid Man," partake in the very American influences Moore derides.  Susan Fast, also writing for Grove Music Online, notes the heavy influence of blues, an American musical genre, on Led Zeppelin.  Also, by Moore's own admission, King Crimson employs jazz technique, and jazz is often called the only truly American art form.  Moore's definition, then, falters in its particulars, even as its socially-exclusionary aspects seem to work against it in a more general sense; strident nationalism evokes closed-mindedness, which is hardly conducive to scholarship.  A more open definition is called for, one which does not suffer from ethno-centric tendencies that the very music being classified as progressive rock seems to deny, as Fast notes of Led Zeppelin and as is evidenced in a number of other artists' songs in the genre.  A more open definition, one more concerned with structural features and less prone to the generic fallacy, thus more authentic and appropriate, appears above.

As that definition notes, progressive rock largely relies on songs that play for significantly 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 exhibits 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, 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-style storytelling, which reflects concerns of large-scale importance.  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 that complicates scansion and suggests, with the subtlety associated with fine poetry, unease, rather than openly stating it; the complications of the matter being discussed are hinted at rather than thrust into the audience's perception.  Thus, even though the lyrical content itself is simple, largely discussing the departure of a person from another, as after an evening's assignation, 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 and closely correspond to the traditionally-highest poetic form: the epic.  Metrically, the lines open in iambic hexameter (six instances of a stressed syllable following an unstressed), which is an uncommon line-length in English prosody; far more common are the lines of iambic pentameter familiar from Shakespeare.  Occasionally, one or two lines of an even more unusual heptameter 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.  The metrical structure is unusual, typically found only in the most demanding reading--and that reading is almost invariably associated with higher intellectual pursuits.

In terms of rhyme, the lyrics of "The Pinnacle" 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, reinforces the punctuation of the lyrics.  The unusual rhyming construction, because more difficult to put together, is taken as being a hallmark of "higher" levels of poetic form than simple couplets, which are all too often associated with doggerel verses and therefore not uncommonly held in disdain.  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, which is a firm link to the prevailing Western intellectual tradition; reference to the Bible is a commonplace of the major works of the Western canon.  In addition, the subject matter of the song is a conqueror expressing regret over the degeneration of a group of people and of (presumably) his own actions.  Accordingly, the material of the song focuses on the actions of a single person which are then made significant to the group as a whole; that kind of material is a necessary feature--indeed, one of the defining features--of the epic.  Epic poetry is often regarded as the highest literary art form in the Western world, so that when "The Pinnacle" invokes epic tropes, it alludes to the major examples of Western word-art.  In making those references, as well as in utilizing complicated metrical and rhyme structures, "The Pinnacle" fits the requirements of progressive rock.  As it does, it exceeds Boston's song's demonstration of the same features, and 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 the 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," with the violin entering with the first note of the song and playing continuously for the first thirty seconds before engaging in trade-offs with other instruments and, eventually, taking a somewhat rubato melodic line in the long opening instrumental passage.  The violin also provides a shimmering ornament to the vocal lines frequently in the song, as well as popping up with the melodic line during other instrumental passages.  The manifestation of orchestral instrumentation in Kansas is therefore beyond doubt.  Also, a number of rock bands employ piano and organs of various types, so that Boston's use of it is hardly exceptional for "regular" rock.  Even accepting the validity of organ as a solidly orchestral instrument, however, highlights the superiority of "The Pinnacle" as a piece of progressive rock; Kansas uses a variety of organs to Boston's one or two, in addition to piano, thereby exceeding Boston's entry into more Classical-style instrumentation in that regard.  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" has that fundamental pattern of four.  It overlays that fundamental beat with triplet patterns in an oscillating rhythm that occludes the four-beat pattern, complicating it more than is easily done in the pair-patterns typical of rock music.  Also, the song divides neatly into two movements bridged by an arrhythmic organ passage.  The first is an extended, multilayered instrumental passage, one which iterates an initial theme and the proceeds to offer variations upon it, a maneuver unusual for mainstream but well within the parameters of progressive rock.  The second movement is fairly standard rock, but even so, since it is led into by a soft organ interlude reminiscent of the rubato indulged by Classical soloists from an overture-like passage (indeed, "Foreplay" can be read as a pun on "prelude," which, in such forms as opera, is often an overture), it serves to provide a contrast to the more unusual constructions which precede it, according them importance and thereby increasing the degree to which they are marked.  This, in turn, increases the degree to which Boston's "Foreplay / Long Time" is marked as a piece of progressive rock.

Kansas's song also employs triplets extensively.  Throughout the song, there are triplets in the rhythm section juxtaposed over beats three and four in the vocal and melodic lines.  Also, the violin often adds triplet flourishes to the melodic and ornamental lines it carries in snippets throughout the song.  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.  The many changes in fundamental measure structure serve to complicate the rhythmical content of the song in a way rarely paralleled even in the most complex progressive rock; it is difficult to find music in any genre that plays with beat-pattern quite so freely as does "The Pinnacle," making its rhythmic construction extraordinarily unusual.

Even when the song is in four, lyrical lines do not necessarily begin, as is common for rock, on the first beat or as a pick-up into that first beat.  A number begin on beat three, such as the lines "The answer is that sweet refrain / Unheard, it always will remain / Beyond our reach, beyond our gain," and "Trapped in life's parade."  The following line, "A king without a crown," actually begins on a pick-up to beat three, which staggers the 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 the principal sung sections, with rhythmic changes not unlike those in the beginning section, and a symphonic finale (with a marked diminution of volume in the long-held final chord, which proceeds to crescendo in a stereotypically symphonic fashion) 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 than "Foreplay / Long Time," 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 both reward repeated listening.

Works Cited
Boston. "Foreplay / Long Time." Boston. Epic, 2006. CD.
Fast, Susan. "Led Zeppelin." Grove Music Online. N. pag. Oxford Music Online. Web. 20 March 2011.
Kansas. "The Pinnacle." Masque. Epic, 2001. CD.
Moore, Allan F. "Progressive Rock." Grove Music Online. N.pag. Oxford Music Online. Web. 20 March 2011.

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