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Class, symposium explore ‘New Approaches to Poetry and Song’

September 28, 2016
photo illustration of famous literary figuresLeft to right: Johannes Brahms, William Shakespeare, Percy Shelley, Franz Schubert, Cole Porter, Thomas Hardy, Maya Angelou.

How do the lyrics of OutKast and Eminem, the words from Rent’s “La Vie Boheme,” and Sofia Gubaidulina’s setting of T.S. Eliot intertwine? Exploring such connections is part of the class, “Poetry, Music, and Song,” taught by Matthew BaileyShea, associate professor of music theory in the Department of Music. Such concerns will also be the focus of the upcoming symposium, “New Approaches to Poetry and Song,” which will take place on October 1 and 2.

In BaileyShea’s class, students share the lyrics from their favorite songs by artists in a variety of genres. The class then studies those examples, uncovering a variety of complexities in the texts: internal and imperfect rhymes, assonance and alliteration, the sonic contrasts between Germanic and Latinate roots. “Poets are very sensitive to word choices, something that is not always true with the average person,” says BaileyShea. “Words sounding different from one another are often just as interesting, if not more interesting, than similarities.” The students in the course listen to songs, much the way that English majors study the sound of words, the patterns of accent, or the balance of rhymes in poetry.

These nuanced relationships between poetic texts and their musical settings will be the topic of the upcoming Humanities Center symposium set to begin Friday, September 30, and run through Sunday, October 2. Organized by BaileyShea, the symposium is an interdisciplinary collaboration on poetry and song that coincides with several courses this semester, including at the Eastman School of Music, the Department of English and the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures. Jonathan Dunsby, professor of music theory at Eastman, will be presenting at the symposium along with many other respected scholars from across the United States. They will gather at the University to examine the sound and rhythm of poetry, the role of space, place and time, and the various shifts in relationships between poetic “speakers” and their audience. The approach is designed to allow for new ideas about text-music interaction.  “The tension between what the text is doing and simply the way that the music is reinforcing what’s happening or contradicting what’s happening – that’s always a source of interest,” says BaileyShea.

The symposium will open on with a song recital presented by Eastman’s Department of Voice and Opera on Friday evening. In addition to performers, there are eight invited speakers: Robert Hatten, professor of the University of Texas at Austin; Harald Krebs, professor of music at the University of Victoria; Susan Youens, professor of music at the University of Notre Dame; Michael Cherlin, professor of music theory and composition at the University of Minnesota; Don Michael Randel, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago; Elissa Guralnick, University of Colorado at Boulder; Yonatan Malin, associate professor of music theory at the University of Colorado at Boulder; and Stephen Rodgers, associate professor at the University of Oregon.

Symposium schedule:

  • Friday, September 30: Opening recital by the Voice and Opera Department at the Eastman School of Music, Hatch Recital Hall at 8 p.m.
  • Symposium from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dewey Hall 2-162
  • Symposium from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Dewey Hall 2-162

The symposium is free and open to the public. For more information, visit

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Category: The Arts