Last week in Sydney Boyd’s ENGL 397 “Capturing Music: A Cultural Writing Clinic,” Alex Ross, the music critic for The New Yorker delved into literature, Wagnerism, and artistic expression with students for 75 minutes. A Humanities Research Center Public Humanities Initiative course, the class has investigated classical music, writing, and culture in Houston through excursions across the city and conversations with speakers who write about music professionally. Outside of the classroom, students have journeyed through five concerts over the semester from a Hindustani vocal recital to Houston Grand Opera’s La Traviata. These concerts have been complemented in the classroom, where students pondered the complexity and responsibility that comes with writing about these experiences with visits from Sixto Wagan, the Director for the Center for Art and Social Engagement at the University of Houston; Theodore Bale, the Assistant Director of Public Programs at the Menil Collection; Yvonne Chen, pianist and co-founder of new music ensemble Loop38; as well as Rice professors Joseph Campana and Gregory Barnett.
The class culminated with this visit from Mr. Ross, who writes about classical music, pop music, literature, twentieth-century history, Wagnerism, and, most recently, Willa Cather. His first book, The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, won the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Guardian First Book Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
In the last concert of the semester, students will attend a program of early music, Ars Lyrica’s “Italian Sirens,” with an ear to capturing the experience in a 400-word creative writing competition. A panel of six judges (comprised of Ars Lyrica staff, the artistic director, and board members) will select a winner, and Ars Lyrica will feature the winning piece and a short note about the winning author in their weekly email newsletter and on their website.