I'm noticing that my first midterm has gone by without my having mentioned which courses I'm taking. I can't claim to have no idea how this happened; I have a very good idea how it happened, and I'm going to write about it. But first, this.

They're the same courses as last semester, with math replaced by University Writing. Why? Because the next math course in sequence isn't offered in the spring, and the freshman writing course is mandatory. I thought about taking some unrelated math, for kicks, but my advisor sagely advisored against too eagerly bloating my courseload with credit-hours. Instead I added a one-credit pass/fail Strength Training class to protect against physical bloating.

I've still not managed to crack the piano-lesson starting lineup, which would be disappointing except that this is an otherwise stellar semester for music. For comparison, a normal Ear Training class has a dozen or so students, a normal music theory class twenty. My section of Ear Training IV, due to a scheduling snafu, has four students; my section of Diatonic Harmony/Counterpoint, based on the popular vote in the professor popularity election — there are two other sections offered at the same time — has all of three.

One might wonder why the vote broke down this way. As did I. As far as I can tell, it's because the former are reputed to be light graders, which suits the typical instrumentalist studying theory only as a requirement for the major, nothing more. My motives differ: I'm studying music theory because I want to write music. I don't want it to sound tawdry or flimsy or hackneyed; I want it to sound taut, intelligent, evocative. I don't want it to disintegrate on repeated listening; I want it to reveal depth. So I particularly don't want easy A's on composition assignments. I want a professor who knows his stuff and demands that I know mine.

Well, I've not only got one, I've got one nearly to myself. In class a few weeks ago, we were reviewing possible solutions to a homework assignment. Of my classmates, one wasn't feeling well that day, and the other rarely speaks. So I took advantage of my effectively private lesson and asked question after question: What are the ripple effects of changing the voice leading here? What happens if we try harmonizing the given melody here with a II chord of some sort instead of a V? He would erase the old notes and write in new ones, asking for suggestions as he went. Back and forth, back and forth, until we had exhausted the important and reasonable possibilities. Words cannot express how amazingly amazing this was. Most class sessions are only marginally less so. We're always surprised when it's already time to leave.

Ear Training's small class size is paying similar (though less profound) dividends. Not only have we been getting proportionally more individual practice, but also we've had some success bending in-class activities to our needs. For instance, since I have difficulty identifying the tenor and alto in four-part harmony, I requested one afternoon that we just hear a bunch of chords and practice identifying the inner voices. So we did. And it helped on the midterm, wherein I correctly heard the inner voices on two tricky chords before she went back and arpeggiated them.

All the personal musical attention is measurably (ha!) paying off for Diatonic, too. I was solving a “harmonize the following melody” exercise, in a minimally correct but uninspired fashion, when I thought of a colorful way to connect the inner voices in one particular spot. It changed the harmonic rhythm of that measure to a rather more inspiring one, and I found myself giddily unable to stop altering the rest of my solution to match.

Interactive multimedia presentation!

In my opinion, the result sounds very much in the style of a particular composer. I'm curious to hear your opinion. Please take a listen to the exercise and my solution. Then follow the link below to add a comment to this entry.