Blogging Musically

For centuries, writers have experimented with forms that evoke the imperfection of thought, the inconstancy of human affairs, and the chastening passage of time. But as blogging evolves as a literary form, it is generating a new and quintessentially postmodern idiom that’s enabling writers to express themselves in ways that have never been seen or understood before. Its truths are provisional, and its ethos collective and messy. Yet the interaction it enables between writer and reader is unprecedented, visceral, and sometimes brutal. And make no mistake: it heralds a golden era for journalism. – Andrew Sullivan, preface to “Why I Blog”

And a golden era for musicology too, we hope.

Blogging might not be the most natural process for the typical scholar or grad student. In formal academic writing, we are held to a high degree of rigor, organization, and factual accuracy. But blogging is a bit different. As Andrew Sullivan says, “truths are provisional” in the ephemeral realm of the blogosphere. It is less about formal elegance and perfectly articulated thoughts than it is about the messy process of thinking. Moreover, it’s a venue for the collective action of working out ideas, probing, thinking aloud, and engaging in discussion. This improvisatory element to blogging might be intimidating for the scholar and student, steeped as they are in formalism and the need to back up everything they assert with a reference. The challenge to music blogging for the scholar-student, therefore, is in letting go.

We want to welcome all forms of writing on this blog, fully-formed ideas included. But one should also feel free to contribute without fear of accusations of shoddy scholarship; one should feel enabled and encouraged to plop amoebic ideas down without worrying about loose ends. This is the greatest gift of the blog format: it’s ok to be imperfect. Writing in this format is an attempt to capture thoughts in motion. One can always pin them down later.

This sort of writing can only be a good thing for a scholar-student, and a good thing for the discipline. If traditional scholarship is the equivalent of a flawless performance of the Haydn Trumpet Concerto, then blogging is like getting onstage with a rhythm section and improvising a solo on “Bye Bye Blackbird,” complete with occasional wrong notes and mental misfires. It’s the verbal version of a jam session.

We hope that The Taruskin Challenge provides an open, exploratory, nurturing, and fun venue for music-geekery in all its forms. In the spirit of this geekery, I close with a particularly felicitous metaphor from Sullivan’s piece:

There are times when a blogger feels less like a writer than an online disc jockey, mixing samples of tunes and generating new melodies through mashups while also making his own music. He is both artist and producer—and the beat always goes on.


  1. Mark Samples says:

    Great thoughts Zach. And thanks for introducing me to Andrew Sullivan.

    You are steering us away from thinking of this blog as an online journal, which I think is spot on. Maybe we should think of it more like an online seminar. One of the most beneficial aspects of the seminars I’ve taken at the UO is the ability to take my research in unfinished form to the rest of the group, and get their feedback, questions, and criticisms. I always come out of the session with sharpened ideas, and a clearer understanding of the next steps in the research.

    The discussion on the blog has already had the same effect.

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