Cue the Music: Musical Rhetorics

By March 8, 2011Writing about Writing

Its that time of year.  Digication portfolios are due.

If you’re like me, you’re concerned with trying to give your portfolio a little pizazz. (Because presentation is important!)

In the article, “Musical Rhetoric in Integrated-Media Composition,” Bump Halbritter discusses the benefits of adding music into composition to achieve “legitimate rhetorical ends” (Halbritter 318).  Halbritter uses this example of The Big Chill:

For those that aren’t familiar with the movie. The movie begins with the suicide of a man named Alex who was a close friend of all the people you see in the film.  The funeral brings the group together (and serves as the inciting incident for the film).  There are two failed eulogies at the beginning: the pastor’s (who doesn’t know Alex at all) and his friend Harold (who knows Alex all to well and begins to cry).  Thus, we are left with The Rolling Stones to convey the messages that couldn’t be said and, as Halbritter argues, serves as the thesis for the film.

The song, then, functions as a “symbolic screen” which gives gives us a lens through which we can view the film (Halbritter 321). Halbritter says, “we can also think of the song itself as a symbolic object: It represents information not present in the lyrics or music. Many collections of words or symbols may have gestalt symbols: For instance, “The Star Spangled Banner” conveys symbolic references beyond the sum of its parts” (Halbritter 321-322).  I think Halbritter is right on here.  It seems today that almost anything can be alluded to and have some sort of symbol; music is no exception.

Sure, this article isn’t necessarily geared towards Digication or Online Portfolios, but I think it holds interesting implications for us.

Consider this Trailer for Titanic:

The music here clearly enhances the writers “thesis” of the piece.  All clip-manipulation aside, one could argue the overall tone is conveyed via the music. (it is certainly different from the music used in the actual film and I think it is the recognition of a manipulated cultural symbol (whether you liked the movie or not) that gives this piece its most crucial element…humor.)

So what if we integrated music into our portfolios?  Would it work?  Were you to open a Portfolio and suddenly Meat Loaf starts playing, what would you assume about the writer?  What if it was Marilyn Manson? Or Backstreet Boys?  I think each of these conveys a very specific set of information about the writer and sets the tone for what the writer wants the audience to get out of her/his writing.

There are problems with this, of course (as there always is) in that one could risk alienating readers because they either are offended/unaware/or severely dislike the music chosen.  However, is it worth the risk if the outcome is that the message of the piece is clearer and/or more personal?

What do you think? Would you integrate music into your composition if you could?

Works Cited:

Halbritter, Bump. “Musical Rhetoric in Integrated-Media Composition.” Computers and Composition Vol. 23 (2006). 317-334.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Joe O. says:

    You pose an interesting question, Ben, regarding what sort of music might “enhance” the reader/viewer’s experience of an online portfolio. Reflecting on what I might include in my own portfolio I’m working on as a part of my work here at the UCWbL, I’d probably choose New Orleans jazz (either the earlier or later varieties). This sort of music reflects my personal identity as a Louisiananian-in-exile. Even though I am far away from my home state,every time I hear those sweet sounds of New Orleans jazz, I’m taken back to the humid streets of the Faubourg Marigny, my favorite neighborhood in New Orleans.

    Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?