Thursday, July 24, 2008

"She began with a Bach prelude and fugue. The prelude was as gaily iridescent as a prism in a morning room. The first voice of the fugue, an announcement pure and solitary, was repeated intermingling with a second voice, and again repeated within an elaborated frame, the multiple music, horizontal and serene, flowed with unhurried majesty. The principal melody was woven with two other voices, embellished with countless ingenuities -- now dominant, again submerged, it had the sublimity of a single thing that does not fear surrender to the whole. Toward the end, the density of the material gathered for the last enriched insistence on the dominant first motif and with a chorded final statement the fugue ended. Ferris rested his head on the chair back and closed his eyes. In the following silence a clear, high voice came from the room down the hall."
-- from "The Sojourner", by Carson McCullers

The above quote from a poignant story I read this morning got me thinking, oddly enough, about teaching writing. As the main character described the piano piece his friend was playing, it reminded me of what I try to encourage in my students' paragraphs and essays. Like the Bach fugue, the students must begin their writing with the statement of a thesis, which is like the "first voice of the fugue, an announcement pure and solitary." They must then proceed to "embellish[]" the thesis "with countless ingenuities", and the end of the paragraph or essay is saved "for the last enriched insistence on the dominant first motif", when the reader is reminded of the original thesis. It's a perfect description of the fugue, in addition to being a very apt portrayal of a good high school paper.

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