Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Joseph M. Moxley


aesthetics, composition, creativity, music, sound


This project is a study of musical rhetoric and music composition processes. It asks the questions, "How does the nature of music as sound-in-time affect its rhetorical functions, production, and delivery?" and "How do composers approach the task of communicating with audiences through instrumental music?" I answer these questions by turning to the history of musical rhetoric as practiced in the field of musicology and by interviewing composers themselves about their composition practices--approaches that are both underused in the rhetoric and composition community.

I frame my research participants' responses with a discussion of the different degrees to which composers try to control the eventual meaning made from their compositions and the different ways that they try to identify with their audiences. While some composers express a desire to control audiences' emotions and experiences through the use of forms and careful predictions about an audience's reactions to certain genres and influences, other composers express a comfort with audiences composing their own meanings from musical sounds, perhaps eschewing or transforming traditional forms and traditional performance practices. Throughout, I argue for the importance of considering all of these perspectives in the context of actually hearing music, as opposed to taming and solidifying it into a score on a page.

These composers' insights suggest the importance of understanding musical rhetoric as an act based in sound and time that guides meaning but can never control it. They also suggest new ways of teaching English composition courses that are inspired by the experiences and practices of music composition students. Specifically, I argue that English composition courses should better rely on the self-sponsored literacies that students bring to classrooms, stretch the ways these courses approach traditional rules of composing, and approach digital tools, collaboration, and delivery in ways that mirror the experiences of music students.