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Music Dissertation Topics

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Example music dissertation topic 1:

The politics of brass bands.

The colliery bands of the Yorkshire and Durham coalfields remain long after the collieries themselves have closed. Further, the ageing population base of many bands such as that of Norham (England's most northerly brass band) has prompted calls, within the fraternity, for young bands to be given greater scope to perform within the major national competitions. Moreover, there have been appeals for the development of youth bands with funding and experience being provided from longer-standing musicians. Using both qualitative and quantitative analysis, this dissertation seeks not only to evaluate the difficulties associated with age (from the point of view of the longer-term survival of the bands) but also asks how such bands can reinvent themselves musically so that their performances appeal more to the mainstream wants of today's younger generation.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Herbert, T. (2000). The British brass band: A musical and social history. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Mellor, M. and Stephenson, C. (2005). 'The Durham Miners' Gala and the spirit of community', Community Development Journal, Vol. 40(3), pp. 343-351.
  • Sloboda, J. (2001). 'Emotion, functionality and the everyday experience of music: Where does music education fit?', Music Education Research, Vol. 3(2), pp. 243-253.

Example music dissertation topic 2:

More porn than pop - the declining position of music within popular music.

Though seemingly oxymoronic, this dissertation draws attention to the interplay between music and image within the present charts. In so doing it suggests that the marketing and portraying of artistes through pop videos has resulted in skills of dance, eroticism and visual beauty being valued more highly than the music itself. In discussing this opinion, the dissertation looks at the music and visual portrayal of four distinct groups and artistes since the 1970s: Rihanna, Queen, Britney Spears, and Sam and the Womp. Finally, it determines whether visual style is destined to become ever more important that musical substance.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Aufderheide, P. (1986). 'Music videos: The look of the sound', Journal of Communication, Vol. 36, pp. 57-78.
  • Sajmon, F. (2007). 'Can music progress? Reflections on the history of popular music', Muzikologija, Vol. 7, pp. 247-257.
  • Sherman, B.L. and Dominick, J.K. (1986). Violence and sex in music videos: TV and rock'n'roll', Journal of Communication, Vol. 36, pp. 79-93.

Example music dissertation topic 3:

Gilbert and Sullivan: A lost repertoire for the amateur dramatic enthusiast?

Using the copyright licence records of Weinberger as an analytical starting point, this study firstly maps the declining fortunes of Gilbert and Sullivan light operettas from the 1970s to 2000 and further comments upon the shows that have replaced them. Thereafter, using quantitative analysis through semi-structured interviews, this dissertation seeks to establish reasons for the decline in their popularity. This is done through interviewing the directors, players and audiences who attended the performances of three amateur dramatic groups over the last five years in the Greater Nottingham area focusing particularly on the amateur dramatic clubs associated with Beeston, Arnold, and Gedling.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Heilbrum, J. (2001). 'Empirical evidence of a decline in repertory diversity among American opera companies 1991/92 to 1997/98', Journal of Cultural Economics, Vol. 25(1), pp. 63-72.
  • Lowerson, J. (2005). Amateur operatics: A social and cultural history. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  • Traubner, R. (2003). Operetta: A theatrical history. New York: Routledge.

Example music dissertation topic 4:

The Classic BRIT Awards (formerly the Classical BRIT Awards: A betrayal of classical music.

This dissertation compares the artists favoured by the Classic BRIT Awards with those who are frequently played on both Classic FM and Radio Three in the UK. Through so doing it seeks to further the hypothesis that the Classic BRIT Awards, and other such events, present little more than a popularised version of classical music. In so doing it suggests that such events betray the talent and skills of more traditional performers, as well as new performers and composers, and belittle the genre. Accordingly, it compares and contrasts the operatic careers of Classic BRIT Awards 'greats' such as Katherine Jenkins and Russell Watson with Dame Kiri te Kanawa and Luciano Pavarotti.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Kubacki, K. and Croft, R. (2005). 'Paying the piper: A study of musicians and the music business', International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing, Vol. 10, pp. 225-237.
  • Rhodes, J. (2012). 'At last: The Classic BRIT Awards exposed as a sickening crime against classical music', The Daily Telegraph, 8th October, 2012.
  • Wilson, A. (2007). 'Killing time: Contemporary representations of opera in British culture', Cambridge Opera Journal, Vol. 19(3), pp. 249-270.

Example music dissertation topic 5:

Eroticism and Wagner: A rejoinder.

This thesis explores the hypothesis that a full understanding of Wagner's music can only be accomplished through an acknowledgment of the use of erotic discourse and the importance of sexuality within his work. The erotic experience of music should therefore be viewed as one of his greatest legacies. Drawing on work such as that by Hanns Fuchs who suggested that Wagner was a homosexual in spirit (if not in body), this study not only analyses the work of Wagner but also contextualises his work to his personal relationships. In so doing it gives particular mention of the influence that Schopenhauer had upon him.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Chafe, E. (2005). The tragic and the ecstatic: The musical revolution of Wagner's Tristan and Isolde. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Magee, B. (1997). The philosophy of Schopenhauer. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Morris, M. (2006). 'Homosexuality and the manly absolute: Hanns Fuchs on Richard Wagner', The Opera Quarterly, Vol. 22(2), pp. 328-333.

Example music dissertation topic 6:

Public space, sociability and the role of musicians and street performers in the city.

Having undertaken ethnographic observations in Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stoke-on-Trent, this dissertation analyses the nature of relationships that emerge between performer and listener/observer through street performances in urban spaces. Street bands and flash mob dancing has helped to transfer urban spaces into theatre places, in which ordinary members of the public may become engaged through observing or participating in such rituals. Using the work of Mackenzie 1998 as a starting point, namely that performance is ;a mode of embodies activity that transgresses, resists and challenges social structures'm this is a thesis that breaks bew ground

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Mackenzie, J. (1998). 'Genre trouble: (The) Butler did it'. In, Phelan, P. and Lane, J., The ends of performance. New York: New York University Press, pp. 217-235.
  • Bywater, M. (2007). 'Performing spaces: Street music and public territory', Twentieth Century Music, Vol. 3(1), pp. 97-120.
  • Gaye, L., Mazé, R. and Holmquist, L.E. (2003). 'Sonic city: The urban environment as a musical interface', New Interfaces for Musical Expression, Proceedings of the 2003 Conference, May 22-24, Montreal, Canada.

Example music dissertation topic 7:

Bond at fifty.

The release of Adele's new single Skyfall (2012) marks a return, in the theme music of James Bond, to the ballad style of singing associated with artists such as Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger, 1964; Diamonds are Forever, 1971; Moonraker, 1979). The theme music can also be seen as being a radical departure from that employed in the Pierce Brosnan 'Bond' films (1195-2004). In addition to analysing the individual scores and tracks from a musical perspective this dissertation also seeks to analyse the public's perception of the changing nature of Bond theme tunes, through effective marketing, and does so by interviewing cinema-goers in Southampton and Portsmouth. Accordingly, this is a dissertation that combines public enjoyment of music with musical critical analysis.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Burlingame, J. (2012). The music of James Bond. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Nees, M.A., Walker, B.N. and Freeman, J. (2012). 'The sound of musicons: Investigating the design of musically derived audio cues', Proceedings of the 18th International Conference on Auditory Display, 18-21 June 2012, Atlanta, GA, pp.148-155.
  • O'Reilly, D. and Kerrigan, F. (2013). 'A view to a brand: Introducing the film brandscape', European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 47(5/6).

Example music dissertation topic 8:

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: A musical analysis of his early years in Berlin, 1731-1746.

Frederick the Great, then Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia, was the first to employ Emanuel Bach fulltime. From this employment Bach's professional reputation grew. Yet, to date, little research has been carried out on the nature of his employment with Frederick the Great or how he came by such a position, other than the extension of royal patronage as a result of his paternity. Using first hand evidence in the form of his autobiography (Bach, 1773) this study looks at piecing together those years in Bach's career, and analyses the work he composed, primarily for the clavichord and harpsichord, during his jurisprudence studies and early in his employment by Frederick the Great. In so doing it seeks to enable a fuller understanding of these pivotal years of his musical development.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Bach, C.P.E. (1773). Carl Burney's der Musik Doctors: Tagebuch seiner musikalischen Reisen. Vol. 3, Durch Böhmen, Sachsen, Brandenburg, Hamburg und Holland.
  • Exner, E. (2010). The forging of a golden age: King Frederick the Great and music for Berlin, 1732 to 1756. PhD dissertation, Harvard University.
  • Miesner, H. (1937). 'Aus der Umwelt Philipp Emanuel Bach', Bach-Jahrbuch Vol. 34, pp. 132-143.

Example music dissertation topic 9:

Painting, poetry and gardens: Representations of English gardens in 18th century music.

Building upon the work of Hussey in the 1920s, this dissertation looks at the issue of the picturesque as portrayed in music and words with regard to nature, as could be witnessed in the English garden. In so doing it analyses the pastoralism inherent within 18th century song texts and relates these to the glorification and evocation of the national landscape. Works such as Swiftly from the mountain's brow (Webbe), Hark, hark the lark (Cooke), and Father of heroes (Callcott), are analysed and contextualised with the garden movements of the period.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Alpers, P. (1996). What is pastoral? Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Hussey, C. (1967). The picturesque: Studies in a point of view. London: Frank Cass.
  • Monelle, R. (2006). The musical topic: Hunt, military and personal. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Example music dissertation topic 10:

Embracing Korean pop: The rise of Korean hip-hop.

The rise of Korean hip-hop and the work of artists such as PSY (Jae-sang Park), Jay Park (Jaebeom Park) and Drunken Tiger has been noted and endorsed by celebrity pop artists including Katie Perry, rapper T-Pain (Faheem Rasheed Najm) and Britney Spears. This dissertation offers a critique of the work of PSY and asks the extent to which his musical style is a deviant form of hip-hop that also embraces cultural traits of rap as well as those more usually associated with the alternative underground rap scene. In charting the success of PSY, the thesis also asks whether artists who embody the spirit of contemporary Korean hip-hop have the global appeal to become musical icons within the Western world in a manner akin to that enjoyed by Western artists within Korea itself such as Ludacris.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Bergen, H.N. (2011). 'Understanding Korean society through popular music', Situations, Vol. 5, pp. 82-90.
  • Ha, J.S. and Park, J. (2011). 'Significance of changing Korean youth subculture styles', Asian Culture and History, Vol. 3(1), pp. 23-30.
  • Howard, K. (2002). 'Exploding ballads: The transformation of Korean pop music'. In, Craig, T. and King, R. (eds), Global goes local: Popular culture in Asia. Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia Press, pp. 80-95.

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