musical research paper

The Musical Research Paper (5 page minimum)

The Musical Research Paper has a formal, professional tone, and is intended to help students develop an original and thoughtful composition that is accurate in research and analysis, well organized in structure, and clear in comprehension. The main objective of the paper is to use analysis and research to inform us about the musical itself and how it reflects American life. Avoid merely summarizing the plot, and instead, analyze how the story and characters contribute to a social reflection, making sure that you focus on the lyrics and music and/or dance of at least three songs. You can also use background information about the librettist, lyricist and composer, details about the work itself (actors/singers, directors/choreographers, dialogue, etc.), and historical facts about the world outside the musical in order to draw parallels with the musical. It is always powerful to personalize, but keep the focus on the musical and your analysis of it, rather than on your own life. Here are some questions to help you in your analysis:

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How does the music, lyrics and dancing contribute to storytelling?

What are the main themes and is there a statement made by the show?

How is the musical a reaction to something happening in the country at the time?

Is there a character who represents some issue from the era? Are there characters who function as members of the society of the time?

Does the style of the music or staging reflect a quality or issue of the world of the play/musical?

How does the musical reflect the culture that produced it?

In either case, you need to argue your position by explaining how specific examples from the musical support it. Take us into the musical by drawing examples from it, rather than discussing only the era from when the show was produced. A dialogue sequence or a monologue from the libretto may serve your claim as evidence, but also consider the dramatic action (what happens in a scene), as well as characters, the lyrics of the songs, and the style of the music (which communicates feeling more directly than words).

This paper requires more than a paraphrasing from Wikipedia or; it demands that you read the actual libretto and/or view the work itself in some form, and apply your critical thinking to it. Do NOT choose one of the six musicals we have focused on in class. The experience is meant to be your own exploration of a work of your choice that does not simply repeat something already covered in class.

The Research Paper should utilize at least 3 to 5 works as sources in the List of Works Cited, and include at least 3 to 5 citations to those sources in the text. Citing your sources not only avoids plagiarism, but gives your paper more credibility. Humanities follows MLA Documentation practice, and you need to use that system for this paper. It won’t hurt you to try a different format from what you may be used to. To acknowledge your sources in the text of the paper, type the author’s last name and a page number within parentheses at the end of the sentence that includes the author’s idea or quotation (Parenthetical Documentation). Do not put whole titles or website addresses in a citation; you will only need a List of Works Cited page at the end of the paper (arranged alphabetically) instead of the usual Endnotes and Bibliography pages. These examples should help guide you, but for specific instructions on creating all forms of documentation, you should consult the MLA Guidelines. If you do not possess a style manual, you might wish to use the online site at Purdue to help you (

NOTE ON SOURCES: Though you can get familiar with your musical by doing preliminary research using sources from the “surface web” (sources one can access with any search engine, like Wikipedia, bookrags, enotes, sparknotes, etc.), you need to access works for your List of Works Cited from the “deep web” (sources one can only access through the library’s portal, like JStor, Project Muse, etc.). The use of “validated critics” on sites that are subject to “peer review” ensures that your work will have the authority to provide a strong argument for your thesis.

NOTE ON WRITING: If I determine that you need assistance with your writing beyond my ability to provide it, I will assign you to a CLASS tutor and receive reports from your tutor. If you do not work with the tutor until I say such work is no longer needed, I will reduce your grade by 20%.

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