Distribution: Origins, Motivations

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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Mike Bentley » Wed Dec 31, 2008 12:35 am

theMoMA wrote:My response to Andrew is to ask whether Bach's askability reflects something unique to quizbowl, or a reality of knowledge in general. I think it's mostly the latter. There are fewer scholars of music than literature, and the study of literature is one of the core tenets of secondary education in this country. Surely some of the reason that music is less represented in quizbowl than literature has to do with the way that quizbowl works, and maybe if we were forced to write five music tossups per packet, we would figure out how to do it better. But at the same time, it's easy to imagine that a group of reasonably well-educated people could name more works of Shakespeare, Austen, Ibsen, Twain, etc. from the most essential information about those works than could do the same with prolific composers like Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner, etc. People come to quizbowl with a lot more knowledge of literature than music, which is the primary reason for the ratio between those categories.


Yeah, I agree with Andrew (Hart) here. People new to quizbowl are probably a lot more likely to have buzzable literature knowledge than music knowledge. This is not to say that all people fit into this category, and that we shouldn't have music questions in the canon. However, I do agree with Hart that people like Shakespeare, Austen, etc. and their works are greater in number and probably more accessible than composers and their works like Beethoven, Bach, etc.

Another issue is that music has fewer quizbowl appropriate works to ask about because of the nature of how musical compositions are named. Sure you have some works with unique names (i.e. Moonlight Sonata, all of those Bach works you listed), but I believe the large majority of a composer's opus is stuff with names like "Beethoven's Piano Concerto #7" or "Bach's 3rd String Quartet". There's simply no way that tossups on these works will be easier to convert than tossups on "Academic Festival Overture" or "Enigma Variations". This is not unique to music. For instance, the Federalist Papers are extremely important documents that come up all of the time in US History courses. However, they're very infrequently asked about in quizbowl because they don't have unique names. Tossups on Federalist #10 would be a lot more frequent if it had a nickname like "The Anti-Faction Paper".

Sure if you expanded music to 4/4 eventually people would start to learn how to identify things like "Beethoven's Piano Concerto #7" from clues, but I'd wager this would be a lot more "artificial" than current tossups on difficult literature works like the 8th most important play of Henrik Ibsen. Pretty much anyone who reads The Vikings at Helgeland will at least remember its title, while I'm not convinced people who listen to "Beethoven's Piano Concert #7" (if such a work actually exists) could get it without being introduced to the quizbowl-important clues from it.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Birdofredum Sawin » Wed Dec 31, 2008 1:57 pm

I think the counter-arguments which have been suggested are actually pretty weak.

First, consider the notion that music answers are inherently less "askable" because they have titles like "String Quartet Number 4 in D minor" rather than "Lycidas." I think this objection, in fact, incarnates the unwillingness to think creatively about categories which don't map clearly onto established parts of the game. So: If you think that nobody will be able to answer a tossup on "Shostakovich's String Quartet Number 8," you instead ask a tossup to which the answer is "Shostakovich's String Quartets," which obviates the problem. Or if you think that the "Revolutionary Etude" is itself not a workable tossup answer, you instead ask a tossup on "Chopin's Etudes." There are also all the tossup answers which are in fact unique, but which still don't get asked about. E.g. "Brahms' Violin Concerto" -- he only wrote one; or "Schubert's Winterreise" (or, indeed, any song cycles save a couple by Mahler); or all those things by Bach I cited earlier.

Second, consider the notion that people just know more about lit prior to coming to the game. The notion that "a group of reasonably well-educated people" could name more works of what quizbowl deems "literature" than what quizbowl deems "music" seems to me unprovable at best and dubious at worst, but is in any case irrelevant. I don't know how we could possibly test the statement empirically, but against the vague assertion that "literature is one of the core tenets of secondary education in this country" (which would maybe net you 50 titles which we can plausibly suppose people have been exposed to in high school) I could generate equally vague assertions about the number of people who play an instrument in high school, or the number of people who casually listen to classical music radio, or whatever. In any event, the claim is irrelevant, because what quizbowl expects even mediocre players to know about these categories is worlds apart from what the "reasonably well-educated" person who has never picked up a buzzer knows. (I've seen Stanford Law School's version of a "Battle of the Brains," where some extremely well-educated people showed themselves to know very little about basically every category which comes up in the game.)

Finally, if you really think that the music example is flawed, what about the other minor categories? Take art, where the works tend to have very "askable" names; where paintings are widely available online; where someone can just eyeball a work and generate clues for tossups. And yet the category is constrained in much the way music is constrained, which (to me) supports my thesis about how the distribution structures our assumptions about askability.

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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby grapesmoker » Wed Dec 31, 2008 3:10 pm

Birdofredum Sawin wrote:First, consider the notion that music answers are inherently less "askable" because they have titles like "String Quartet Number 4 in D minor" rather than "Lycidas." I think this objection, in fact, incarnates the unwillingness to think creatively about categories which don't map clearly onto established parts of the game. So: If you think that nobody will be able to answer a tossup on "Shostakovich's String Quartet Number 8," you instead ask a tossup to which the answer is "Shostakovich's String Quartets," which obviates the problem. Or if you think that the "Revolutionary Etude" is itself not a workable tossup answer, you instead ask a tossup on "Chopin's Etudes." There are also all the tossup answers which are in fact unique, but which still don't get asked about. E.g. "Brahms' Violin Concerto" -- he only wrote one; or "Schubert's Winterreise" (or, indeed, any song cycles save a couple by Mahler); or all those things by Bach I cited earlier.


But Andrew, this is empirically untrue. In fact these kinds of questions get written all the time, and people are trying to be just as creative in their approach to writing music questions as they are in writing literature. That includes the kind of common link tossups you mentioned as an example; hell, even I, a noted non-musician, actually wrote a "Shostakovich's String Quartets" tossup at one point. Likewise, the Etudes have come up numerous times in my memory, and Winterreisse was a bonus part in at least 2 tournaments from the last semester.

In general, I don't actually understand what your argument is or what it's supposed to accomplish. If you're trying to show that there is a degree of arbitrariness to the current distribution, then I doubt anyone will disagree with you. Likewise, it's true that the distribution affects the depth to which a given category is plumbed. Are you arguing that one distribution cannot be justified over another? If so, this would be right if you're looking for a priori justification, but I don't think it's right if your measure of justification is some correspondence to what people seem to prefer. Part of the purpose of having discussions like these is to try and tease out the changes that people like to see, and many people, including myself, have made some proposals for what they'd like to see in terms of shifts from the current distribution. If the push for an expanded arts distribution becomes more concerted, then it may get more representation at the expense of some other larger category and so on.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby setht » Wed Dec 31, 2008 3:56 pm

grapesmoker wrote:
Birdofredum Sawin wrote:First, consider the notion that music answers are inherently less "askable" because they have titles like "String Quartet Number 4 in D minor" rather than "Lycidas." I think this objection, in fact, incarnates the unwillingness to think creatively about categories which don't map clearly onto established parts of the game. So: If you think that nobody will be able to answer a tossup on "Shostakovich's String Quartet Number 8," you instead ask a tossup to which the answer is "Shostakovich's String Quartets," which obviates the problem. Or if you think that the "Revolutionary Etude" is itself not a workable tossup answer, you instead ask a tossup on "Chopin's Etudes." There are also all the tossup answers which are in fact unique, but which still don't get asked about. E.g. "Brahms' Violin Concerto" -- he only wrote one; or "Schubert's Winterreise" (or, indeed, any song cycles save a couple by Mahler); or all those things by Bach I cited earlier.


But Andrew, this is empirically untrue. In fact these kinds of questions get written all the time, and people are trying to be just as creative in their approach to writing music questions as they are in writing literature. That includes the kind of common link tossups you mentioned as an example; hell, even I, a noted non-musician, actually wrote a "Shostakovich's String Quartets" tossup at one point. Likewise, the Etudes have come up numerous times in my memory, and Winterreisse was a bonus part in at least 2 tournaments from the last semester.

In general, I don't actually understand what your argument is or what it's supposed to accomplish. If you're trying to show that there is a degree of arbitrariness to the current distribution, then I doubt anyone will disagree with you. Likewise, it's true that the distribution affects the depth to which a given category is plumbed. Are you arguing that one distribution cannot be justified over another? If so, this would be right if you're looking for a priori justification, but I don't think it's right if your measure of justification is some correspondence to what people seem to prefer. Part of the purpose of having discussions like these is to try and tease out the changes that people like to see, and many people, including myself, have made some proposals for what they'd like to see in terms of shifts from the current distribution. If the push for an expanded arts distribution becomes more concerted, then it may get more representation at the expense of some other larger category and so on.


I don't have numbers for what I'm about to say and I don't think I'm going to do anything about getting them, but I would argue that the percentage of music questions that are somehow creative (e.g. instrumental works questions that don't fall into a small pool of very common answers--if there is such a pool) is much lower than the percentage of comparably creative literature questions. If "creative" is too ambiguous I think it would be safe to substitute "canon-expanding" or "envelope-pushing" in my claim. If Andrew's previous suggestions of using liner notes and reviews as sources for questions could be used by non-musicians to write more questions on important works and composers that would satisfy and reward players with Real Ultimate Music Knowledge (as opposed to the savvy quizbowl players that have spent time memorizing a bunch of plot and character details from popular operas so they can answer lots of music questions off of clues that aren't all that musical), I think it's worth checking out.

I don't know for sure exactly what Andrew means to argue or accomplish, but my reading of what he's said is largely in line with the statements Jerry concedes: the distribution is somewhat arbitrary, and the distribution affects people's perceptions of how difficult different topics are. I think Andrew just wanted to make those points to counter Ryan's assertion that the current distribution is not at all arbitrary and that there aren't many topics currently unrepresented (or underrepresented) that are ripe for creative writing efforts. It's easy to point at something like Bach's English Suites and say, "That is not a good idea for a tossup." It's true, at the moment--I don't think such a tossup would achieve acceptable conversion rates at pretty much any tournament--but I think Andrew's argument combines of a couple points: if that answer makes it into the canon (in the usual way--as a hard bonus part, as an early clue in [say] tossups on Bach, and on up until it's ready to be a tossup answer), the "conversion rate" objection will go away; the fact that we're not already there in the case of Bach's English Suites and a bunch of (most of?) important instrumental music topics may well be because the music distribution has been set, at least somewhat arbitrarily, lower than it might have been, leading to fewer music questions and an even lower rate of "creative/canon-expanding/envelope-pushing" question writing in music. The other option I can think of for why "we're not already there" on something like Bach's English Suites is that instrumental music isn't actually important (at least, compared with the stuff we currently write on for music questions). I don't know enough about music to be sure one way or the other, but I would guess that this is not a valid argument.

Moving off of instrumental music, people have recently proposed expanding question-writing efforts in linguistics, chemistry, painting, folklore and "the modern world." I think there are many categories of topics whose introduction (or expansion into currently-unexplored areas) would result in an improved game. The introductions do have to be handled properly to avoid player frustration, of course.

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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Birdofredum Sawin » Wed Dec 31, 2008 4:10 pm

grapesmoker wrote:
But Andrew, this is empirically untrue. In fact these kinds of questions get written all the time, and people are trying to be just as creative in their approach to writing music questions as they are in writing literature. That includes the kind of common link tossups you mentioned as an example; hell, even I, a noted non-musician, actually wrote a "Shostakovich's String Quartets" tossup at one point. Likewise, the Etudes have come up numerous times in my memory, and Winterreisse was a bonus part in at least 2 tournaments from the last semester.


But this supports part of my argument. In this thread, people like Mike and Ryan were arguing that one of the reasons why classical music just can't be "workable" is because the nature of the answers makes them less askable. I was arguing, in the abstract, that this is simply false. You're telling me that, in practice, people have shown that this is false. Great; that just furthers the very argument I'm making (which was directed specifically against claims made in this thread, e.g. Mike's assertion that "the nature of how musical compositions are named" is a good explanation for why classical music is, or should be, less present in the game than literature).

grapesmoker wrote:In general, I don't actually understand what your argument is or what it's supposed to accomplish. If you're trying to show that there is a degree of arbitrariness to the current distribution, then I doubt anyone will disagree with you. Likewise, it's true that the distribution affects the depth to which a given category is plumbed.


Um, I take it that Ryan, for one, was in fact disagreeing with me about this. I also take it that Andrew Hart was disagreeing (inasmuch as he was suggesting that the level of knowledge about various subjects which people "come to the game with" is the "primary reason" for the distribution being what it is). If you're saying "I don't understand what you think you're trying to accomplish by arguing a theoretical point with Ryan Westbrook," then I concede that you have a valid point. If you're saying "I, as a reasonable person, am already convinced of the points you are trying to make, so I don't see why you're bothering with this argument," then I would say "I admire your reasonableness, but inasmuch as it doesn't seem to be shared by posters in this very thread, I thought it was worthwhile making these points."

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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Brian Ulrich » Wed Dec 31, 2008 4:33 pm

I'm not so sure there aren't underlying cultural assumptions that hold literature more important than music. At the very least, I perceive, but don't have the time to seek evidence confirming or disproving, that in university general education curriculums, literature is required but music subsumed under "Fine Arts," and that usually more literature than Fine Arts is required. This is linked to a general perception that the ability to write and comprehend writing is more valuable than the ability to compose, play, or appreciate music.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby grapesmoker » Wed Dec 31, 2008 4:44 pm

I had composed a lengthy reply to Andrew but then I somehow contrived to lose the post, so I'll state in brief what I was going to say. I think Andrew Hart was making the argument that he thought that more people come to quizbowl knowing things about literature than music, and so it makes sense that the distribution should reflect that. If he's right, then I would agree; if he's not, then perhaps we might all sit down and rethink how much we should allot to arts vs. literature vs. some other category. I have no idea what Ryan was trying to say, so I'll withhold judgment on that. Mike was arguing that many musical works don't have distinctive names, so telling the difference between Chopin's Etude N and Chopin's Etude N+1 (unless those things are famous) might be quite difficult for most people who don't have incredibly deep musical knowledge of those etudes. I think that's a reasonable position to hold regarding writing questions on individual works and I don't think it's right to interpret that as a general argument against more or better classical music questions.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Mechanical Beasts » Wed Dec 31, 2008 4:50 pm

Birdofredum Sawin wrote:I also take it that Andrew Hart was disagreeing (inasmuch as he was suggesting that the level of knowledge about various subjects which people "come to the game with" is the "primary reason" for the distribution being what it is).

Andrew

I think that Andrew Hart is partially right here, but only partially. The novice distribution certainly is intended to reflect the level of knowledge people "come to the game with." After all, the goal is for tossups to be converted, and how else will tossups get converted? This admittedly in turn reflects high school distributions, since most novice college teams have at least one player who has some high school experience. But it does not entirely: there's pretty much no organic chemistry in high school, but that's absolutely a staple of the novice chemistry canon precisely because so many science concentrators have to take some kind of organic chemistry. They can be expected to come to the game with organic chemistry knowledge => organic chemistry is a staple of the novice canon.

The distribution does grow away from that novice canon, and while it is forever influenced by that canon (the novice canon of hard bonus parts is at least a subset of the canon for some much harder tournament), it can end up very different than the canon of information with which people come into quizbowl.

Supposing that the typical entering player knows more about literature than about visual art, one can nonetheless easily imagine a world in which the canon of visual art expands rapidly from EFT to Penn Bowl to Cardinal Classic to Chicago Open, while the canon of literature opens up more slowly: by more advanced levels of play, you'd still end up with a larger canon of visual art than literature.

At the same time, the novice canon, and therefore the basis for larger canons, is intimately attached to one's incoming knowledge: perhaps ACF Fall Haiti would toss up Danticat all the time (I mean, tenth grade English, right?), but we do not.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Captain Sinico » Wed Dec 31, 2008 6:36 pm

One issue that I haven't yet seen considered is this: The distribution keenly affects who the audience is. After all, who hasn’t had a teammate pining away for some topic?
To examine this in some more detail, let’s take up an example from up-thread. A distribution with 1/1 lit and 4/4 music was posed and its effects on what might get asked about in those areas pondered. It was responded to with: People who aren't music experts would hate this distribution. That’s precisely so! Therefore, if we employed such a distribution, we'd have a lot more music experts playing, who would presumably be better equipped to write and to answer music questions.
Some respondents used the likely disdain for this distribution by current players to claim that it’s untenable. But this is invalid: we can’t just examine what current players might think because employing this distribution would lead to a different set of players! The actual question we have to ask ourselves is: Would a distribution shifted in this way support a viable circuit? That is, are there enough people capable of writing and enjoying these music questions (even given that there may be some structural aspects of the game that might make music questions difficult to write?)
That’s clearly a question that’s difficult to answer. One point that speaks to it is Andrew Hart’s: people decidedly do come to the game with some pre-formed knowledge. I have to think the distribution reflects (and ought to reflect) that to some extent. However, I think there’s a lot of wobble in that kind of following and that’s not a bad thing at all, since I doubt any of us wants to play a game reflecting the aggregate of what the average college-bound kid knows, for example.
Anyway, my point is that appeals to "the audience" as though it existed independent of the distribution are seemingly without meaning. Rather, it is necessary to consider the effect of the distribution on the audience. To summarize this and other stuff I’ve said, I'll say that, if the opposed positions here are: 1. that the distribution is arbitrary and 2. that the distribution is a precise reflection of the ratio of human knowledge (in whatever sense,) I think both are wrong. It seems to me, as I said up-thread, that the distribution affects who plays this game, what they know, what gets written about, and how and, conversely, that all those things affect the distribution (albeit measurably slowly, since the distribution is largely conserved over time.) The extent of these effects is not well known to me, but I am fairly sure both are significant.

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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby grapesmoker » Wed Dec 31, 2008 7:29 pm

I would say that I personally would be far less interested in playing on a distribution with 4/4 music and 1/1 literature, unless that distribution also had 4/4 physics and 4/4 philosophy per round.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby No Rules Westbrook » Wed Dec 31, 2008 9:03 pm

Okay, I'll more fully expound on my argument.

I don't think we're exactly in the Dark Ages when it comes to writing music questions, of all types, including instrumental music. Experienced writers have written all kinds of questions on stuff like Winterreise and Toccata and Fugue (I'm not sure why you think they haven't, those things come up lots), there have been fine arts singles tournaments, and there have been quite lengthy and involved discussions on the forum about the proper sources to use to write music questions and the proper clues/methods to write such questions.

I think it's a completely ridiculous line of reasoning to say: we invented the "name the author from works/descriptions" out of nowhere, so why shouldn't we be able to invent a better way to write music questions that's just somehow not apparent to us right now!? The "author from substantive clues on works etc" question didn't come from nowhere; it was a very logical and intuitive thing to develop once we embarked on the path of creating clue-dense pyramidal and academically-relevant tossups (i.e. once we justifiably abandoned things like trivial biographical clues and the like - basically, once we accepted the modern norms of good question writing, which wasn't too long ago, maybe 2004). I think that, once we set off on that noble path, it didn't take us long at all to "invent" the types of tossups you talk about - if anything, it was a pretty quick and logical development. Sure, we've experimented a lot to perfect the form of things like literature questions (the form, meaning: how we structure the tossup - how we use the relevant clues), but the clues themselves have always been pretty obvious - we talk about characters, plots, important quotations in the work, and so on. You always have those types of clues to fall back on in a standard literature tossup - because if someone knows anything about "Book X," they probably know the main characters or the main plot or the main arguments of the book - those things comprise a very obvious and intuitive set of clues. It's not clear to me that there are similarly obvious, concrete, and uniquely identifiable clues for some topics in areas like instrumental music - not all topics, just some...and I think that, even if the clues do technically exist, they are still much harder to find even if we grow incredibly savvy about how to write these questions (and I think we already are pretty savvy). Now...you suggest liner notes, previous performances, reviews, and so on as workable clues - I agree that these all sound like decent potential clue ideas - they might turn out very well indeed (in some cases they surely will), but I think in a lot of other cases they might tend to turn out to be a cacophony of virtually unbuzzable clues (i.e. clues that don't really belong to what Seth once called the "meaty portion" of a question - in that they're not realistically learnable such that people can actually buzz off of them).

At the very least, a lot of writers would be prone to picking clues that are not realistically buzzable because they don't have enough knowledge, and it's difficult to distinguish which things are truly important and which are not (it's way more difficult than it is to tell which things are important about a book - and not just because we've invented the "good tossup on a book", but because there are inherently logical clues for books - the ones I've already mentioned). Of course, people often start questions on all kinds of things with lead-ins from some very unimportant critical paper or something. The only difference is that, in the case of some instrumental music tossups, you might not necessarily have any truly useful clues to fall back upon. (I don't mean to just pick on instrumental music, it's just the example being proffered - I'm similarly suspect of the realistic avenues for innovation in other subjects, like linguistics.)

I think it's almost farcical to suggest that we just haven't tried sufficiently hard enough to figure out how to write good questions in these areas. Of course, I'm not saying that we've exhausted all routes of innovation in the field of question writing - and I think you identify a few possibly useful avenues for exploration by suggesting things like liner notes and so on. But, I think that the elite writers have grown savvy enough about how to write good questions at this point in our history that innovation is coming at an exponentially slower rate - we're asymptotically approaching "perfect question writing," if you will - of course we'll never get there, but I don't think the routes for useful innovation are infinite. No matter how you cut it, quizbowl is still a game with some inherent limitations, which arise from its very nature.


Oh, and by including "in bonus parts" - I wasn't trying to pull off some sneaky argument - as I realize lots of things are much easier to ask about in bonuses than tossups. I only meant to point out that there are some things which are surely not askable even in bonuses - you can't have a bonus part on "the role of bicycles in 20th century American fiction" - obviously that's a farfetched example, but I'm just saying. You still need to have at least one clue in the bonus prompt that is helpful and uniquely identifying such that it will allow a reasonable person with knowledge to say whatever you want them to say.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby at your pleasure » Wed Dec 31, 2008 9:11 pm

I would say that the truth is somewhere in between. For instance, generally speaking, deep knowledge of Literature is probably more important in forming a well-rounded person than deep knowledge of Fine Arts. However, the amount by which it is more important in the canon is somewhat arbitrary.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby No Rules Westbrook » Wed Dec 31, 2008 9:15 pm

Oh, and after that crazy long post, I just want to add...

I'm not telling people not to try to write new and exciting instrumental music tossups, or new and exciting kinds of any tossup on a topic that you feel is currently underrepresented. If you have an idea and you think you've got some good clues to use, that's fantastic...there are surely plenty of good ideas out there. I'm just suspect of the assertion that the current distribution is really as arbitrary as Yaphe seems to think it is.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby theMoMA » Thu Jan 01, 2009 2:55 am

I don't want to be pigeonholed into the idea that there is some kind of absolute correct distribution. Categorization schemes are generally flawed, inconsistent, etc., and quizbowl's is no different. I guess my point is that there is not only the weight of theory behind the ratios in the distribution, but the hefty load of an evolutionary history. This makes me question the premise of an argument that assumes that the result of that evolutionary history could have turned out radically different.

In the case of this hypothetical music-heavy quizbowl, it seems that all evidence in the evolutionary history of the distribution points to literature being held more important than music. Perhaps I was misleading when I said that the "primary reason" was because of the knowledge that people bring to quizbowl; my real point was to say that there is a (complex) reason that the distribution is what it is, and it seems logical that the emphasis of literature over music in secondary education plays a major role.

So really, my main argument is that things happened a certain way, and imagining that they happened another way is not necessarily a reasonable thing to do. Maybe there was some critical mass point at which lit started going to 4/4 and music to 1/1, but it seems much more likely that lit has always been valued higher than music in a reflection of common knowledge and the academy, and so the creation of a music-heavy distribution would require outstanding criteria like a founder effect.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Lagotto Romagnolo » Thu Jan 01, 2009 5:36 pm

setht wrote:It's easy to point at something like Bach's English Suites and say, "That is not a good idea for a tossup." It's true, at the moment--I don't think such a tossup would achieve acceptable conversion rates at pretty much any tournament--but I think Andrew's argument combines of a couple points: if that answer makes it into the canon (in the usual way--as a hard bonus part, as an early clue in [say] tossups on Bach, and on up until it's ready to be a tossup answer), the "conversion rate" objection will go away; the fact that we're not already there in the case of Bach's English Suites and a bunch of (most of?) important instrumental music topics may well be because the music distribution has been set, at least somewhat arbitrarily, lower than it might have been, leading to fewer music questions and an even lower rate of "creative/canon-expanding/envelope-pushing" question writing in music. The other option I can think of for why "we're not already there" on something like Bach's English Suites is that instrumental music isn't actually important (at least, compared with the stuff we currently write on for music questions). I don't know enough about music to be sure one way or the other, but I would guess that this is not a valid argument.


I don't think solo instrumental music is inherently less important; the Well-Tempered Klavier is widely considered one of the most important works in the history of western music. I would say the reason one never sees tossups on it is because it's hard to find good clues. This is not to say that there aren't instrumental works out there that have enough unique clues to use, but certain works have traits which make distilling good material a pain. Somehow I think these are already well-known, but here I go:

1.) Time Period

This is the big one: there's more unique musical material in the Romantic and Modern periods. What can I say? Baroque music was pretty regimented. Once you get into the 19th and 20th centuries, music gets much more interesting and composers employed more creative devices. This leads into the following:

2.) Lack of Subtitles or Programmatic Meaning

There's really no way around it: people remember works with titles better. The Well-Tempered Klavier is just, well, 48 preludes and fugues. Bach didn't really leave many (if any) notes about his goals with specific sections of the work. Compare that to, say, The Four Seasons, which have plenty of underlying meaning and four accompanying sonnets to boot, or Beethoven's piano sonatas, where you're spared from memorizing numbers and can just call the 26th "Farewell."

3.) Size

Longer works and more instruments mean more music and more opportunity for creativity. Mahler, especially, is a gold mine for unique clues.

4.) No Lyrics

For vocal works like the St. Matthew Passion or Mass in B minor, you can just quote the lyrics like a poetry tossup, but for a purely instrumental work that would be analogous to spelling out note names. With a few exceptions (Beethoven's Fifth, Also Sprach Zarathustra, the Tristan chord), no one will be able to buzz off clues like that without perfect pitch.

Most of these problems apply to the English suites as well. I don't know enough about them to say how much unique material they have, but for now I'll agree with Seth about not tossing them up.

setht wrote:If Andrew's previous suggestions of using liner notes and reviews as sources for questions could be used by non-musicians to write more questions on important works and composers that would satisfy and reward players with Real Ultimate Music Knowledge (as opposed to the savvy quizbowl players that have spent time memorizing a bunch of plot and character details from popular operas so they can answer lots of music questions off of clues that aren't all that musical), I think it's worth checking out.


This idea certainly merits a try, but I'm curious as to how well such a tossup would be received. Going back to the Well-Tempered Klavier example, suppose someone wrote a tossup with clues like this'

-One clue from a critical analysis or review
-One clue taken from a note in the sheet music (I'm not sure if this will work; I'm looking at a copy of the piece right now and all the notes are about various typos in different manuscripts and publications).
-'Edwin Fischer made the first complete recording of this work...'
-'Andreas Sparsuch developed a tuning algorithm for this work based on the ornamental loops written on the original title plage' (this clue courtesy of Wikipedia)
-Charles Gounod set the 'Ave Maria' to a melody composed based on the first prelude in this work.
-'FTP, name this collection of 48 preludes and fugues in all the major and minor keys, written by Johann Sebastian Bach.'

Any thoughts? The one thing that strikes me is that there are no clues about the auditory content; is that straying too far?

As for the lack of creative music tossups, prepare for Weiner's Law #5 to kick in. We'll also be working to address some of these issues throughout the fine arts distribution at Harvard International Arts Doubles.

Also, Bruce, your 'modern world' idea interests me. Out of curiosity, though, do you have an intended subdistribution (business/ international politics/ ethnic politics/ etc.)?
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Susan » Thu Jan 01, 2009 5:51 pm

Aaron wrote:For vocal works like the St. Matthew Passion or Mass in B minor, you can just quote the lyrics like a poetry tossup,


This practice not recommended for most Masses.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Lagotto Romagnolo » Thu Jan 01, 2009 6:20 pm

myamphigory wrote:This practice not recommended for most Masses.


Right. Sorry about that.

The same goes for requiems, now that I think about it.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby at your pleasure » Thu Jan 01, 2009 10:28 pm

Unless I am very wrong, requiems are a sort of mass with some liturgical changes.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Lagotto Romagnolo » Thu Jan 01, 2009 11:59 pm

They are, that's why the same rule applies.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Skepticism and Animal Feed » Fri Jan 02, 2009 5:38 am

cursednine wrote:Also, Bruce, your 'modern world' idea interests me. Out of curiosity, though, do you have an intended subdistribution (business/ international politics/ ethnic politics/ etc.)?


I don't, given that I am proposing it as something that can be used to fill out the 1/1 Your Choice distribution in mACF. If I were to submit an mACF packet right now and have it contain a "modern world" tossup, I would probably pick a sub-field simply based on what else came up in the same packet.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby naturalistic phallacy » Fri Jan 02, 2009 1:32 pm

cursednine wrote:
myamphigory wrote:This practice not recommended for most Masses.


Right. Sorry about that.

The same goes for requiems, now that I think about it.

Unless one is willing to do research to find out if a specific part of a Mass or Requiem setting is unique, which most aren't, writers should strive to exclude clues about lyrics or part order since, as Susan has pointed out, those things are not exclusive to one Mass.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Sargon » Sun Jan 25, 2009 2:43 am

I think a more balanced distribution might be achieved by equalizing the amount of literature, music, and visual arts to something like 2/2 each. It is true that finding helpful clues on musical works is hard, though certainly not impossible. However, one can write very good composer given works tossups. There are plenty of important composers one could add to the cannon to fill up such a distribution. Two examples, first American composers: the current distribution has a very good representation of minimalism and the standbys like Copland and Barber, but many other major composers are largely neglected such as Roy Harris, William Schuman, Gottschalk, Rorem, Bloch, Roger Sessions and Hovhaness (I have seen Harris only in common link Sea Symphony things, which is ironic since that is a fairly obscure work of his, and Schuman once or twice as the hard part of a bonus). Second, Renaissance music is confined almost entirely to Josquin, Palestrina, Byrd, and Tallis. Such major figures as Mauchaut, Dufay, Ockeghem (these are of the sort who get their own chapters in broad music survey books), and a host of fairly important others. These are admittedly hard to write as many of the works are settings of the same texts or of similar texts (so a clue like he set the lamentations, while valid for Palestrina, would also hold for Tallis and about a half dozen other big wigs), but this has not hindered the writing of Rennaisance art questions, which suffer very similar problems.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby No Rules Westbrook » Sun Jan 25, 2009 2:20 pm

I don't know what you're smoking, but reducing literature to 2/2 is crazy. Literature is the one thing that's easy to write because there's so much canon space, from easy events all the way up to the super-hard. You do a good job of identifying some composers who arguably should be introduced more fully into the canon, which is helpful, but you're gonna have to do it slowly - a tossup on any of the people you just mentioned is just not feasible at nearly any event, so you'll have to settle for them being third bonus parts for now.
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