Questions about Rewarding Knowledge (mostly in music...)

Old college threads.
Locked
User avatar
ThisIsMyUsername
Yuna
Posts: 804
Joined: Wed Jul 15, 2009 11:36 am
Location: New York, NY

Questions about Rewarding Knowledge (mostly in music...)

Post by ThisIsMyUsername » Sat Mar 13, 2010 2:01 pm

I'm sure that most people on these boards are annoyed with many of my long posts and think of me as some combination of crank or upstart. I am sorry if I've clogged your tournament discussions with long-winded peripheral discussion; I can see why that would be annoying. And I am sorry if the volume/length of my criticisms has been disproportionate with my experience as a quizbowl player; I can see why that could be annoying too. But I feel like I've abandoned certain discussions less because I actually got satisfying answers to some of my question/points, but because people were getting irritated with the tangents and wanted to talk about other things. And I'm still very bothered by certain points these discussions have brought up. So, I though I'd start a topic to ask these questions and hopefully come to a better understanding, while avoiding annoying people by clogging a chain established to talk about anything else.

While reading through packets from last year's Nationals, I found the following tossup on the Pope Marcellus Mass (I'm using this just as a good example, not in any way to try to specifically criticize this question):
An opera named for this work's composer claims that this work was inspired by angels and written in one night shortly after the death of its composer’s wife Lukrezia. That opera by Hans Pfitzner sees this work recovered by its composer’s pupil Silla and his son Ighino. Its composer structured the longer movements homophonically and deployed a slow contrapuntal technique. This work, which was first played at Cardinal Vitellozzi's home, included a dedication letter detailing its composer’s “novo modorum genere”, or “new stylistic approach." Its last section is scored for a countertenor and a treble rather than a tenor, and that section, the Agnus Dei, is in two parts rather than three. Its Kyrie and Sanctus were written to show that imitation didn’t have to obscure the content of the words and was presented to the Council of Trent. For 10 points, identify this work sometimes credited with saving polyphonic music, a mass dedicated to and named for a particular pope, which was composed by Giovanni Palestrina.
ANSWER: Pope Marcellus Mass [accept The Requiem Mass for Pope Marcellus or Missa Papae Marcelli]

I know almost nothing about the Pope Marcellus Mass, except who wrote it and the story about it saving polyphony at the Council of Trent, but I can buzz on this tossup fairly early, because I know from a book about classical music in the Third Reich that Pfitzner's most famous opera is Palestrina, and if we're asking for a single work of Palestrina, the Pope Marcellus Mass is what it's gonna be. This feels fraudulent to me, and yet it's clearly the kind of knowledge that the lead-in was designed to reward (and I don't think that this kind of lead-in is at all uncommon). When I've made similar arguments about other tossups like this, the response (for example, Jerry's, and I apologize if I'm badly paraphrasing what he said) was: buzzing early still requires some fairly deep engagement with classical music, and very few people will be able to buzz that early, therefore something like this is A. Not fraudulent (it required real knowledge of music) and B. A sensible choice of lead-in, pyramidally (presumably, not many people know it).

The philosophical question this raises for me: are tossups supposed to test knowledge of the answer line, or are they supposed to test knowledge of the general subject the tossup is about, using the answer line as a vehicle for this? In other words, is it kosher to have a lead-in like the one above that requires and rewards deep music knowledge of classical music, even if it is not actual knowledge of what the tossup purports to be about, and also rewards this before deep engagement with the piece?

The next question this raises for me, more as someone who will be writing questions, is which is the more important principle for constructing a pyramidal question: how many people in a field playing a question are expected to be able to buzz off each clue, or how deep/shallow knowledge of the subject is required to answer the clue? To ground this a little, if I am writing a music tossup and want to add a historical clue to make it less dry, but think that not many people will know that historical clue, am I obligated to make that clue a lead-in rather than a middle clue, even though this will allow people with purely anecdotal knowledge to beat out those who've had more serious engagement with the piece? (If this seems too vaguely hypothetical, I can provide examples of questions I felt have done this in a detrimental way). I suppose I'm also asking: doesn't making something a lead-in entail a value judgment that the knowledge required is not only rarer, but also worthy of being rewarded earlier than the knowledge required by subsequent clues?

I ask this second question also because a lot of music questions seem to have as lead-ins anecdotes about shenanigans that happened at premieres or performances, but which have nothing to do with the engagement with the piece in any academic sense (and yes, I am aware that there are performance fiascos like Leonore or Rachmaninov's First Symphony that are of genuine historical importance, too, but I'm not talking about those), to the point where I think that reading that book of classical music anecdotes in middle school has actually given me more early buzzes than my academic study of music, a fact that I find disconcerting.
John Lawrence
Yale University '12
King's College London '13
University of Chicago '19

“I am not absentminded. It is the presence of mind that makes me unaware of everything else.” - G.K. Chesterton

User avatar
Louis XIV and Twenty Million Henchmen
Wakka
Posts: 238
Joined: Mon Jan 28, 2008 11:18 pm
Location: Binghamton, NY

Re: Questions about Rewarding Knowledge (mostly in music...)

Post by Louis XIV and Twenty Million Henchmen » Sat Mar 13, 2010 3:37 pm

ThisIsMyUsername wrote:I know almost nothing about the Pope Marcellus Mass, except who wrote it and the story about it saving polyphony at the Council of Trent, but I can buzz on this tossup fairly early, because I know from a book about classical music in the Third Reich that Pfitzner's most famous opera is Palestrina, and if we're asking for a single work of Palestrina, the Pope Marcellus Mass is what it's gonna be. This feels fraudulent to me, and yet it's clearly the kind of knowledge that the lead-in was designed to reward (and I don't think that this kind of lead-in is at all uncommon). When I've made similar arguments about other tossups like this, the response (for example, Jerry's, and I apologize if I'm badly paraphrasing what he said) was: buzzing early still requires some fairly deep engagement with classical music, and very few people will be able to buzz that early, therefore something like this is A. Not fraudulent (it required real knowledge of music) and B. A sensible choice of lead-in, pyramidally (presumably, not many people know it).
Not only that, but the clue does refer explicitly to the scene where the Pope Marcellus Mass is composed. So if you know the opera well enough to buzz there (which I think would be regarded as quite impressive), I would agree with Jerry that it's absolutely not fraudulent.
The philosophical question this raises for me: are tossups supposed to test knowledge of the answer line, or are they supposed to test knowledge of the general subject the tossup is about, using the answer line as a vehicle for this? In other words, is it kosher to have a lead-in like the one above that requires and rewards deep music knowledge of classical music, even if it is not actual knowledge of what the tossup purports to be about, and also rewards this before deep engagement with the piece?
Lit questions have answer lines all the time like "cutting one's hair", "prostitutes", and "characters named Daisy", which don't test knowledge of those actual things and are prone to similar subjectivity of pyramidality (I know Work X but not Work Y, but they put Work X first – to me this is the same thing as the fact that I know the first and last clues of the Palestrina question, but nothing in the middle). I guess you could say that "common-linkiness" is sort of a continuum, and the "kind of leadin" you're referring to affects where something is on that continuum. Obviously this can be taken too far, like if you have trash leadins or trash giveaways, but the Palestrina question isn't anything like that.
M(ir)ia(m) Nussbaum
Former player for Ithaca High School, Cornell, MIT

User avatar
grapesmoker
Sin
Posts: 6365
Joined: Sat Oct 25, 2003 5:23 pm
Location: NYC
Contact:

Re: Questions about Rewarding Knowledge (mostly in music...)

Post by grapesmoker » Sat Mar 13, 2010 5:12 pm

ThisIsMyUsername wrote:This feels fraudulent to me, and yet it's clearly the kind of knowledge that the lead-in was designed to reward (and I don't think that this kind of lead-in is at all uncommon). When I've made similar arguments about other tossups like this, the response (for example, Jerry's, and I apologize if I'm badly paraphrasing what he said) was: buzzing early still requires some fairly deep engagement with classical music, and very few people will be able to buzz that early, therefore something like this is A. Not fraudulent (it required real knowledge of music) and B. A sensible choice of lead-in, pyramidally (presumably, not many people know it).
I think it's a fairly accurate characterization of my response. I continue to hold to this position, which I will now elaborate.

You can find a lot of places in the past where I've basically advocated that quizbowl questions should, in some sense, reward intellectual curiosity. For me, this translates to engagement with whatever topic is at hand, whether that's music or literature or something else. And engagement with literature, for example, is not just reading a single poem or a single novel; I would argue that it involves something like an immersive interest in the topic. Of course, not everyone is going to have the same level of interest for a given topic, and for a lot of people, knowing stuff about Moby-Dick is just going to involve having read the book. But one of the neat things about getting into any particular subject is how it leads you to a lot of different pieces of information and there's nothing wrong with rewarding that too.

To illustrate what I mean, here's an example that came up at THUNDER. In one round there was a tossup on The Open Society and Its Enemies. This is a book I'd read a long time ago, but the first clue of the tossup didn't mean anything to me, as I recall. The second clue said something like "Walter Kaufmann criticized this work's author for his incorrect scholarship," and that's where I buzzed. Now, how did I know that? Well, Walter Kaufmann is one of the most pre-eminent translators of German philosophers, something that you might know even if you have an amateur interest in the topic. So he's criticizing someone for taking a German philosopher (in this case Hegel) out of context, and there's a chapter on Hegel in The Open Society. I put those things together and came up with the correct answer. I did this despite not having read Popper's book in many years (I only retain a general memory of its contents) and not having actually read Kaufmann's essay on it either (although I definitely knew of its existence and its general thesis).

Is that fraudulent? I would argue that it's not. It took me a long time to get to the point where I could perform this kind of multi-step reasoning in a short time span. I got there by reading a lot in different areas and by having a relatively serious, for an amateur, interest in the field. Did I somehow cheat someone who had read the book more recently out of points? I don't think so. I think that having some knowledge of secondary scholarship of Popper's book is valuable, maybe almost as valuable as reading it. The point here is that my ability to answer that question on that clue is the result of an active engagement with the subject matter, just as your ability to answer a tossup on the Pope Marcellus Mass is the result of your active engagement with music scholarship. I mean, you're buzzing on a clue about a composer that the vast majority of people in quizbowl, even possibly very good music players, haven't even heard of. That's definitely rewarding a high level of knowledge.
The philosophical question this raises for me: are tossups supposed to test knowledge of the answer line, or are they supposed to test knowledge of the general subject the tossup is about, using the answer line as a vehicle for this? In other words, is it kosher to have a lead-in like the one above that requires and rewards deep music knowledge of classical music, even if it is not actual knowledge of what the tossup purports to be about, and also rewards this before deep engagement with the piece?
You are incorrectly viewing this as a dilemma. I don't think we need to split this hair in order to have good questions; the answer to the question you are posing is "both." The truth of the matter is that there are multiple ways of getting to a particular answer all of which come from just being generally interested in the topic. You can answer poetry tossups because you've memorized poetry or you've read poetry criticism or you have read other things by the same poet and are able to tease out the style without explicitly knowing the answer. All of those things come about because you care about learning about whatever it is and I don't think any particular question is incorrect or wrong for rewarding that. That said, if your tossup were a straight-up description of the poem (or Pope Marcellus Mass, or The Open Society) that too would be fine and no one would fault you for that. There is just a multiplicity of avenues that lead to a good question and none of them is wrong or necessarily superior to the others.
The next question this raises for me, more as someone who will be writing questions, is which is the more important principle for constructing a pyramidal question: how many people in a field playing a question are expected to be able to buzz off each clue, or how deep/shallow knowledge of the subject is required to answer the clue? To ground this a little, if I am writing a music tossup and want to add a historical clue to make it less dry, but think that not many people will know that historical clue, am I obligated to make that clue a lead-in rather than a middle clue, even though this will allow people with purely anecdotal knowledge to beat out those who've had more serious engagement with the piece? (If this seems too vaguely hypothetical, I can provide examples of questions I felt have done this in a detrimental way). I suppose I'm also asking: doesn't making something a lead-in entail a value judgment that the knowledge required is not only rarer, but also worthy of being rewarded earlier than the knowledge required by subsequent clues?
The obvious answer is that all of these things should play a role in how you write. Clue arrangement should definitely mirror what you think people will know about a topic; it's up to you to explicitly make the call on how well you think something is known. I would argue that very little real knowledge is merely "anecdotal." Rather, what happens is that multiple strands of information connect you to the same place. I would stop worrying so much about whether you're rewarding the "right" kind of knowledge because as long as you're writing using clues that are likely to be known by people with an active interest in the subject, the answer is usually "yes." It's not like you're writing chemistry questions that are periodic table chess.
I ask this second question also because a lot of music questions seem to have as lead-ins anecdotes about shenanigans that happened at premieres or performances, but which have nothing to do with the engagement with the piece in any academic sense (and yes, I am aware that there are performance fiascos like Leonore or Rachmaninov's First Symphony that are of genuine historical importance, too, but I'm not talking about those), to the point where I think that reading that book of classical music anecdotes in middle school has actually given me more early buzzes than my academic study of music, a fact that I find disconcerting.
As an old, old dude who's heard a lot of anecdotes come up in quizbowl, I would say that this is only marginally true. All things being equal (i.e. me playing against someone else with no real music knowledge), I'll probably get the question because I've been around for a while and I remember a few things (of which relatively few are actually anecdotes). As someone who has been playing with noted music guy Aaron Rosenberg for years (and having had the pleasure of playing with noted music gal Rebecca Maxfield this year), I would say that the number of times I've beaten them to a music question could probably be tallied on the fingers of one hand. It just doesn't happen all that often.
Jerry Vinokurov
ex-LJHS, ex-Berkeley, ex-Brown, sorta-ex-CMU
code ape, loud voice, general nuissance

User avatar
theMoMA
Forums Staff: Administrator
Posts: 5692
Joined: Mon Oct 23, 2006 2:00 am

Re: Questions about Rewarding Knowledge (mostly in music...)

Post by theMoMA » Sat Mar 13, 2010 5:16 pm

This thread is a pretty good illustration of how "knowledge" (particularly "real knowledge") has come to be the most misunderstood term in quizbowl.
Andrew Hart
Minnesota alum

Sargon
Lulu
Posts: 26
Joined: Sun Jan 25, 2009 1:55 am

Re: Questions about Rewarding Knowledge (mostly in music...)

Post by Sargon » Thu Mar 18, 2010 7:21 pm

I am in principle in favor of lead-ins that include trivial or tangentially related information, if it is the sort of information you would only pick up through deep study of a given subject. For instance, Goethe fancied himself a scientist and considered his theory of color his greatest contribution to humanity. Goethe's scientific writings are unimportant to his current fame, but if you are serious about studying Goethe you will run into them, and so a lead-in about his work on the intermaxilary bone seems a sensible way of rewarding deep Goethe knowledge. So too the use of Pliny's hunting letter as a default text in text design seems like a sensible early clue. I know about that because it came up when my class was studying Pliny as a aside, and I suspect for most people playing quizbowl the story will be the same. That being said, one must be careful to not pick clues that will be easily known outside of deep knowledge of the subject. Hence the programming language Pascal should not be referenced until the end of a tossup on the French mathematician.

AS for the example, the Pope Marcellus Mass was a poor idea for a tossup per se because Renaissance masses are very hard to tell apart, and being from the counter-reformation, it is singularly devoid of identifying gimmicks, unlike say Josquin's and Ockeghem's masses. It would be a good idea if there were more operas involving it or if the Pfitzner opera was more famous (for instance one could see doing a Grunewald tossup with Hindemith clues). However, a tossup on a plot point of an obscure opera seems a little over the top by quizbowl standards.
Paul Gauthier, Quizbowl crackpot
Vanderbilt 2004-8
U Chicago 2008-

User avatar
Captain Sinico
Auron
Posts: 2840
Joined: Sun Sep 21, 2003 1:46 pm
Location: Champaign, Illinois

Re: Questions about Rewarding Knowledge (mostly in music...)

Post by Captain Sinico » Thu Mar 18, 2010 10:28 pm

I find myself agreeing with Paul at least somewhat. I don't think this is an issue of rewarding knowledge vs. not, but rather of rewarding different kinds of knowledge. I'd think that study of the field of music is broad enough that connections between pieces shouldn't be verboten as real ipso facto, even as leadins.

MaS
Mike Sorice
Coach, Centennial High School of Champaign, IL (2014-) & Team Illinois (2016-2018)
Alumnus, Illinois ABT (2000-2002; 2003-2009) & Fenwick Scholastic Bowl (1999-2000)
ACF
IHSSBCA
PACE

Locked