[Smt-talk] Wikipedia's Music Theory Problem (Or Music Theory's Wikipedia Problem)

Laurel Parsons laureljparsons at gmail.com
Mon Dec 3 14:27:03 PST 2012

Dear Devin,

Thank you for your excellent explanation of Wikidifficulties from an
insider's perspective.  However, I do take issue with the idea that as
music theorists, it is "our duty to correct those errors."  While I applaud
those who do make an effort to raise the level of Wikipedia music theory
discussions, I do not think it is fair to add the correction of errors on
Wikipedia or any other internet music theory site to the overlong list of
professional duties most music theorists already have, especially when, as
you point out, someone who is not a professional can come along and undo or
delete those corrections within seconds.  If people want to spend their
time that way, then that's terrific, but let's not make it one more thing
we "should" do.

Students also need to learn not to depend on Wikipedia (except insofar as
lists of references that can refer them to more reliable resources), and
then only after consulting their instructors, textbooks, and other
resources their instructor recommends.  Convincing them of this is easier
said than done, I know, but music theory questions aside, developing a
healthy skepticism towards internet sites is an important life skill these
days anyway.

Laurel Parsons

Laurel Parsons, Ph.D.
Independent Scholar
Chair, SMT Committee on the Status of Women
North Vancouver, BC
laureljparsons at gmail.com

On Mon, Dec 3, 2012 at 1:37 PM, Devin Chaloux <devin.chaloux at gmail.com>wrote:

> Dear list,
> As the former coordinator of the WikiProject Music Theory (
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Music_theory), I must
> espouse the real issue about Wikipedia and its music theory problem (or
> potentially vice versa).
> Wikipedia *can* be a reliable source for those fields who take the time
> to carefully edit the articles with the care and thought of writing a truly
> academic article. Nevertheless, music theory as a discipline lacks the
> manpower to truly and effectively raise the level of Wikipedia articles. I
> will expand on the reasons why we have failed in this regard with the hopes
> of maybe inspiring a revival of interest in this resource that all of our
> undergraduate students are more than familiar with by the time they enter
> the university.
> 1) First and foremost, those qualified to best represent articles related
> to music theory topics were (mostly) absent from the beginning of the
> process. I blame this solely on the size of our discipline (pretty small
> for academics) compared to the number of musicians (amateur and
> professional). As a result, many articles have been created or
> substantially edited by some users who are not as qualified. Thus, there
> are many moments of factual errors, questionable prose, and misguided
> emphasis (some which Dimitar has found in our cadence article).
> 2) Those who create/substantially edit these articles have immense pride
> in doing so (despite errors or not). The problem with music theory is that
> a vast majority of the articles authored were done so by a very small, very
> elite group on Wikipedia. Whereas some disciplines have several
> administrators as experts, music theory has none. As a result, a somewhat
> rogue Wikipedia administrator has "adopted" the field as his own. Despite
> the deploration of many of us associated with Wikiproject Music Theory,
> this administrator has made unilateral decisions which ultimately worsen
> the quality of these pages. I have sought action against this
> administrator, but I am finding the bureaucracy of dealing with such an
> issue to be a little too cumbersome.
> 3) As a result of the first two points, Wikipedia music theory articles
> have turned into a soapbox for some. I believe it was two summers ago when
> we rehashed Wikipedia's article on Prolongation. Rather than collaborating
> on the various viewpoints that *could be had* on the subject, many "edit
> wars" trying to "right the wrong" have occurred in the past. Thus, many who
> I believe were well-intentioned editors have decided to stop editing the
> articles as many of their contributions have been scrubbed in the aftermath
> of these edit wars.
> 4) Music theory unfortunately also has different types of schooling based
> on geographic location. The recent flurry of SMT-talk posts in the last
> year demonstrate this point well. As a result, it is almost impossible to
> come up with an agreeable compromise between these different schools of
> thought. Wikipedia articles cannot reflect only one "school" of thought. As
> a result, music articles have a broader issue of needing to accommodate
> both American and European terminology. A now-defunct project, Wikiproject
> Music Terminology, sought to standardize the terminology in music articles
> (very relevant to music theory). Alas, it had too few supporters and too
> little sway on a very large chunk of Wikipedia.
> 5) Furthermore, SMT cannot endorse Wikiproject Music Theory (or vice
> versa). As a result, those with doctoral degrees (or really any  music
> theory/musicology degree) who prefer to protect their anonymity may get
> overwritten by an amateur with a cursory knowledge of music theory. There
> is a serious backlash against "academic" writing in the majority of the
> Wikipedia music theory pages for some unknown reason. Too many articles
> rely on questionable sources due to academic rigor or age.
> This is just a summary (a bit long, I apologize) of some of the largest
> issues that music theory faces with Wikipedia or vice versa. Without a
> concerted effort from those of us with advanced knowledge in the field, the
> level of the majority of articles will be misguided, overtly polemic, or
> simply wrong.
> With that said, I want to applaud those of us who have at least attempted
> to correct these issues. There are a few articles that are excellent, in my
> opinion. While not perfect, they represent what we should strive for. (
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interval_%28music%29 for an example).
> I think we as a field are responsible for the content of these pages and
> it is our duty to correct those errors. With that said, it is important
> that differences must be respected. While we may debate on whether
> prolongation exists or not, that's an issue for conference papers,
> publications, and SMT-talk--not Wikipedia. And until we as a field
> recognize that, there is little we can do to solve our Wikipedia problem.
> Sincerely,
> *
> Devin Chaloux*
> Indiana University
> Ph.D. in Music Theory (enrolled)
> University of Cincinnati - College-Conservatory of Music
> M.M. in Music Theory '12
> University of Connecticut
> B.M. in Music Theory '10
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