Writing about Music Lesson Plan: Intro to Intros

Lesson Plan on Intro to Intros
Emily Wilbourne, Queens College, CUNY, Music
Music 121 or 122

Lesson objective(s): Students will focus on the purpose of an introduction.

Total estimated time: 10 or 30 mins (depending on whether students have a draft in hand or not yet).

Additional outcome(s): N/A

Course work or assignment underway: A major piece of writing (any).

Work and/or reading completed before class: This exercise can be done at the very beginning of a writing assignment, or after students have a draft in hand.

Sequence of Classroom Activities:

1. Handout three sample introductory paragraphs for a hypothetical paper about Handel’s comic opera, Partenope. This handout is included on the following page. Have students take turns in reading sections aloud. (5 mins).

2. Discuss why the third example is so much more effective than the first two. (5 mins).

(Example 1 tries to contextualise the paper within the entire sweep of world history; this is not necessary. Example 2 launches into some of the background material for the essay, without clarifying what the point or argument is. Example 3 is relatively good, if a little overblown.)

Note that I regularly get versions of intro 1 and intro 3, even in final versions of student papers.

3. If students have already completed a draft of their paper, have them re-read their introductory paragraph and assign it to one of the three categories presented here. (10 mins).

Have them list any information that is missing from their introduction (this might be thesis, historical context, etc.).

4. In pairs or groups up to four people, students should discuss their current intro. They will need to read it aloud for their group and then invite comments on what is missing/unnecessary.

Reflection on the lesson’s success or alternative approaches:

This exercise can be used in tandem with “deep-end intros”; if so, this should be the first of the two.

Introduction to introductions             Wilbourne, 2013

Below are three sample introductions to a hypothetical essay on the topic of Handel’s comic opera, Partenope.


For as long as humankind has existed, people have used their voices to communicate and to create music. They have not, however, always done so in the same way. Opera is one of the important ways in which humans have used their voices to simultaneously tell a story and yet to entertain others with spectacular musical ability. Invented at the beginning of the seventeenth century as a deliberate attempt to re-create the aesthetic ideals of ancient Greek drama, opera began as a fairly dry, academic entertainment for Italian courts and educated men. Over time, this changed, and opera became a popular public entertainment, particularly in Venice, where Carnevale drew large crowds. Each generation had new ideas and new musical layers to add to the genre, and eventually opera seria—otherwise known as “serious opera”—developed. Many people loved to go to the opera and were huge fans.


George Frideric Handel was born in 1685, and died in 1759, having amassed a huge fortune and an enviable reputation as a composer. Handel was a success in a number of musical genres, not least that of oratorio (which he revolutionized for the tastes of the burgeoning English middle class) and opera. Handel’s particular musical talents benefited from an international education, which allowed him to synthesize a variety of musical idioms and national musical languages into his own work. Unlike Johann Sebastian Bach, who was born the same year, Handel wrote works that were aimed at the masses, not only travelling far from the city of his birth, but also representing the metaphorical and geographical distances he had come in his compositional style.


George Frideric Handel’s Partenope, first performed in 1730, is an exception in the body of his operatic works. While most of Handel’s operas conform to the stylistic constraints of opera seria, Partenope takes a comic subject—as elaborated in a libretto by Silvio Stampiglia—and illustrates a lighter side of Handel’s musical personality. The switch from one genre to another, however, is not complete, for Partenope borrows many of the hallmarks of seria performance. In this paper, I will examine the comic elements of Handel’s Partenope, focusing on the composer’s ability to meld the comic to standard staging devices and musical devices of the seria tradition. The combination of elements that characterize this opera create a fluid and engaging exemplar of the operatic tradition, anticipating, in many ways, the shift to a more “naturalistic” operatic style that was to follow in the work of Handel’s successors.

Posted in Introductions & Conclusions

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