Computer Quest

Article excerpt

Composer Quest announces itself as a "valuable learning tool that draws parallels between the arts, history and music." Op-code's promotional information further indicates an audience range from the ten-year-old to the adult. In certain ways such an audience parallels that in an introductory survey or humanities course focusing on the arts. Thus, while primarily a tool for the non-academic setting, this CD-ROM might have use for the academic community as well. Through the cross-reference capability of Composer Quest a student in an introductory course would be exposed to the events that shaped the world of a particular composer. There are strengths and weaknesses that must be weighed, however. As indicated in the instructions, the CD-ROM operates in two modes, "learn" and "play." Both modes focus on the time period between 1600 and 1940, and both include classical and early jazz styles. In the "learn" mode the user learns about musicians, their significant works, and the artistic, economic, and political events of eras and sub-eras, e.g., the early Baroque. In the "play" mode the user is tested on aural knowledge of styles, particular composers, and, finally, specific pieces. Viewing the "learn", mode as a tutorial, the user can select from several different approaches: "Quiz," "Print a Lesson," and "Search."

The "Quiz" feature of the "learn" mode, is set up by historical periods and sub-periods with ten multiple-choice questions about artists, musicians, and movements in those time periods. It provides the user with the opportunity to test a basic understanding of the currents at work in the society in which a composer functioned. Incorrect answers are replaced quickly by correct information to reinforce an accurate conception of the material. In an academic setting one hopes that students would use this information to make deeper and broader comparisons.

Selecting "Print a Lesson" in the "learn" mode produces a printout of information similar to that in the quiz. Events, artistic developments, and composers are organized by historical and subhistorical eras. The prose material could be used as an outline for a class, especially in secondary schools.

The "Search" component of the "learn" mode is organized alphabetically by composer. The thirty-two composers represent both the standard "great" composers - J.S. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven - as well as composers of more popular stature such as Vivaldi, Mendelssohn, and Tchaikovsky. Among jazz musicians only early jazz figures of African-American descent whose careers began around 1900 are included. Upon choosing a composer, the user retrieves a picture, a selection of musical excerpts (if available), and a short biography.

Especially in this "Search" segment, the criteria for inclusion demand discussion. The choice of composers might puzzle some. True, most of the composers included in typical introductory surveys or humanities classes appear. Some composers on the list, however, worked either within the confines of a style or in such a unique way that they, or most of their works, would rarely be included in survey courses. Naturally the inclusion of these individuals means the exclusion of others. Why, for example, would composers such as Vivaldi and Tchaikovsky, who worked within the confines of a style, be included when Berg is omitted? The latter synthesized the techniques of his teacher, Schoenberg, with the more traditional compositional approach of tonality, and in so doing expanded the possibilities inherent in Schoenberg's system. Sibelius seems a questionable inclusion as well, for his unique approach to composition usually eliminates him from consideration in most texts for survey courses.

Among the jazz musicians on the "Search" list, ensemble figures appear to the exclusion of early blues musicians and most early keyboard composer-performers. For example, except for Scott Joplin, the list features no pianists. Furthermore, there is no acknowledgement of the role of Big Band musicians not of African-American descent. …