Faculty on Writing

Professor: Dr. Elda Tate
Department: Music
Interviewed by: Amanda Norgren
Date: September 26, 2008

Dr. Elda Tate has been a professor in the NMU Music Department for many years.  She teaches music theory, sight singing, and ear training courses, as well as flute lessons and world music.  She is a familiar face in the Music Department, but also to the many students who take her course MU 325, Native American Flute, for a liberal studies requirement.

If you take a course from Dr. Tate, you will probably do some writing. Creative writing and formal writing are important to her, and she incorporates these in exams and in paper assignments, especially in MU 325.  Dr. Tate believes that writing is not only a good way to practice using musical terms, but that it also helps students organize their thoughts and encourages more responsible thinking and communicating.  One of Dr. Tate’s paper assignments that allows for a lot of creativity is to have students write about their musical background.  She feels that this assignment could allow for a lot of originality; for example, if a student’s musical background is in rap, they could mimic characteristics of rap music in the tone and style of their writing.  

While Dr. Tate encourages creative expression in writing, she also has a great love for grammar.  Growing up, she learned about grammar structures by diagramming sentences –something that is foreign to most of us, but great fun for her.  Dr. Tate likens sentence diagramming to doing puzzles; and while she doesn’t expect her students to enjoy grammar study the way she did, she does expect them to use proper grammar. Her advice to her students is to be careful of prepositions (correct usage of on, in, for, by, etc.), spelling (r-h-y-t-h-m), and word choice (don’t let spell check change the word you meant to use!).  She showed her appreciation for grammar by comparing it to music, explaining that only by following the proper structures can music be truly beautiful, and that the same is true for writing. 

Not all of Dr. Tate’s courses involve the writing of formal papers, but all involve the reading and writing of music; which she views as a parallel art form. She explained that understanding the themes, phrasing, devices, and styles of music can only enhance these same aspects of writing and vice versa.  Dr. Tate went on to say that everything is connected, especially in the arts and she encourages students to draw on techniques from the visual arts and literature to enhance their study of music.

Dr. Tate enjoys writing and wishes she could do more of it.  One of her literary interests is early 20th century experimental French literature, which mirrors the musical experimentations of French music at that time.  She also loves to read literature in foreign languages.  She loves to see the beauty of words in other languages as they are able to express thoughts and images in a different way from English.  Dr. Tate’s thoughts on writing and literature were summed up when she told me that to her, “Words are music!”

When I asked Dr. Tate about her views of the Writing Center, she told me that she is glad that it is available and is always happy to get an email saying that one of her students was working on writing.