"Speech melody: Cross-disciplinary practices in teaching languages, text interpretation and music"

Balashov, Russia, March 3 and 4, 2015

From March 3rd to March 4th, 2015, an All-Russia conference “Speech melody: cross-disciplinary approaches to teaching sound and intonation aspects of foreign speech and music” was held in Balashov, Russia. It was a joint venture convened by the Chair of Foreign Languages at Balashov Institute of Saratov State University and the College of Arts in Balashov. The initiator and chief organizer of the event was Ludmila Comuzzi, Head of the Department of Foreign Languages and Doctor in Philology. Apart from the participants who came from Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Saratov and other Russian cities, there were also a number of scholars from other countries, namely, India and Switzerland.

The conference theme ran along cross-disciplinary approaches to studying/teaching the meaning- and genre-forming functions of sound, rhythm and melody in verbal texts, second-language communication and music from the perspectives of narrative theory, literary theory, linguistics, cultural studies and music studies. The general methodological and conceptual theme of the conference thus rested on the principles of intermediality. 

Taking into account structural similarity between music and speech, on the one hand, and the natural differences between them, on the other, the participants discussed the following issues:
1) What are the forms and types of contacts between verbal text and music?
2) How do the categories common for human speech and music, namely genre, rhythm, melody and sound, work in verbal texts and music? 
3) What are the cognitive processes underlying the reception and production of music and narrative?
4) What musical techniques and tools might be used in teaching languages and textual analysis, on the one hand, and how can the categories of narrative analysis, speech rhythm and phonology be applied in teaching the art of musical performance, on the other? 

Key-note speakers at the plenary session, which was entitled “Music and Speech: Cross-Disciplinary Interaction,” were Ludmila Comuzzi (author of three books on narrative theory, each of them insisting on the crucial role of rhythm in the narrative structure’s meaning-production), Galina Goumovskaya (Dr. in Philology, professor at Moscow Pedagogical State University, author of the monograph Rhythm as a Factor in the Artistic Expression of the Literary Text, Moscow 2001), Boris Yegorov (Dr. in Philology, Senior Researcher at St. Petersburg Institute of History of the Russian Academy of Science, a long-standing friend and colleague of Yuri Lotman) and Ursula Ganz-Blättler (an expert in media and pop culture studies from Stans, Switzerland).
In her opening lecture, “Verbal Text and Music: Types of Intermedial Contacts”,  Ludmila Comuzzi set forth the theoretical framework for the conference. She made an overview of the typology of intermedial art forms established by now within the theory of intermediality and focused on the types of contact between music and narrative. Galina Goumovskaya’s lecture was titled “Pragmatic Aspects of Lingual Rhythm” and dealt with the rhythmic patterns of discourse and their pragmatic significance for teaching English as a second language. Boris Yegorov introduced a counterpoint to the predominantly theoretical discourse of the previous speakers with a personal narrative about his encounters in the 1980s with Mstislav Rostropovič, the world-renowned Russian cellist, his contacts with the literary club of ex-Soviet writers in Washington, Rostropovič’s concerts, his unique cello and his ways with vodka. The lecture can be viewed at:


Ursula Ganz-Blättler presented a lecture, the subject of which was “What Difference an “H” Makes. Repetition and Variation in Popular Adaptations of Number One Chart Hits.” The video can be viewed at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3M6ci0RrgI The phenomenon she presented to the conference attendees was that of “filking,” a term used by Henry Jenkins to identify creative fan communities that like to “rip off” their preferred franchises (originally, Science-Fiction ones) and contemporary pop songs. Her example came from the popular franchise “Hunger Games: Mockingjay,” and her claim was that filking might be an interesting resource for learning purposes because people learn easier when they like what they’re doing.

The plenary was followed by two parallel sessions: 1) “Genre, Rhythm, Composition, Sound and More: Poetry and Music in the Cognitive and Cultural Perspectives” and 2) “Musical Thematizations and Adaptations of Literary Texts.”

In Session 1 speakers presented for discussion the following subjects: 1) types of sound and rhythm conceptualization in poetry (Zhanna Maslova, Dr. In Philology, Balashov); 2) neurophysiology of music reception from the perspective of a musician (Mikhail Osiko, a composer and author of four albums of songs in indi-style, Moscow); 3) 21st-century operatic interpretations of Nikolai Gogol’s comedy “The Government Inspector” (Artyom Zorin, Dr In Philology, professor at Saratov State University); 4) “mad song” as a transmedial genre in English music, theatre and poetry of the 17th and18th centuries (Ludmila Comuzzi, Balashov); 5) rhythm as a genre-forming category in tango, waltz, bossa-nova and jazz (Irina Strugovschikova, Balashov College of Arts); and 6) Sergey Rakhmaninov’s and Vassiliy Polenov’s works created in the estate Ivanovka near Balashov (Tatyana Platonova, PhD in history from Balashov Institute). The Session was concluded by the master-class “Pop Songs as a Resource for Teaching English Financial Terminology” held by Anna Shirokikh, PhD in Philology and lecturer at the University of Finance in Moscow. 

Session 2 was in the literary studies key and discussed a number of issues related to “narrative – music” relations: 1) musical experimentation in the plot structure of Dostoyevsky’s novel Devils (Alexey Sedov, PhD in Philology, lecturer in literary studies at Balashov Institute); 2) the symphonism of Andrey Platonov’s prose (Yelena Mamontova, independent scholar, Balashov); 3) a rock-opera adaptation of Andrey Voznesensky’s poem “Avos’” (Russian idiom for “on the off chance”) (Nalalya Proskurina, PhD in Philology, lecturer in literary studies at Balashov Institute); 4) genre of songs performed by the Russian folk-rock group “Melnitsa” (“The Mill”) (Yelena Aliferenko, PhD in Philology, Chair of the Literature Department at Balashov Institute); etc.

The second day of the conference was opened with a lecture by Sukhdev Singh, PhD in applied linguistics, Chair and professor at Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar, Punjab, India: “Systemic Functional Linguistics of M.A.K. Halliday and Its Application in Teaching Languages.” Prof. Singh underlined the ideological and social value of Halliday’s theory and specified the functional aspects of text analysis based on its principles. Taking the example of contemporary romance novels, Prof. Singh showed how analysis might reveal societal gender stereotypes reflected in portraying the verbal behavior and agency of male and female characters. The conference continued with the session “Language and Music: Theory and Classroom Practice” which featured presentations on 1) the latest variations within British standard or “received pronunciation” (RP) (Alexander Churanov, PhD in Philology, lecturer in English grammar and phonetics at Balashov Institute); 2) theoretical aspects of teaching English on the base of music and rhythm (Irina Nevezhina, PhD in Pedagogy, lecturer in methods of teaching English, Balashov Institute); 3) the use of rap in teaching English phonetics (Svetlana Bozrikova, lecturer in English, Balashov Institute); and 4) popular ballads as a resource for teaching German grammar (Alexandra Blokhina, lecturer in German, Balashov Institute).

This session was followed by a series of outstanding master classes, run under the agenda “Speech Rhythm and Music Imagery: the Art of Teaching.” These included: 1) Galina Goumovskaya’s master-class “Jazz Chants as a Language Acquisition Tool”; 2) a no less brilliant class on “Metro-rhythmic specificity of jazz” conducted by Vladimir Kuznetsov and his student Alyona Petrova (V. Kuznetsov – composer, lecturer in the art of popular music at Balashov College of Arts and organizer of music festivals “Jazz upon the Khopyor” along the river that runs through Balashov); and 3) a master class on teaching instrumental music “Imagery Evocation in a Musical Piece” (Irina Strugovschikova, lecturer in popular music at Balashov College of Arts and her student in the accordion class Maria Shestopalova).

The climactic moment of the conference came, however, in its final part, with the musical-poetic performance, a mini-concert, directed by Vladimir Kuznetsov. During this performance, the music instructors of the College of Arts, together with their students, some of whom are also studying English at Balashov Institute and, by managing to do so, enhance the inter-disciplinary nature of the conference, demonstrated their art in action. They performed instrumental and vocal pieces of varied genres and styles: contemporary Russian instrumental classics (Rodion Schedrin’s “Fuga”), jazz (R. Charles’ “Funny (But I still love you)”, A. Jobim’s “How Insensitive” played by an ensemble of three), a peculiar “jazz waltz” played on the accordion and several popular songs by Soviet and Russian composers. 

The footage of the conference events is to appear soon online. The written versions of the papers presented at the conference together with the papers of its distant participants are to appear in June or July 2015 in the conference proceedings. Researchers who might be interested in submitting a contribution can are kindly asked to consult the following site:
Articles are to be submitted to the editor, Ludmila Comuzzi, at: ltataru(at)yandex.ru

Ludmila Comuzzi (Tataru)
Balashov Institute of Saratov State University, Balashov, Russia

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ENN is the European Narratology Network, an association of individual narratologists and narratological institutions. ENN aims to foster the study of narrative representation in literature, film, digital media, etc. across all European languages and cultures.