Sample Textual Analysis: Picking apart a Fictional Puzzle

What follows is a sample of a textual analysis such as my students are being asked to write for the TxtAn assignment in the Fall 2015 term at Oklahoma State University. It conforms partially to the content guidelines expressed on the TxtAn assignment sheet for that term (it treats an article from the appropriate location but too early a date for student use), and it adheres to the length requirements (the assignment asks for 1,400 to 1,750; the sample is 1,515), although the formatting will necessarily differ due to the different medium of presentation. How the medium influences reading is something well worth considering as a classroom discussion, particularly for those students who are going into particularly writing- or design-intensive fields.

On 15 August 2015, Ben Dolnick’s “Puzzling through My Fiction” appeared in the online New York Times. Described in a postscript as the “final essay in the Draft series” the paper’s Opinion pages have maintained, it articulates and expands on the idea that crossword puzzles offer practice for fiction writing, with the process of solving such puzzles mapping neatly onto the process of drafting a work of fiction. Dolnick lays out major stages of the shared process–“The Blank Beginning,” “The Walk-Away,” “The Dam Breakage,” and “The Slow Clap”–providing illustrative anecdotes of each as it manifests in puzzle solving before making explicit the connection to writing fiction. In all, the piece is an effective presentation of one writer’s process, as paralleled in a literacy activity enjoyed by many who do not style themselves authors.

That Dolnick’s essay is effective overall does not mean it is without flaw, however. Some points of usage argue against the paper’s effectiveness. The readership of the New York Times tends to skew towards inclusivity and social justice, given the long association of the newspaper’s home and movements for various civil rights concerns. For the article to make the mistake of gendered assumptions, using masculine pronouns as universals, comes across as an abrogation of the presumed readers’ values. Authors are not universally masculine. They are not predominantly masculine in the United States of the early twenty-first century, as glimpses at bookshelves and at the still-often-feminized disciplines of writing and literary studies suggest. The essay’s deployment of masculine pronouns reads as exclusionary, therefore, and not in accord with the expectations its audience is likely to have.

Additionally, the presence of second-person reference outside of explicit instruction grates. While readers of the New York Times may be expected to be familiar with crossword puzzles–the paper is famous for the quality and difficulty of those it presents–they may not be assumed to be engaged in solving them. Even those who are thus engaged are not necessarily going to think along the lines the essay casually assumed. The second-person usage in such sections of the essay as “The Blank Beginning” comes off as somewhat presumptuous, and the New York City audience that is the primary readership of the paper is not noted for responding kindly to presumption.

Other usage is not problematic, although it does introduce some potential confusion. In the first paragraph of the section called “The Dam Breakage,” Dolnick references “an unprecedented lapse into Esperanto.” As a created language, Esperanto is spoken by limited numbers of people–and by vanishingly few as a native language. For the language to be chosen as one into which a writer lapses–with the word usually signaling something habitual taken up as a lack of effort not associated with speaking a non-native language–comes off as odd. That oddity distracts from the flow of the text, inhibiting its effectiveness.

While some of the article’s usage is problematic, and some is perhaps confusing, “Puzzling through My Fiction” deploys many other phrases that work remarkably well. The overall metaphor of the piece, linking crossword puzzles to fiction writing through geographic imagery, casts the two disparate items in a similar frame of reference, making the connection between the two evident and easily taken in by readers. Additionally, the metaphor allows for framing the discussion of the article as passing a series of landmarks–an image that resonates with New York City readers, living as they do in a place where many buildings have historical significance and seemingly all of them attract tourist gawking. In that resonance, local readers are able to access the text easily, increasing its overall effectiveness.

Individual phrases in the work serve to make the text more effective by making points succinctly and memorably. For example, the comment at the end of the section titled “The Blank Beginning” that “Even a granite wall, studied with sufficient patience, reveals its cracks” is telling. The referenced granite, a mottled stone, evokes the dark-and-light patterns of both crossword puzzles and printed pages, connecting them for effect. It also evokes the commonplace impression of granite as strength, speaking to the seeming intractability of puzzles and the blank page as they are initially confronted. That the granite, a stone used for things meant to last long, admits of its own breaking and division in the image thus suggests that the less monolithic problems of solving crosswords and making text admit of their own openings and resolutions. Reiterating a point without reiterating the words used to make it allows for repetition–useful for affirming messages–without the potential for nagging, making the tactic effectual.

Other examples of particularly vivid phrases appear in the text, as well. In the section titled “The Walk-Away,” Dolnick uses the image of having as an answer to one clue only “FARMLAND, and this FARMLAND seems to have been salted.” The image calls to mind the legended destruction of Carthage by Rome, in which the fields were sown with salt that nothing would grow in them again–a particularly vengeful act and one that sticks in the mind through its ferocity. Articles do well to stick in the mind, so the deployment of the example helps “Puzzling through My Fiction” make its point. Too, the image of a river surging forward in “The Dam Breakage,” while perhaps somewhat conventional, still carries much weight; its deployment therefore serves to help the article remain in mind, helping its point stay put across to the reader.

The article’s overall format also conduces to its effectiveness. As noted above, it makes free use of illustrative anecdotes in asserting the utility of crossword puzzles as practice for fiction writing. The anecdotes immediately humanize the process; in presenting stories, they make matters more accessible to readers who, by their very nature, seek out stories to read. They also subtly reinforce Dolnick’s ethos. In the article, he is an author writing about writing, particularly about writing fiction. The anecdotes, while based perhaps in observed events, are fictionalized. They are presentations of the very thing Dolnick is discussing doing, and so they provide direct evidence that he is capable of doing what he discusses doing. He demonstrates his expertise in the act of making assertions based upon it, increasing his authority to offer insights. Having simultaneous appeals to Aristotelian pathos and ethos promotes engagement with the work and makes it more authoritative; the two combine to make the essay more effective than it otherwise might be.

The introductory vignette serves as a particularly prominent example of how the essay deploys the two to effect. The opening sentence speaks to New York erudite culture–lox, a brined salmon fillet, and Ken Burns’s documentaries both loom large in the city’s lore and in the conversations of its many thinkers–and flatters those who participate in it, labeling as mature, thus refined and desirable, the attributes of that culture. Flattery tends to promote good feeling, and good feeling tends to entice further investigation and engagement–the development of which is one of the hallmarks of effective writing. Too, it situates the writer as long-embedded in the culture of New York City, asserting that he belongs among its people and among its writers. He is one of them, raised as such and therefore empowered to address them–and making that kind of appeal makes his writing all the more effective in reaching them.

Also effective are the patterns of presentation deployed in the article. The sections of the piece move chronologically, working from earlier in the process to later in the process; the order is sensible, easily accessed, and it reads well as a result. Similarly, the pattern of presentation within each section reads easily. Anecdotes occupying one or two brief paragraphs each are followed by one or two other paragraphs explaining both what the lesson in the anecdote is and how it applies to the task of fiction writing. Demonstration precedes explanation, following a common and effective teaching model. Again, the familiarity breeds ease of access and effectiveness of presentation, and motion from the concrete to the more abstract and general mimics some common understandings of learning. That mimicry allows the points Dolnick makes to reach the reader more fully, making his writing all the more effective.

The lesson Ben Dolnick teaches in “Puzzling through My Fiction” has implications for other writing than fictional. Poetry and drama both suffer from the problems of composition attendant on prose fiction; poets and dramatists suffer the traditional tyranny of the blank page and benefit from taking time away from work when it frustrates them, and they exult in the opening of their projects and the appreciation of their completion no less than their prose-writing counterparts. The same is true for writers of nonfiction, problematic as that definition may be. Essayists, for example, do as much to create as their “creative” counterparts, and they therefore encounter much the same kinds of difficulties in their creative acts as do poets, dramatists, and fiction writers. They, and all writers, potentially benefit from practice with word-puzzles–cross- and otherwise–as much as Dolnick reports doing.

Work Cited

  • Dolnick, Ben. “Puzzling through My Fiction.” New York Times. New York Times, 15 August 2015. Web. 30 September 2015.
Advertisements

Class Reports: ENGL 1113: Composition I, Sections 025, 044, 084, and 102- 30 September 2015

Discussion among the four sections of Composition I today continued to address concerns of the Profile, of which the FV is due before the beginning of class Friday, 2 October 2015. The TxtAn assignment sheet was distributed, and preliminary results from the survey (here) were noted; a more comprehensive report of the latter is forthcoming, pending completion of the survey.

Students are reminded that the later office hour, 1130-1220, on Friday, 2 October 2015, is canceled in favor of another meeting with the program chair. The inconvenience is regretted.

Students are reminded of the following due dates:

  • Profile FV, 2 October 2015 (via D2L before class begins)
  • TxtAn PV, 12 October 2015 (print copy at the beginning of class time)
  • TxtAn RV, 21 October 2015 (via D2L before class begins)

Regarding meetings and attendance:

  • Section 025 met as scheduled, at 1030 in Engineering South 213 A. The class roster showed 17 students enrolled, unchanged since the previous report. All attended, verified informally. Student participation was better than in some past classes, but still less than is optimal.
  • Section 044 met as scheduled, at 1330 in Classroom Building 108. The class roster showed 18 students enrolled, unchanged since the previous report. Sixteen attended, verified informally. Student participation was more focused than usual.
  • Section 084 met as scheduled, at 0830 in Morrill Hall 306. The class roster showed 19 students enrolled, unchanged since the previous report. Seventeen attended, verified informally. Student participation was generally good.
  • Section 102 met as scheduled, at 1230 in Classroom Building 221. The class roster showed 18 students enrolled, unchanged since the previous report. Sixteen attended, verified informally. Student participation was less than is desired.

Class Reports: ENGL 1113: Composition I, Sections 025, 044, 084, and 102- 28 September 2015

Discussion among the four sections of Composition I today continued to address concerns of the Profile, of which the RV was assessed and returned over the weekend.

A survey asking after impressions of the class thus far was noted early in the class; students, please fill it out here. The results will be used to try to improve classroom practice. They will be anonymous as received by the instructor, but students are reminded that a grade is associated with the exercise; it needs to be completed before the beginning of class time on 30 September 2015.

Students should also note that the later office hour, 1130-1220, on Friday, 2 October 2015, is canceled in favor of another meeting with the program chair. The inconvenience is regretted.

Student participation was

  • Minimal in Section 025,
  • As expected in Section 044,
  • Somewhat subdued in Section 084, and
  • Restrained in Section 102.

Students are reminded of the following added due dates:

  • Profile FV, 2 October 2015 (via D2L before class begins)
  • TxtAn PV, 12 October 2015 (print copy at the beginning of class time)
  • TxtAn RV, 21 October 2015 (via D2L before class begins)

Regarding meetings and attendance:

  • Section 025 met as scheduled, at 1030 in Engineering South 213 A. The class roster showed 17 students enrolled, unchanged since last report. Sixteen attended, verified informally.
  • Section 044 met as scheduled, at 1330 in Classroom Building 108. The class roster showed 18 students enrolled, unchanged since last report. Fifteen attended, verified informally.
  • Section 084 met as scheduled, at 0830 in Morrill Hall 306. The class roster showed 19 students enrolled, unchanged since last report. Sixteen attended, verified informally.
  • Section 102 met as scheduled, at 1230 in Classroom Building 221. The class roster showed 18 students enrolled, unchanged since last report. Sixteen attended, verified informally.

Class Reports: ENGL 1113: Composition I, Sections 025, 044, 084, and 102- 25 September 2015

Discussion among the four sections of Composition I today continued to address concerns of the Profile, of which the RV was to be submitted before the beginning of class time. Several students had sent emails regarding software difficulties; those received before 0600 today were addressed via email. Matters of usage were also addressed in class.

Student participation was

  • Insufficient in Section 025;
  • Good, if distracted, in Section 044;
  • Good, if somewhat distracted at points, in Section 084: and
  • Improved after a ragged beginning in Section 102.

Students are reminded of the following due dates:

  • Profile FV, 2 October 2015 (via D2L before class begins)
  • TxtAn PV, 12 October 2015 (print copy at the beginning of class time)
  • TxtAn RV, 21 October 2015 (via D2L before class begins)

Regarding meetings and attendance:

  • Section 025 met as scheduled, at 1030 in Engineering South 213 A. Its roster listed 17 students enrolled, unchanged since the previous report. Sixteen attended, verified informally.
  • Section 044 met as scheduled, at 1330 in Classroom Building 108. Its roster listed 18 students enrolled, unchanged since the previous report. Fourteen attended, verified informally.
  • Section 084 met as scheduled, at 0830 in Morrill Hall 306. Its roster listed 19 students enrolled, unchanged since the previous report. Sixteen attended, verified informally.
  • Section 102 met as scheduled, at 1230 in Classroom Building 221. Its roster listed 18 students enrolled, unchanged since the previous report. Thirteen attended, verified informally.

Class Reports: ENGL 1113: Composition I, Sections 025, 044, 084, and 102- 23 September 2015

Discussion among the four sections of Composition I today continued to address concerns of the Profile. Noted was the report of six-week grades, required by the institution. Students are advised that 1) the six-week grades do not factor into GPA and 2) six-week grades represent less than 15% of the total course score.

Class concluded with a riddle quiz of the sort administered on 31 August 2015 and 16 September 2015. The text of the riddle derives from one in the Exeter Book, often labeled as Riddle 8. The answer is traditionally given as “fire,” but, as in the earlier quizzes, the grade on the assignment was determined by the quality of the proofreading and of the explanation of the answer from the textual clues provided, rather than from the “correctness” of the answer itself.

Student participation was

  • Subdued in Section 025;
  • Robust, if easily distracted, in Section 044;
  • Less robust than usual in Section 084: and
  • Remarkably subdued in Section 102.

Students are reminded of the following due dates:

  • Profile RV, 25 September 2015 (via D2L before class begins)
  • Profile FV, 2 October 2015 (via D2L before class begins)
  • TxtAn PV, 12 October 2015 (print copy at the beginning of class time)

Regarding meetings and attendance:

  • Section 025 met as scheduled, at 1030 in Engineering South 213 A. Its roster listed 17 students enrolled, unchanged since the previous report. Fourteen attended, verified by the quiz noted above.
  • Section 044 met as scheduled, at 1330 in Classroom Building 108. Its roster listed 18 students enrolled, unchanged since the previous report. Seventeen attended, verified by the quiz noted above.
  • Section 084 met as scheduled, at 0830 in Morrill Hall 306. Its roster listed 19 students enrolled, unchanged since the previous report. Eighteen attended, verified by by the quiz noted above.
  • Section 102 met as scheduled, at 1230 in Classroom Building 221. Its roster listed 18 students enrolled, unchanged since the previous report. Sixteen attended, verified by the quiz noted above.

Class Reports: ENGL 1113: Composition I, Sections 025, 044, 084, and 102- 21 September 2015

Discussion among the four sections of Composition I today continued to address concerns of the Profile. Readings informing the Profile continued to receive attention, and concerns of citation, following student questions in earlier class meetings, did, as well. Also briefly noted were the results of the LitNarr FV, which was graded and returned to students; overall, the FV was better than the RV which preceded it. It is a hopeful trend.

Student participation was

  • Subdued in Section 025, likely because of the warmth of the room;
  • Good, if prone to distraction, in Section 044;
  • Unusually restrained in Section 084; and
  • Subdued in Section 102.

Students are reminded of the following due dates:

  • Profile RV, 25 September 2015 (via D2L before class begins)
  • Profile FV, 2 October 2015 (via D2L before class begins)
  • TxtAn PV, 12 October 2015 (print copy at the beginning of class time)

Regarding meetings and attendance:

  • Section 025 met as scheduled, at 1030 in Engineering South 213 A. Its roster listed 17 students enrolled, unchanged since the previous report. Fourteen attended, verified by a brief written exercise.
  • Section 044 met as scheduled, at 1330 in Classroom Building 108. Its roster listed 18 students enrolled, unchanged since the previous report. Fifteen attended, verified informally.
  • Section 084 met as scheduled, at 0830 in Morrill Hall 306. Its roster listed 19 students enrolled, unchanged since the previous report. Seventeen attended, verified by a brief written exercise.
  • Section 102 met as scheduled, at 1230 in Classroom Building 221. Its roster listed 18 students enrolled, unchanged since the previous report. Fifteen attended, verified informally.

Class Reports: ENGL 1113: Composition I, Sections 025, 044, 084, and 102- 18 September 2015

Class in each of the four sections of Composition I today was taken up with peer review of the Profile PV. Per the Profile assignment sheet, a quiz grade was taken from the presence of the Profile PV in class; the quiz was also used to assess attendance in each section.

Students are reminded of the following due dates:

  • Profile RV, 25 September 2015 (via D2L before class begins)
  • Profile FV, 2 October 2015 (via D2L before class begins)
  • TxtAn PV, 12 October 2015 (print copy at the beginning of class time)

Regarding meetings and attendance:

  • Section 025 met as scheduled, at 1030 in Engineering South 213 A. Its roster listed 17 students enrolled, unchanged since last class meeting. Fourteen attended.
  • Section 044 met as scheduled, at 1330 in Classroom Building 108. Its roster listed 18 students enrolled, unchanged since last class meeting. Sixteen attended.
  • Section 084 met as scheduled, at 0830 in Morrill Hall 306. Its roster listed 19 students enrolled, unchanged since last class meeting. Eighteen attended.
  • Section 102 met as scheduled, at 1230 in Classroom Building 221. Its roster listed 18 students enrolled, unchanged since last class meeting. All attended.

Class Reports: ENGL 1113: Composition I, Sections 025, 044, 084, and 102- 16 September 2015

Discussion among the four sections of Composition I today continued to address concerns of the Profile. Readings informing the Profile received more attention.

Class concluded with a riddle quiz of the sort administered on 31 August 2015. The text of the riddle derives from one in the Exeter Book, labeled by SAJ Bradley in Anglo-Saxon Poetry as Riddle 61. The answer is reportedly either “shirt” or “helmet,” but, as in the earlier quiz, the grade on the assignment was determined by the quality of the proofreading and of the explanation of the answer from the textual clues provided, rather than from the “correctness” of the answer itself.

Student participation was

  • Somewhat subdued in Section 025;
  • Good, if somewhat distracted, in Section 044;
  • Reasonably good in Section 084: and
  • Less robust than could be desired in Section 102.

Students are additionally reminded of upcoming assignment due dates:

  • Profile PV, 18 September 2015 (bring a print copy to class)
  • Profile RV, 25 September 2015 (via D2L before the beginning of class time)
  • Profile FV, 2 October 2015 (via D2L before the beginning of class time)

Students should please also note that the course webpage is undergoing updates. They should also note that a sample profile has been posted.

Regarding class meetings and attendance:

  • Section 025 met as scheduled, at 1030 in Engineering South 213 A. The class roster listed 17 students enrolled, unchanged since the last report. Fifteen attended, verified by the riddle quiz noted above. Of note, the class hosted an observer as part of regular assessment of instruction in the program.
  • Section 044 met as scheduled, at 1330 in Classroom Building 108. The class roster listed 18 students enrolled, a decline of one since the last report. Seventeen attended, verified by the riddle quiz noted above.
  • Section 084 met as scheduled, at 0830 in Morrill Hall 306. The class roster listed 19 students enrolled, unchanged since the last report. All attended, verified by the riddle quiz noted above.
  • Section 102 met as scheduled, at 1230 in Classroom Building 221. The class roster listed 18 students enrolled, unchanged since the last report. Fifteen attended, verified by the riddle quiz noted above.

Sample Profile: His Work Is No Joke

What follows is a sample of a profile such as my students are being asked to write for the Profile assignment in the Fall 2015 term at Oklahoma State University. It conforms partially to the content guidelines expressed on the Profile assignment sheet for that term, and it adheres to the length requirements (approaching 1,600 words; the assignment asks for 1,400 to 2,100), although the formatting will necessarily differ due to the different medium of presentation. How the medium influences reading is something well worth considering as a classroom discussion, particularly for those students who are going into particularly writing- or design-intensive fields.

I am grateful to the subject of this sample, my brother, for agreeing to it and for offering information. If there are errors in the text, they are entirely my own.

Daniel Elliott was born in northwest Louisiana, a bit more than five years after I was. Like me, he grew up in the Texas Hill Country. We graduated from the same high school a bit further apart than our ages would have it, and we started our baccalaureates in more or less the same way, majoring in music at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He succeeded where I failed, however; while I was obliged to change my major and pursue another field of study entirely, he was able to complete his music degree, earning a Bachelor of Music in 2011.

While the degree itself provokes no few jokes among the family—Daniel grew up among people who enjoy wordplay and direct it at and to one another as a form of entertainment, so that his holding a BM could be expected to prompt comment—Daniel himself is not a joke. Instead, he is a serious musician, dedicated to his craft and hardworking in its pursuit. Having been a touring musician at one time, he has also played with no few bands in school and outside it. His keyboard, trombone, and vocal work feature on the Juantanamos’ debut album, Ghost Tracks, and they sound out several times a week across much of Texas with the eminent party band Play It 4ward. In each, Daniel presents himself as a consummate professional, attentive to the fine details of performance and to ensuring that those details are as they ought to be.

His family background, in addition to offering no small number of quips, helps suit him to the work he does now. Growing up, Daniel displayed musical talent early on, aided in the display by the long association of his extended family with music. A great uncle, Denny Hardy, had himself been a touring and local musician for several decades, family history having him playing with such eminent figures as Duke Ellington, Fats Domino, Count Basie, Diana Ross, David Lee Roth, and Kenny Rogers; a grandfather, Russell Elliott, had been a music teacher, vocalist, and saxophonist for every bit as long. His father, Kevin Elliott, played in a local swing band for several years in Daniel’s youth, as well, and others in the family played instruments or sang for their own enjoyment and work in school. As such, there were many instruments available to Daniel during his formative years, and he was encouraged to play with them early on. His doing so built a familiarity with them that has stood him in good stead since, making music not a thing to do for him so much as a thing that is part of who he is and where he is.

That Daniel’s talent was recognized early did not mean he was not pushed to develop it. From an early age, he was enrolled in piano lessons with a local music teacher, Gaylene Ingram; his lessons with her continued through high school, and they were supplemented by other instruction in college. They were joined in sixth grade by formal instruction on trombone, picked up because of amenable facial structure and the odd chance of his father having a spare instrument at the house, as he noted to me in text messages on 15 September 2015. Daniel continued studying trombone through high school and pursued it with a different teacher in college. From sixth grade on, he also participated in a number of school ensembles: concert bands, marching bands, big bands, jazz combos, orchestras, and the occasional rock band. The breadth of his performance repertoire did much to enhance his abilities in each mode; he freely borrows across musical genres in his performances, doing such things as inserting strains from Sousa into jazz trombone solos or writing lines evocative of Gershwin into tracks for the Juantanamos. The tactic is unusual, borrowed from his great uncle and deployed without ostentation. Daniel simply plays what seems right—and what ends up being right, something betokening his mastery of his craft.

Similarly, as he plays, his body is remarkably relaxed. At shows where I have seen him perform as a trombonist, his posture is upright but not painfully so. No tension appears in his shoulders, even when thunder booms from the bell of his horn or when notes better suited to trumpets call out from it; his eyes close and any hint of lines upon his still-young forehead smooth away as the muscles beneath ease themselves in a way unlike that seen upon many who put horns to their faces. As a keyboardist, he almost slumps over the many racks of ivories—he usually plays multiple keyboards at a time: an electric piano complemented by synthesizers of various sorts—again closing his eyes, his head weaving around in sympathy with the sounds surrounding him. He moves with what he does, not so much making music as being it and serving as a conduit for some other voice that only he can hear before he makes it manifest for his audience. And when he sings with a voice that does show the effects of playing in bars and smoking in them and elsewhere, there is still no strain in him; the notes are full, not restricted, save when he sings for metal music—and even then, he does with air what many do by constriction. Only from long familiarity with the work of playing and training to make that work a thing that is rather than a thing that is done can such performance proceed; that Daniel does so nearly daily surely says that he is a consummate musician.

That Daniel already shows the skill he does does not prompt him to rest contentedly. Instead, he continues to work to refine his craft, approaching the task with a paradoxically confident humility—the knowledge that there is room for him to improve and that he is capable of making improvements. In part, doing so takes the form of attention to equipment such as typifies the greatest workers in any craft; mastery of a discipline includes caring for the tools involved in that discipline. I have seen him spend no small amount of time cleaning his trombones, for example, ensuring that nothing remains in the bore to interfere with the flow of air and sound through it and that the outside of the instrument gleams under sunlight or stage light. I have seen him also search far for a new keyboard cable or pedal to plug in, the specifications of it only slightly different than what he had had before, but in that small difference registering no small change in sound or responsiveness. I freely confess that the details of what he does with his keyboards exceed my understanding, but I know that the hours he spends in assembling, testing, and reconfiguring his equipment produce subtle changes telling in the performance, small shifts that occur only to those at the highest levels of their craft—and who recognize that there are higher levels yet to attain.

All of this is in addition to what would be expected of any professional in a given field: continued study. Many people spend much time listening to music, but they tend to confine themselves to a handful of artists and genres, and they tend to use it as background for their lives. Daniel, however, listens to every scrap of music he can find, from contemporary progressive metal through old recordings of Baroque scores on period instruments, to live performances by Big Daddy Kane in a park in Crown Heights or by Chicago and Earth, Wind, and Fire at a San Antonio amphitheater. Unless he is himself performing or asleep, he is most likely listening to music, attending to it in a way most cannot and processing what he hears so that he will know later on how to make more of it fit together—as would be expected of the musician he is.

Perhaps less expected but not less vital to Daniel’s musicianship is his professional handling of the managerial side of it. His training equips him to do so; his college coursework was directed towards music marketing in no small measure. I have never known him to be late to a performance, even when he has more than one booked in a day, and I have never known him to act in such a way that his fellow musicians have not been happy to hire him again—unless it is in knowing his worth and asking more for his time than a venue might be willing to pay. Even when his fellows have been less than upright, he has not acted out, finishing the jobs he has contracted before leaving a group or dismissing bandmates quietly and in private. Not for him are the flashy eruptions endemic to musicians in popular conception; for him instead is a respect for the work he does and that others do around him that bespeaks a level of professional integrity rare, but desirable, to see.

Setting aside any notion of jest, Daniel Elliott is a fine musician. More than proficient in several instruments and as a singer, attentive to his equipment, and possessed of a keen sense of how to work as a member of a musical group, his is an example well worth emulating. It may well not be the case that any given other person has the kind of innate talent that Daniel has spent decades honing, but his display of talent is a result of the honing—and that, most anyone can do, whether as a musician or in another endeavor entirely.