11 Mar 2015

How to Write About Music: The RILM Manual of Style

RILM Abstracts of Music Literature is an international database for musicological and ethnomusicological research, providing abstracts and indexing for users all over the world. As such, RILM’s style guide (How to Write About Music: The RILM Manual of Style) differs fairly significantly from those of more generalized style guides such as MLA or APA.

The dual focus on abstracting and music results in a succinctness and clarity not to be found in these other, broader, style guides. With not a word to be wasted, RILM’s style manual explicates the matters of neutral language, dead language, and punctuation (from the serial comma to the em dash) through the lens of music.

This lens also allows for the illumination of issues specific to writing about music. The preferred spellings of composers’ names (ex. Pëtr Il'ič Čajkovskij), as well as the correct capitalization for work and movement titles, are supplied in an effort to achieve a functional unity among the disparate forms and variations. Only in RILM’s manual will one read about the correct hyphenation for pre-Classical and postimpressionism; only in RILM’s manual will pick up the correct italicization for printed, electronic, or audiovisual materials.

Of course, non-musical issues are still given weight, from the capitalization of geographical terms to non-Western honorifics to the transcription of dialect. Because RILM is an international organization, Cyrillic and Chinese characters (including Mandarin as well as dialects and non-Han languages) are treated with more importance than they might be in the style guide of English-speaking countries or locales. The style guide is constantly growing to include the most recent musical phenomena as well as those that are non-recent, but recently-discovered. Rather than a rigid, dated series of rules and reasoning, The RILM Manual of Style is ever-expanding and indispensable resource.

Rebecca Lentjes