Author: smtcsw

FEATURED WIMT: Rebecca Perry

I live in the fertile but sparsely populated borderland between music theory and history. Though a music theorist in job title, I have found abundant opportunities for cross-pollination between the two fields. My work on Prokofiev’s early adaptations of sonata form relies heavily on paradigms from musicology, taking inventory of specific ways that his idiosyncrasies of thematic process bear the imprint of his aesthetic and sociocultural milieu in early twentieth-century St. Petersburg.

Oddly enough, I migrated to this disciplinary interspace from the adjacent province of literary criticism. As a child, I loved to memorize exquisite turns of phrase that I encountered in poems and novels; I ran through my school’s hallways announcing to my friends that “[t]o make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee” (Emily Dickinson). Studying major literary works later on in high school, I was intrigued to learn that meaning arose not only from a text’s story or graceful combinations of words, per se, but from the fictional procedure itself—from the author’s deployment of particular formal techniques to construct the story in a certain way.

Like many young readers, I operated under the unconscious assumption that proper understanding of these formal techniques would unlock the door to a text’s ultimate meaning. Not until my sophomore year of college did I understand that a text does not possess one true interpretation, like a rare bird locked in a cage. One afternoon in a literary criticism class taught by Daniel Muhlestein at Brigham Young University, an astute fellow student explained that when he read a novel, he tried to view it through several critical lenses simultaneously, including feminism, Marxism, and so forth. While this approach to reading seemed impossibly esoteric to my nineteen-year-old mind, I was nonetheless fascinated at the idea that a text could become a dense, multi-dimensional menagerie of meanings to the trained and searching eye.

It occurred to me later in my college career that a similar critical approach could be productively applied to music. As a piano performance major, I became particularly interested in the early piano concertos and sonatas of Prokofiev. I was often puzzled, however, at the disconnect between my experience of his compositional unorthodoxies and the ease with which many commentators dismissed his works—particularly his formal process—as uninventive or overly reliant on classical models. His sonata forms in particular were often deemed to be mechanical and perfunctory, following “stereotyped formal pattern[s] straight out of the textbook” (Richard Taruskin) or “adhering to ‘sonata form’ as if it were a train schedule” (James McCalla). It seemed to me that such cursory dismissals bypassed much that was experimental and connotatively rich in the composer’s formal strategies, caricaturing them as one-dimensional rehashings of Viennese classical forms.

As I continued my study of Prokofiev in a doctoral program in Music History at Yale, I undertook a more detailed study of the many formal eccentricities in his sonata forms—including the interpolation of unrelated material in the middle of a traditional theme space, the superimposition of two previously sounded themes, the severe truncation of thematic material after the close of the exposition, and the functional repurposing of thematic material following its initial sounding. Often these thematic idiosyncrasies were pronounced enough to disrupt the larger structures in which they appeared, simultaneously inviting multiple interpretations of the overall form. I vividly remember an afternoon spent in a Panera Bread (of all places) on Chapel Street in New Haven, puzzling over the superimposed primary and secondary themes in the slow middle movement of Prokofiev’s Fourth Piano Sonata (1917).

As I struggled to find a formal label for the movement that could accommodate this stratified return of the opening material, it occurred to me that the richness of the movement was actually wrapped up in—not thwarted by—the structural ramifications of this thematic superimposition. The layering of themes placed the movement in dialogue with Type 2 sonata form, Type 3 sonata form, and ternary form simultaneously. There was no single “correct” reading: it was much too beautifully rich and messy to put in any single theoretical box.

After wading more deeply into my dissertation work, I realized that hasty caricatures of Prokofiev’s sonata forms not only ignored much that was interesting in the music itself but also hindered our ability to properly situate the composer historically. I found that Prokofiev did not take his formal cues from a single Viennese “textbook” but was rather in dialogue with a complex network of multiple sonata traditions, particularly the nineteenth-century Russian symphonic tradition, fin-de-siècle Austro-German sonata practice, and the early twentieth-century Franco-Russian avant-garde. In my continued work on early twentieth-century sonata form, I have repeatedly been struck by the deep interrelationship of music theory and history: the more detailed understanding we have of the internal structure of the musical artifact, the more fully and accurately we can piece together the historical traditions with which it is in dialogue.

In the classroom, I have sought to instill in students a similar appreciation for music’s resistance to facile labels, both in terms of internal structure and historical situatedness. Last spring when a spirited debate arose among my students about whether a Mozart minuet could be called a rounded binary form, I suggested that when you attempt to dress a small child in a piece of clothing (a shirt perhaps), and the shirt does not fit, you learn something about both the girth of the child and the limits of the shirt. Though admittedly ridiculous, this metaphor did lead the group to concede that when a piece of music seems to defy existing labels, we can gain a more nuanced understanding of both the complexity of the music itself and of the limitations of our theoretical and historical categories. While I am aware that many of our Conservatory students will go on to pursue careers in other fields, I believe that these kinds of analytical skills will lead them to be more critically thinking members of their professions and broad-minded contributors to society.

 

 

Perry high resBecky Perry is an Assistant Professor of Music Theory at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. She received her Ph.D. in Music History from Yale University in 2017. Her work explores idiosyncrasies of form and thematic process in Prokofiev’s early instrumental music. Her work has appeared in Music Theory & Analysis, and she has presented at annual meetings of the Society for Music Theory, American Musicological Society, European Music Analysis Conference, and Music Theory Midwest.

 

Advertisements

Featured WIMT: Abigail Shupe

I study death.

A lot of days, I read about funeral customs, end-of-life care, the death industry, and I write about death and music. Contrary to what one might imagine, this reading is interesting, not usually depressing, and generally life affirming.

My interest in this topic came about during my doctoral studies at the University of Western Ontario. One of my answers for my comprehensive exams included a narrative analysis of George Crumb’s River of Life (2003), and I was drawn to the ways the piece commented on death. Despite its title, the songs in this cycle dealt with dying and the afterlife; it suggested a kind of symmetry and balance that conceived of death as part of life, necessary to make life complete. My analysis of the pitch structure supported this interpretation. As is typical of Crumb, the harmonic content features symmetrical set classes, aggregate completion, and a symbolic use of certain interval classes like the tritone. I was also compelled to analyze the music this way because of the seeming personal connections in the piece between the Appalachian folk songs and hymns, and Crumb’s identity as a West Virginian. The cycle conveyed a sense of death as a peaceful return home, and I posited that Crumb, in his early eighties at the time, would have found such a notion comforting.

While this project began as an exam answer, it grew into several conference papers, and I continued to work on it on the side, whenever my advisor was busy reading a dissertation chapter. Compared with my dissertation research on Rameau and the reception of Newton’s theories in the French Enlightenment, Crumb’s music and death provided much needed contrast, along with the chance to do score analysis (completely absent from my dissertation). When it came time to enter the job market, it turned out that having two very different research areas was a plus, and committees seemed to be attracted to this odd combination. In fall of 2014 my work on River of Life was accepted into an edited volume, Singing Death, about all manner of issues of music and mortality.

Unfortunately, I had to pause while editing the final draft of my essay for this volume because my father died in May 2015. The editors graciously granted me extra time away from the project in the worst periods of my grief, saying they understood that I needed a break from thinking about death critically when it had happened so close to me. Although unsure about whether I could continue in this particular research area, I found when I returned to it that the topic was richer and more personally rewarding than ever. My experience with grief revealed to me how poorly American culture equips us to deal with topics like death, grief, and mortality. By reading others’ accounts of how death impacted them, along with sociological accounts of American attitudes toward death, I realized I was not alone in my feelings. These authors dealt with topics that I wanted to talk about, but that mainstream culture seemed to deem off limits. I took comfort in reading about deaths in vastly different circumstances or periods of American history, and gained an appreciation for how honestly addressing my own feelings about death could improve my quality of life.

Being a part of Singing Death also alerted me to an entire subfield of the humanities of which I previously had been unaware: death studies. Once I knew that this field existed, I immediately knew it was the best way for me to situate the same issues in Crumb’s music. Death studies, which encompasses studies of death and mortality from various perspectives, specifies how death in the context of war is different, and how the mass deaths during American wars in the past have changed current cultural practices around death. I have been most attracted to discussions of ghosts or hauntings as part of cultural responses to death. Crumb’s music is full of ghostly content, whether abstractly in his choice of timbre, or explicitly in his titles, texts, and performance indications. With this framework in mind, I turned to two of his pieces about war to examine how these pieces commented on American wars or death during wartime.

Specifically, I have focused on Winds of Destiny (2004) and Black Angels (1970), and their relationships to the Civil War and the Vietnam War, respectively. My analysis of Winds of Destiny centers on how Crumb uses timbre and musical content to haunt listeners. I also draw on scholarship about death from this period about how the Civil War produced more causalities than any war before it (and many since). The mass quantities of dead in the 1860s led to the emergence of the modern funeral industry, and especially, the ubiquity of embalming. Aside from new funeral and business practices, this era also led to the government marshaling a sense of patriotism around the deaths of soldiers, as a way of coping with their deaths and maintaining enthusiasm for the war effort. Winds of Destiny does more than comment on the Civil War, however; it ultimately haunts listeners on an allegorical level, prompting us to consider the morality of more recent American military actions. Crumb’s Black Angels is well known, and though it does not explicitly deal with the Vietnam War, this war was central to the cultural conflicts of the 1960s that the piece comments on. Like the Civil War, the Vietnam War changed the way Americans viewed the deaths of soldiers. However, unlike the patriotism rallied for the Civil War dead, the losses in Vietnam became for many a symbol of the futility of Americans’ presence there. Their deaths were seen in some ways as meaningless and stood for the larger meaninglessness of the war. Black Angels haunts listeners on an allegorical level to consider these issues, while also suggesting deeper, cosmic consequences for the social turmoil of the 1960s.

Taking Judith Lochhead’s suggestion in Reconceiving Structure in Contemporary Music, I analyze Crumb’s music taking into account things like intertextual relationships, references, performance indications, timbre, and things generally considered “outside” the primary text. To be sure, this subject matter at times makes for awkward dinner party conversation. But ultimately the project enriches my life as it urges me to consider what it means to be alive, what kind of death I hope to have, and what it means to lose those we love.

 

ashupeAbigail Shupe is an Assistant Professor of Music Theory at Colorado State University. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Western Ontario, and holds an M.M. in Music Theory and a B.M. in Music Composition from Indiana University. Her research focuses on issues of death and mortality in George Crumb’s music about war, and materialism and science in Rameau’s Génération harmonique. Her work has appeared in Theoria (Spring 2017) and in Singing Death (Routledge, 2017). She has served as the student representative for SMT’s CSW and currently chairs the Scholars for Social Responsibility Interest Group.

Featured WIMT: Sarah Iker

I’ve always loved puzzles—the more complicated, the better. But my obsession didn’t seem to have an obvious relationship to my musical ability for many years. My musical trajectory was typical: I started piano lessons in elementary school and did the usual competitions and associated music theory workbooks, which I thought were pretty boring. Perhaps relatedly, I hated Bach (J.S., of course, I didn’t know there were others) until late high school, when my piano teacher, Caryl Smith, showed me how to analyze motivic relationships in imitative polyphony—a puzzle I enjoyed untangling. I didn’t make the connection between my interest in this sort of analysis and a future career in music theory until much later.

When I began college, I knew I wanted to continue playing piano, so I planned to double-major in music and a STEM discipline. I started with chemistry, but found that my favorite part of any class was deriving equations—so I found my home as a math major. As befitted my puzzle-solving interests, I planned to become a cryptographer. But at the same time, I loved my piano lessons, I enjoyed the puzzles of counterpoint and model composition, and I liked learning about obscure musical genres in music history. Still, I thought music theory wasn’t something that was for me—I was starting to consider changing my career path, but I wanted to pursue piano professionally.

Fortunately, I had a wonderful music theory professor, Youyoung Kang, my first year at Scripps College, a women’s college that takes as its motto the charge to help women become confident, creative, and hopeful. Professor Kang was a role model in a place I didn’t know to look: a fellow woman who had dual interests in music and mathematics, someone who didn’t underplay her love for the “geeky” parts of music. She recognized something in me that I didn’t: my excitement over analysis, over the especially “mathy” portions of our classes together (I loved set theory). Professor Kang inspired me to pursue music theory at the graduate level.

In graduate school, I thought I’d continue integrating math and music theory directly: I intended to study transformation theory or some sort of music psychology. But my musical interests and my graduate training led me elsewhere. In an early graduate seminar with Steven Rings, I was introduced to David Lewin’s writing on multiple hearings and experiences of music as wide-ranging as Schubert and Stockhausen. We read T.J. Clarke’s art history monograph, The Sight of Death, in which he re-analyzes the same painting, finding new details, day after day. I thought that this approach to analysis was freeing and fascinating, and I found myself less and less interested in studying a single analytical methodology. Instead, I found myself drawn to a type of music in which I had multiple, different experiences. The music that captivated me was one of Stravinsky’s early neoclassical works, his Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments. I realized I wasn’t alone in my varied experiences of the work—and that this kind of neoclassicism has struck many people in a variety of different ways.

Although I wasn’t conscious of it, my mathematical interests gradually crept into my research: I wanted to catalogue historical experiences of neoclassicism, to understand whether these experiences matched my own, and to use these responses to understand, analytically, how Stravinsky modified expected tonal structures to strategic effect. I was fortunate to receive grants from my department and the university to do archival research that further strengthened my interest in the language the people used to describe these experiences. My preliminary, handwritten attempts to analyze all the adjectives people use to describe this music at different points in time became increasingly mathematical, so Seth Brodsky suggested that I look into text mining and the digital humanities. And, then, it all clicked: the right way to approach the mass of responses I had accumulated was through combining statistical analysis with closer reading of specific responses. I found that my results suggested that relationships between expectation and alteration were quite important to listeners, so I began to look into ways to represent these ideas in music analysis. Ultimately, I found that a combination of recomposition, schemata, and topic theory helped to reflect and reanimate those experiences.

In my teaching, however, I find that many of my students are reticent to explore music theory, in large part because they find its mathematical qualities disinteresting or intimidating. This response seems to come disproportionately from my female students. If we want to encourage more women to pursue music theory, one thing that may help is to consider the possibility that many of our students are afraid, that they have been taught that they are not good at math, that they have been told they have no aptitude for this kind of thinking, and that this predisposes them to dislike music theory and its mathematical trappings. Articles come out frequently about relative lack of confidence in STEM classrooms, indicating that women often underestimate their aptitude and skill in the classroom. Thus, encouraging confidence and creativity in our classrooms ought to be an important focus. Many of my students tell me they simply can’t think this way—and I take this as a challenge to show them that they can.

There are many ways, of course, to encourage students to overcome their anxieties, to enjoy and participate in music theory and analysis, but I want to suggest some that have been especially helpful for me:

  1. I emphasize that at its core, music theory and analysis is a humanistic discipline, not a scientific one. There are multiple ways to interpret a chord, a non-chord tone, or a form, and each interpretation adds richness to our musical understanding. It’s okay, preferred even, to experience the same piece differently on a different day!
  1. I work to demystify the myriad ways that music theorists use numbers to represent musical and music-theoretical ideas (c.f. Megan Lavengood’s “There are too many numbers in music theory”).
  1. I don’t shy away from the psychological and mathematical ties to our discipline. I lean into algorithmic thinking, emphasizing my own excitement at musical puzzles and mathematical ideas, but I also work to help students find ways to interpret these ideas creatively. One common exercise that I find helps with the overwhelming numbers in music fundamentals, for example, is to ask students to draw their understanding of relationships between parallel and relative keys—the results are often surprising and fascinating, and it allows them to encode many numbers in a way that makes more sense to them.
  1. I frequently ask students to bring in musical examples from their lessons, ensembles, or daily listening practices so that we can analyze them together and ground these abstract, sometimes mathematical ideas in music that they find compelling. Sometimes this may mean stretching the boundaries of what might seem acceptable, like analyzing sets in the music of Lana del Rey, but students end up less overwhelmed and more engaged.

 

 

Iker_SSarah Iker is Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Tampa. She holds a Ph.D. in Music History and Theory from the University of Chicago, and a B.A. in Music and Mathematics from Scripps College. Her research focuses on analyzing historical experiences of neoclassicism, digital humanities, schemata, and musical theater, and has recently presented research at the annual meetings of several regional music theory societies. She is a pianist, handbell player, and swing dancer.

Featured WiMT: Elina Hamilton

As a pianist, it took me a surprisingly long time before I realized I was bound to music notation. Notation informed me what pitch to play, for how long, with specific articulation, dynamics, and with what kind of emotion a phrase should be presented to an audience. At one point I stopped to ponder the power that “The Score” had over me as I spent hours building up a repertoire for my senior recital. Little did I know at the time that my curiosity would lead me into the wonderfully complex world of medieval music treatises.

For my graduate studies, I moved to the UK to study early music at Bangor University (Wales, UK). Unlike institutions in the United States, music departments in the UK do not segregate musicology and theory, and this enabled me to move freely between the two disciplines. My time in the music department coincided with a newly established Center for Early Music studies in 2007 led by distinguished early music scholars such as Thomas Schmidt, Christian Leitmeir, John Harper, Sally Harper, and Hana Vlhova-Wörner. We sang music, organized conferences, studied manuscripts in archives, and reenacted pre-reformation and post-reformation church music together, all in the hopes of understanding a distant musical past. The Center no longer exists and most of us have since moved on to different institutions, making our encounter in Wales a unique confluence.

In graduate school, I learned that theorists from the Carolingian Renaissance had unique ways in which they described sound. The anonymous author of Musica enchiriadis could not explain music without invoking another more commonly studied discipline: grammar. “Just as the elementary and indivisible constituents of speech are letters, from which syllables are put together, and these in turn make up verbs and nouns, and from them is composed the fabric of a complete discourse, so the roots of song are phthongi, which are called soni in Latin.” These soni are comprised of sounds that are specifically designated, selected out of all other sounds. The notation given these soni were only used in the enchiriadis traditions yet were a part of a musician’s pedagogy for centuries. I became fascinated by the way theorists described the soni, and their sometimes clumsy descriptions. I was particularly intrigued by theorist’s depictions of singing improvised organum, and how they eventually argued for and against the smallest levels of dividing rhythm. When Dorit Tanay kindly gifted me her monograph, Noting Music, Marking Culture, I was inspired to write something about the history of theory.

I narrowed my dissertation research to focus on the importance of individual theorists within the long tradition of medieval music theory, and decided to work on texts written in England during the fourteenth century. The fourteenth century was a time when musicians implemented a quick successions of new ideas about notation. Andrew Wathey’s research on the transmission of music from the continent into England allowed me to begin questioning how theorists might have engaged in an intellectual discourse within the country and across the Channel. I began to map out the transmission of ideas among English theorists, only to discover that they seemed to have had an internal network that was well informed by innovations taking place abroad. To date, my most exciting discovery was when archival research led me to discover that Walter Odington, originally believed to have been both a music theorist and an alchemist, was a conflation of two different individuals working in two institutions based on a misreading of the letters v and n. In my dissertation, I argue that the musician hailed from Evesham Abbey, as distinct from Eynsham Abbey near Oxford, where the alchemist conducted his experiments. Who would have known that two small letters could tell us so much about the history of theory!

Walter is most famous today for being one of the first to reason that the interval of a third, though mathematically complex, is audibly pleasant and therefore should be accepted as consonant. Walter’s De speculatione musicae likely dates from the last decades of the thirteenth century, although only one complete copy from the fifteenth century remains today. Only a few sentences can be reconstructed from the original folio but in the introduction, Walter reveals his distress that young musicians do not fully comprehend the study of music in his day. “They begin from the end, skipping the basics,” he writes in one of the fragmented sentences, and later “[…] the great diversity of notation in melodies invented in our time […] all say different things to corrupt that which has been said by the ancients, as though they were plaster.” The treatise that follows addresses the teachings of the ancients, notably Boethius, while offering a concise but careful description of the newest forms of rhythmic notation. Walter was, in many ways, the father of English music theory, and his writings resonated with other English theorists, who mention him as an authority in their treatises.

My current research has turned towards finding direct connections between the music and theory of the fourteenth century. I am particularly interested in finding out how and what theorists may have known about music composed in different geographic regions. My article, “Phillipe de Vitry in England: Musical Quotations in the Quatuor principalia and the Gratissima Tenor”(forthcoming in Studi Musicali), focuses on the use of Philippe de Vitry’s motet tenors as musical examples in the Quatuor principalia. I suggest that certain motet tenors by Vitry were well known among a group of theorists and composers in fourteenth-century France and England, and possibly even circulated independent of the other voices. The immediate dissemination of this “modern music” within treatises as found in the Quatuor principalia reveals an inner circle of music enthusiasts who were continuously engaged in a musical discourse.

Today, I teach a graduate seminar at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee on the history of music theory focusing on medieval and Renaissance theory. Medieval organization of sound is foreign to the modern performer on many fronts, and most of us enter college reading music notation and understanding the organization of sound in one particular way. In my classroom, I look for ways to expand my student’s perspectives through the history of theory rather than shy away from the past. I emphasize that even if the process of organizing sound differs, we share a continuously changing path of comprehension with the musicians who came before us. I like to remind my students that theorists of the past thrived on the same joy of understanding music at a deeper level that we do today.

 

 

elinaElina G. Hamilton is Assistant Professor at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee. She holds a Ph.D. and M.A. in musicology from Bangor University (Wales) and a B.M. in Piano Performance from Portland State University. Hamilton’s graduate research was recognized by The Drapers’ Company with a medal for Outstanding Postgraduate Contribution, only the sixth such medal given in the London guild’s 600-year history. Her work on Walter of Evesham Abbey appears in Musica Disciplina. Hamilton also advocates the need for more research on women in music and her article on Louise Hanson-Dyer appears in Notes.

 

 

 

Featured WiMT: Wing Lau

“We have multiple personae that constitute many sides of ourselves. These personae are distinctive, but they are essentially all ‘you.’ For partners and companions, you want to choose those that bring out your happiest sides,” my friend advised. For me, music theory is one of those partners.

My musical training began as a pianist. When I was young, I did not care about music or about practicing the piano. (But practicing could still be appealing when you practice hands-separately, as a good pianist would, while holding a comic book with the resting hand.) It was my high-school piano teacher who exposed me to the world of thinking about music. When working on the rhythmically intricate opening of Beethoven’s op. 14, no. 2, she would ask, “what do you highlight? The onset of the right-hand motive or the downbeat?” I decided to highlight both (as subtly as a twelve-year-old could) so that the left-hand entries were even more out-of-place. When I got impatient holding a long note in a folk-inspired adagio by Bartók, she would ask me to listen to the note as if it was the sound of the blowing wind in a rural village. Now I realize, she was encouraging her students to interpret with rationale and subjectivity—a performer’s analysis. As an M.M. piano performance major, more interpretive puzzles were presented to me as the complexity of my repertoire grew. What constitutes an artistic performance? Why couldn’t I see eye-to-eye with my duet partner on the emotional quality of the same passage, and why was it difficult for us to articulate our underlying reasons? In order to piece all these together, further study in music theory was inevitable.

My fascination with rhythm and meter since that lesson on Beethoven op. 14, no. 2 continues to drive my research. At Oregon, I was introduced to the vast scholarship on metrical dissonances and the expressive intersection of poetic and musical meters in Stephen Rodgers’ seminar. I was particularly drawn to the metrical dissonances generated by a few measures of notated meter changes in German songs as a response to the poetic rhythm and textual meaning. For example, while both Schubert and Brahms might suggest a recitative style in their songs, they do so differently: Schubert often inserts a common-time signature but obscures the metrical accents by phenomenal and structural accents while Brahms alternates between different time signatures and underlines the metrical accents. I also found that metrical projection in songs by Schumann and Brahms are usually clear until the meter changes. Therefore, the effect of the new meter depends on the strength and the duration of the perceived antimetrical events and its magnitude depends on the time listener takes to reinterpret the prevailing meter retrospectively. For example, if the retrospective reinterpretation happens instantaneously, the listener could sense a sudden change of tempo which often highlights textual changes or repetition; if the reinterpretation takes a slightly longer time, one could sense a rhetorical lengthening which invites close listeners to dwell in a musical moment just passed. Although some of these meter changes could have gone undetected without the score, I believe that such notational strategies are for the listeners as much as the performers.

Tempo is often a pointer to emotional attributes, and David Epstein has suggested that surface rhythm is a part of the complex gestalt that projects tempo. Recently, I have been comparing the degree of contrasts between different kinds of meter changes (whether it is changing from one duple meter to another or changing between a duple and a triple meter) by comparing the resultant surface rhythms. I find that some kinds of meter changes are more drastic than the others, and Brahms has explored them to highlight different degrees of textual changes.

As a pianist, I was often told that an artistic performance does not emphasize every note and harmony. Naturally, voice-leading graphs became my other obsession as a music theory student. I was delighted that Jack Boss let me write a history of music theory term paper on performance after a few lectures on Schenker. What piqued my interest was Nicholas Cook’s discussion of “rhetorical” (or “romantic”) and “structuralist” (or “modernist”) performance styles as products of historical contingency. Incidentally, the pianist Artur Schnabel, who was active around the turn of the twentieth century, represents both styles: his occasional faltering and mobile tempo are the hallmarks of the rhetorical style, but his obsession with phrase length and his pseudo-Schenkerian way of streamlining melodic lines shows a structuralist tendency. This stylistic mixture marks him an early modernist pianist, as critics have also observed. (His opening of the second movement of Beethoven’s op. 90 is an example of this):

I have my reservations about Schnabel’s teaching and recordings, but his interpretations offer a way to slip analytical thinking into performance (albeit sometimes forced), whether it is a priori prescription or a posteriori evaluation. (I have been trying out Schnabel’s way of faltering and streamlining in my playing when technical demands are not an issue—they usually are! Feedback is positive—so far. I am increasingly certain that analytical thinking can play a role in an expressive performance.)

Despite Schnabel’s reputation as a performer who serves the composer, I am skeptical about whether his interpretation reflects the composer’s intent, especially when his reasoning appears presumptuous or inconsistent. As Nicholas Epley suggests, people tend to reason egocentrically about other’s thoughts using their own beliefs as an inductive guide. I hypothesize that some of Schnabel’ claims about the composer’s hidden intention are his own conscious and unconscious subjectivities. Perhaps his effort to make his findings heard is a deliberate strategy to differentiate himself from his idiosyncratic contemporaries.

As a theory instructor, I strive to invite my students into the exciting world of rhythm and meter and to relate theory with performance. I am grateful to people who helped me discover my passion and provided support along the way: my encouraging mentors at the University of Oregon, my caring colleagues here at the University of Arkansas, and all my piano teachers who inspired me not to just play the notes on the page.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWing Lau is an instructor of music theory at the University of Arkansas. She holds a Ph.D. in music theory from the University of Oregon and a M.M. in piano performance from Indiana University. Her research focuses on rhythm and meter, and the relationship between performance and analysis. She has published in Music Theory Online and has presented at different international and national music theory and performance conferences.

 

FEATURED WIMT: Megan Kaes Long

When young girls read music they become altos. I’ve been singing all my life, in churches and schools and community choirs, and as far back as I can remember I was assigned the alto part because of my ability to read music and, I now realize, because I understood how the parts related to one another. In middle school, to my choir director’s amazement, I started singing the alto lines out of sheer boredom. She assumed that I had perfect pitch (I didn’t), but admonished me to go back to the melody so as not to distract the other students. As I sought out more challenging performance environments—my church’s adult choir, high school chamber choir, vocal jazz, college glee club—I routinely volunteered to sing the alto part because I was good at it. By the time I graduated from college I was hooked, and years of lazy singing and a lack of patience for the practice room had left me with mediocre vocal technique that excluded me from singing soprano in the sorts of choirs I strove to join.

But I am a great alto. I love orienting myself to the parts around me, tuning chords until they sparkle, singing Bach’s weirdest and juiciest lines (this is my favorite), and exploiting the rare heroic “alto moment” after thirty-five minutes of supporting work. This passion has led to some unforgettable opportunities—world travel, lifelong friendships, life-changing collaborations, and thousands of hours of rehearsal (once without electricity). And it has also shaped every aspect of my music theoretical work, from the repertoire I study to the questions I ask to the ways in which I answer them.

As an undergraduate I fell in love with Renaissance music. I craved the independence of line; it afforded my alto self opportunities to shine. I strove to show the audience when my rich melodic passage was more important than the parts around me, and to fade away when another voice took over. I loved the thrill of singing in parallel thirds or sixths with another voice for a few measures and the intricate interplay of cadential suspensions and evasive maneuvers, a technique I now know Zarlino calls fuggir la cadenza. As a graduate student I joined Yale’s Schola Cantorum, a semi-professional group that performed almost exclusively Renaissance and Baroque music, and my toolbox as a performer grew. From Simon Carrington I learned to find special moments in a seemingly undifferentiated contrapuntal surface and make them shine, from Andrew Megill I learned about the massive range of colors available to a choir (he once asked us to make a passage in Monteverdi’s Vespers sound like burnished gold), from Masaaki Suzuki I learned the endless expressive capacity of subtle variations in timing. And as I dove deeper into my academic work, I came to cherish our five weekly hours of rehearsal, which rooted me in my body and reminded me that music was a thing that we do, not just a thing that we think and write about.

What I have learned from studying, singing, and writing about Renaissance music is that most of this music is made for singers and players, not for listeners. What’s more, the experience of performing Renaissance music was mediated not by a cpdl.org score with questionable editorial ficta, but rather, through partbooks. For the past few years I have been working on a monograph on homophonic vernacular partsong composed in Western Europe in the decades surrounding the year 1600—it’s called Hearing Homophony: Tonal Expectation at the Turn of the Seventeenth Century. This project would have been impossible a decade ago. Many of the sources I work with are unedited or appear only in old, mostly unusable editions that are sorely in need of updating. Now, thanks to digitization projects from hundreds of libraries around the world, many of the sources I work with are available online (some of my favorites are Gastoldi’s Balletti a cinque voci and Hassler’s Lustgarten). But of course, nothing beats seeing the real thing; I have been fortunate enough to receive funding from The National Endowment for the Humanities and Oberlin College to travel to European libraries and work with dozens of sets of partbooks in person. Partbooks present some interesting challenges. For instance, how do you get to know an unedited collection? (You lay out all five partbooks side-by-side and do your best to piece a partsong together in your head, all while trying not to make too much noise in a silent but echoey reading room.) What do you do when a set of partbooks is bound together? (You ask for digital copies to take home and write in your notes that this particular set was never used for performance—someone purchased it to look impressive on a shelf.) How do you work with a collection where one or more of the partbooks is missing? (You extrapolate from incomplete information, compose your own inner parts when necessary, and even stumble upon the occasional hand-written part!)

I have learned as much from handling sixteenth-century partbooks as I have from my experience singing Renaissance music. I’ve learned to think about how these books were used, and how that changes our understanding of what the music sounded like. For instance, the earliest frottolas were published in fastidious, compact choirbooks. Unlike the partbooks I normally work with, the choirbooks place all four parts together on a pair of facing pages. But what you can’t tell from the (gorgeous) digital images is how tiny these books are! When I saw one in person at the Bibliothèque Saint-Geneviève I realized that it would have been impossible for a group of four singers to perform from this little book. (I made quite a scene in the reading room, too, holding the book at different angles and distances and walking around and squinting, trying to get a sense of how close I would need to be to make sense of the miniscule text underlay.) Whether these pieces were performed by voices or with solo singers and instruments remains an open question, but some of our best evidence comes from the physical objects of the books, not from the contrapuntal details. In her landmark study Composers at Work, Jessie Ann Owens hypothesized that Renaissance composers and musicians must have cultivated a kind of musical memory much different from our own, since there is little evidence that they ever worked with music in score-like formats. In my own experiences in the archives and in my office I have found this to be the case. Over time, it’s becoming easier for me to store lengthy passages in my working memory and play contrapuntal lines off of one another in my head as I move back and forth between two or three partbooks. And the more I sing from partbooks (and ask my students to do the same), the more I learn how much information is encoded in them that I had never noticed before, since my habits of reading are based on the technology of the score. But you can tell a lot from a single part—how the mensural grid aligns with the music, whether a pitch is consonant or dissonant, whether the texture is imitative or freely contrapuntal or homophonic, where the cadences are.

The more time I spend with Renaissance-era sources, the more captivated I am by their mysteries. We have a disciplinary habit of taking scores at their word, but as Ruth DeFord recently reminded us, we simply can’t take musical notation for granted in medieval and Renaissance repertoires. The tantalizing gaps between early sources and the performances they encode is a rich area for new research—we saw several models of this kind of work at SMT this year in a special session sponsored by the Early Music Analysis Interest Group. As I continue to triangulate between analysis, performance, and source study, I feel grateful for the constant reminder that music is a thing that we think and write about, a thing that we do, and a thing that other people not so different from ourselves once did. It is at the intersection of these axes that we do our best work.

megan-head.jpgMegan Kaes Long is Assistant Professor of Music Theory at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music. She holds a Ph.D. in music theory from Yale University and a B.A. in music from Pomona College. Her work appears in the Journal of Music Theory and Music Theory Spectrum. Her forthcoming monograph, Hearing Homophony: Tonal Expectation at the Turn of the Seventeenth Century, explores how composers of homophonic vernacular partsongs exploited tonal trajectories, and how these repertoires and the cultural and intellectual movements that surrounded them contributed to the emergence of a tonal style in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. She is also a mezzo-soprano and performs with several early music ensembles in the Cleveland and Detroit areas.

A Reflection on the SMT’s 40th Anniversary Meeting

By Jennifer Bain

As I pass the baton to Judy Lochhead who has just taken over as Chair of the Committee on the Status of Women, I offer a reflection on the Society for Music Theory’s 40th anniversary meeting.

The Society’s 40th anniversary was also the Committee on the Status of Women’s 30th anniversary. While the Committee and the Society still have much work to do to achieve gender equity in SMT, we do have many things to celebrate. As I said in my report at the business meeting in Arlington, VA, in the last year:

…we have celebrated the achievements of women theorists including Cristle Collins Judd, new president of Sarah Lawrence College, and Brenda Ravenscroft, new Dean of the Schulich School of Music at McGill University, as well as of 2016 award recipients, Ruth DeFord (Hunter College), winner of last year’s Wallace Berry Award, Catherine Losada (College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati), winner of last year’s Outstanding Publication Award, and this year’s inaugural winner of the SMT-40 dissertation fellowship, Kristen Wallentinsen (University of Western Ontario).

By the end of this year’s business meeting, we had several more achievements to celebrate: Mary Arlin (Ithaca College) and Maureen Carr (Penn State) were named 2017 Lifetime Members of the Society for Music Theory, and Laurel Parsons (University of British Columbia) and Brenda Ravenscroft (McGill University), editors of Analytical Essays on Music by Women Composers: Concert Music from 1960-2000 (Oxford University Press), had received the Society’s Outstanding Multi-Author Collection Award. As well, Nicole Biamonte (McGill University) completed her term as editor of the Society’s journal Music Theory Online. For the Society’s print journal, Music Theory Spectrum, Yayoi Uno Everett (University of Illinois at Chicago) has just completed her term as associate editor, while Marianne Wheeldon (University of Texas at Austin) has taken up her position as editor.

To mark the concurrent anniversaries, the Committee on the Status of Women held a three-hour session, live-streamed by the Society, on the music of an outstanding composer, Chen Yi (Conservatory of Music and Dance at the University of Missouri-Kansas City). Dr. Chen spoke about her chamber work, Happy Rain on a Spring Night, and her presentation was followed by three rich analytical papers on her music by John Roeder (University of British Columbia School of Music), Marianne Kielian-Gilbert (The Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University, Bloomington), and Nancy Yunhwa Rao (Rutgers University). The final hour of the session comprised a lively discussion about compositional process, orchestration involving Chinese traditional instruments, and analytical methodologies. The session attracted the most diverse audience by any measure (age, rank, gender, and ethnicity) that I have ever seen at a Committee on the Status of Women session. I felt like we had really got things right.

Sometimes though, as individuals or groups or committees, we get things wrong, and it’s important to acknowledge where we might have done better. During the Society’s anniversary celebration on Thursday evening, featuring invited reminiscences by fifteen members of the Society, I was delighted to see a balanced gender ratio, but, along with many other people, I was disappointed by the lack of ethnic diversity. I also know scholars of colour who were very disheartened by the lack of representation and wondered what kind of message it sent to the junior members of the society. I was disappointed as well at one of the comments during this year’s open discussion at the brownbag lunch hosted by the Committee on the Status of Women, and was also frustrated with myself for not addressing the statement immediately. There had been a brief discussion of last year’s U.S. election and one participant remarked that “American society is more misogynist than racist,” picking up on the sentiment that has circulated frequently in the last year that while the U.S. was willing to elect a black man as president, it wasn’t willing to elect a woman. I thought the statement wrong-headed and I didn’t see the value in working from that position; we need to counter all biases, not stress the importance of one over another. I planned to address it as soon as the speaker finished, but I got side-tracked by other things, and ended up not countering the comment in any way.

Post-conference, a group of concerned graduate students (Catrina Kim, Lissa Reed, Eron Smith, Sam Reenan, and Alyssa Barna) emailed me and the current committee and were understandably upset that no one had spoken up during the meeting, articulating very well the issues at hand:

To compare which forms of oppression are “worse” than others implies that forms of oppression can be and should be isolated and ranked; we are committed to the intersectional view that this kind of separation weakens any work done toward justice, toward diversity, and toward the civil and human rights of all marginalized groups in a society that is mostly white, male, and cisgender.

As they explain further:

…the statement made at the brown bag lunch separates the “woman” from the “minority,” a separation which is impossible for any woman of color. We cannot draw lines between our personal identities, and all women have other identities that intersect with their womanhood. Asking a woman of color to temporarily shelve her minority status is to marginalize and silence her…

I agree completely, and affirm from my position as past-Chair that the Committee on the Status of Women must embrace diversity and justice of all kinds within the Society.

It is critical for us to keep moving forward, and in this case, I am heartened by an email from the participant who made the remark. She contacted the committee and the group of students to apologize for her insensitive comment, writing that she is “deeply appreciative of the graduate students who have organized to push back,” and hopes that “we can discuss this and further related issues at our next meeting.” While I feel deflated that I as Chair missed an opportunity to speak to the issue during the brownbag lunch, I am encouraged by this open dialogue, and by the integrity and energy of all of these junior scholars. The Society for Music Theory has much more to do to promote inclusivity and diversity, but we can be proud that at 40, we have created a mechanism—actively supported standing committees—for these discussions to take place.

 

JenniferBain01(ForSocialMediaUse)Jennifer Bain, Associate Professor of Music at Dalhousie University, was recently named to the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists. Her publications focus on the music of Guillaume de Machaut and Hildegard of Bingen, the development of digital chant research tools, and the reception of medieval music.