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.


Featured WIMT: Olga Sánchez-Kisielewska

I yet have to meet a colleague who dreamt of being a music theorist as a child. I am no exception: as a young musician, I aspired to win a job playing clarinet in a symphonic orchestra. Analyzing music gave me great satisfaction and I had always been inclined towards the intellectual side of things, but the possibility of pursuing a career in music theory was not even in my radar—largely because in Spain, as in other parts of Europe, it does not have that status of an academic discipline. Just as for other fellow women in music theory featured here, my inner theorist revealed itself during a transformative moment. For me, this happened in Alcalá de Henares, a small historic city close to Madrid and birthplace to Miguel de Cervantes. Although the University of Alcalá did not offer degrees in music, a woman called Avelina López-Chicheri had the vision to fill a gap and satisfy an existing demand by creating a series of workshops in music theory led by prominent scholars. At two of those workshops, “Musical Meaning” by Michael Spitzer and “Interpretation and Analysis” by Robert Hatten, I experienced for the first time the meaning and possibilities of music theory and analysis. From Spitzer, I heard about musical topics and metaphors; from Hatten, I learned how Beethoven could convey with his music concepts such as abnegation or transcendence without using a single word. This all resonated so strongly with my experiences as musician and listener that it triggered a change in my career path, which would eventually lead me to study music theory at the other side of the Atlantic.

The empirical bent of the Music Theory and Cognition program at Northwestern University put an unexpected twist on my interest in musical meaning and expression. Vasili Byros and Robert Gjerdingen introduced me to the study of historical modes of listening and the importance of statistical learning, which I appropriated—perhaps sometimes too liberally—into my “corpus-inspired hermeneutics.” For example, I studied phrase structure and hypermeter in symphonic minuets by Haydn and Mozart, and realized that certain traits appear much more frequently in the symphonies than in minuets written for the ballroom, and that these strategies produce musical imitations of specific elements from the minuet’s choreography. Danceable minuets did not require this type of exact correspondence between music and movement, but I believe that in some symphonies composers aimed to create a sonic representation of the minuet dance—a dance-painting of sorts. In another corpus study (conducted by hand an eye), I examined the use of the I–V-vi chord progression in the late eighteenth century and realized that it appears more frequently in sacred music than in instrumental music, more frequently in opera seria than in opera buffa, and that it commonly accompanies moments depicting priests, gods, heavens, or prayers. Drawing on these correlations, I have offered spiritual interpretations of this harmonic pattern in pieces of music without explicit religious references.

My inclination towards such lofty issues has led me to write my dissertation on the hymn as a musical topic in the age of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. As a musical genre, the hymn is a fuzzy category that includes—but is not restricted to—congregational songs, homophonic passages from Catholic polyphony, operatic prayers, revolutionary hymns, and national anthems. Although these repertoires differ in their musical characteristics, they share a common affective core, something of a heart-felt solemnity. Towards the end of the eighteenth-century, composers increasingly incorporated the style of hymns into other musical genres (using them as “topics”), arguably to infuse their music with spiritual resonances by evoking the sounds of ritual and devotion. As a topic, the hymn style tends to coalesce around distinct sub-categories. Homophonic passages reminiscent of the sober isochrony of the Lutheran chorale provide one well-known example, but others exhibit more rhythmic variety. The hymn-like themes that Beethoven wrote for his Piano Concertos Nos. 2 and 3 incorporate abundant dotted rhythms, resembling French revolutionary hymns as well as the recently established repertoire of Catholic congregational songs in German. Dussek was also fond of this spirited variant of the hymn topic. Haydn turned towards triple meter for his instrumental hymns (as in the slow movements of his Symphonies Nos. 75 and 87), writing a graceful type of hymn topic rooted in the style of operatic scenes featuring cohorts of priestesses and other female, supernatural characters. Hymn topics interact with other musical styles and participate in larger expressive trajectories, often governed by convention, to create musical signification. Some give way to a more operatic singing style, following a solemn-to-lyrical paradigm; others arrive after stormy passages, suggesting a laboriously achieved serenity. Although dances and hymns seem hardly compatible in their expressive content, composers such as Gluck, Beethoven, or Gyrowetz found in the pavane a fair companion for the hymn topic.

The study of musical topics provides great opportunities to explore intersections between music theory, music history, and other domains of culture—a perspective that I value as both a researcher and a teacher. By inviting my students to consider the historic, aesthetic, and expressive dimensions of musical structures, I hope to recreate for them some of the excitement that I experienced in those memorable music theory workshops. Many years after my first encounter with Robert Hatten, we reconnected thanks to the Mentorship Program of the Committee of the Status of Women and I eventually asked him to join my dissertation committee. I could not think of a better way of closing one circle and beginning a new one.


headshot WiMTAs of fall of 2017, Olga Sánchez-Kisielewska is a lecturer at the University of Chicago and PhD candidate at Northwestern University. She holds bachelor’s degrees in Economics (Universidad Complutense) and clarinet performance (Real Conservatorio de Madrid), and Master’s degrees in Music History (Universidad de La Rioja) and Music Theory (Northwestern University). Before moving to the Unites States and embarking on her academic career, Olga was an active performer and music educator in Madrid. Her research gravitates around musical meaning, broadly understood, with a focus on the classical style. She has received awards from the Center for Iberian and Latin Music, the Music Theory Society of the Mid-Atlantic, the Music Theory Society of New York State, and the Society for Eighteenth-Century Music.


Featured WIMT: Orit Hilewicz

Arriving at the University of Washington as an undergraduate student majoring in piano, my knowledge of music theory was limited to core harmony and counterpoint. I loved harmony and counterpoint—I used to sing Bach chorales with my friends and indulge in the colorful harmonic progressions. However, I had no idea that there is more to music theory than the teaching of composition. As I progressed in my studies, I was struck by the breadth of the field and the diverse paths it opens for gaining musical knowledge. My first moment of wonder occurred when studying phenomenological approaches to music with John Rahn at the University of Washington, when we examined theories of music through the lens of early phenomenologist theories. I realized that ways of conceptualizing music express underlying philosophical paradigms; how we think about music is how we think about the world, and innovative ways of making music are products of novel modes of thinking. What could be more exciting than that? I had to continue to a PhD program.

What drew me to the field more than anything, and continues to guide my work, was the different ways theories of music reflect musical experience (performing, composing, and listening), and more importantly—ways in which theory and analysis can shape, and even expand musical experience. I was excited that music analytical writings affected my playing and listening, whether by changing my understanding of a piece or by echoing my own hearing of it. The prospect of hearing music through someone else’s ears, or sharing my own way of listening, seems to me as powerful an artistic mode of expression as composing or performing a piece. I have been lucky to meet fascinating musicians and musical thinkers as teachers, peers, and students, who piqued my interest in theory as a way of communicating “hearings” that shape music making and understanding.

It is a common experience that one’s understanding of a musical work changes in the course of analysis, and I have always been fascinated by ways discourse about music and musical experience interact and shape one another. My recent research has focused on intertextual relationships between music and other artworks, as I have been aiming towards analytical approaches that include components of musical experience that are sometimes called “extra musical,” following the work of scholars such as Jonathan Bernard, Marion Guck, David Lewin, Judith Lochhead, and others. While music is never conceived and performed in a vacuum, some works demand that we consider them (listen, perform, analyze) in connection with other texts. I have been focusing on compositions that take other artworks as their subject matter. It is a special case, called “musical ekphrasis,” in which composers direct performers and listeners to engage in such a relationship by adding a text to the score, which points to a connection between the composition and another artwork. Focusing on twentieth century pieces composed after paintings, architectural spaces, and other musical works, my dissertation project offers an analytical approach that expresses the diverse connections such musical works can create with their subject artworks. I have noticed that, when listening to a piece composed after another artwork side by side with its subject, a special relationship emerges—the artwork influences my understanding of the music, while at the same time the music affects my interpretation of the artwork. Drawing from theories of music in multimedia and music cognition, I define two general categories of intertextual representation whose unique interplay gives rise to the mutual relationship between the musical piece and its subject artwork, offering a conceptual framework that allows an analyst to focus on the particular relations formed when actively listening to ekphrastic compositions.

In The Open Work, Umberto Eco quotes the following from Henri Pousseur about listening to post-serial compositions: “…it is up to the listener to place himself deliberately in the midst of an inexhaustible network of relationships and to choose for himself […] his own modes of approach, his reference points and his scale, and to endeavor to use as many dimensions as he possibly can at the same time and thus dynamize, multiply, and extend to the utmost degree his perceptual faculties.” I believe this statement is true for any act of listening, and particularly for intertextual listening such as entailed by musical ekphrasis. For example, in Morton Feldman’s Rothko Chapel, the chorus is instructed by Feldman to sing “n” throughout, resulting in a muted tone (try it and hear the tone you produce compared to singing a vowel!). I interpreted the sound of the chorus very differently before learning that Mark Rothko designed the chapel with scarce light, intending for his paintings to be experienced in a dark room. Therefore, one of the connections I made when listening to Feldman’s Rothko Chapel as musical ekphrasis was the notion of obstruction—the composition pointed me to the darkness of the chapel space and vice versa, the chapel space inspired me to understand the chorus tone as obstructed.

As an instructor, I found intertextual considerations of music and other artworks helpful in providing interpretive paths that would motivate students to explore analytical questions. For example, when teaching a seminar on music in multimedia works as part of Columbia University’s Teaching Scholars program, I started the semester by experimenting with different approaches to analyzing Lieder. The students were excited to discover that harmonies and motives become imbued with significance when taking the poem into account, an approach they later applied when studying music in dance and in film.

While at the graduate music theory program at Columbia, I was fortunate to be in an incredibly encouraging department that not only supported my research, but also provided me with numerous opportunities to share my interests with students in both core music theory courses and in advanced courses that I designed. I am immensely thankful to my dissertation sponsor Joseph Dubiel, to my mentor Ellie Hisama, and to the numerous people who supported my research and teaching endeavors throughout the years in myriad ways.



oritOrit Hilewicz is Assistant Professor of Music Theory at the Eastman School of Music. She completed her Ph.D. in Music Theory at Columbia University in 2017. Orit has a BA (majoring in piano) from the University of Washington, where she later completed her MA in music theory. Her research interests include music and visual arts, set theory, analysis of post-tonal music, and analytical approaches to musical temporality. Her dissertation, titled “Listening to Ekphrastic Musical Compositions,” studies pieces that take other artworks as their subject matter. Analyzing music composed after paintings, architectural spaces, and other musical works, her research examines the intertextual relationships between music and images. In April 2016 her article, “Tracing Space in Time: Morton Feldman’s Rothko Chapel, was published in Time and Trace, a volume produced by the International Society for the Study of Time.


Featured WiMT: Kristen Wallentinsen

By Kristen Wallentinsen

Before I discovered my passion for music theory, I studied violin performance. I was constantly enthralled by the beautiful, soaring melodies that violinists get to play, and that drove me to study music. As an aspiring violinist, my days were spent practicing, always with careful consideration of phrasing and melodic construction. I cultivated a passion for melody that made me want to dig deeper, to really figure out how melody works. However, I would often find myself sitting in my core music theory classes, learning about so many different chords and chord progressions, and thinking to myself, “But what about melody? Why can’t we talk about that?” I did well in my theory classes, and my professors noticed my interest. One day, my professor suggested to me that if I was interested in music theory, I should look at some recent music theory journals, and read the first thing that seemed interesting to me. Later that day, I found myself with a few hours to kill, so I took his advice. I went to the library and picked up the first one that caught my eye: the new (and shiny) blue copy of Music Theory Spectrum. I happened across an article entitled “Melodic Contour and Nonretrogradable Structure in the Birdsong of Olivier Messiaen” by Rob Schultz, and it utterly fascinated me; I immediately became hooked. I must have read it five times, at least. Here was someone talking about melodic shape in ways that made a lot of sense to me. By the end, I just knew I had to become a theorist––that I had to study contour. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that something as simple as this one journal article could have such a profound impact on the course of my life as a musician, as a scholar.

The first sentence in my dissertation reads: “All melodies have shape: a pattern of rises, falls, and plateaus that occur as music moves through time.” On its surface, this sentence seems incredibly obvious, yet its assumptions implicitly inform so many of the analytical models we use in our scholarship, and in our classrooms. I believe that by studying contour in a more rigorous way, we can arrive at a more nuanced understanding of both the music we study, and the ways in which we study it. I want to reintegrate contour into the dialogs we have about music and music analysis, following in the footsteps of Robert Morris, Michael Friedman, Elizabeth West Marvin, Ian Quinn, Rob Schultz, and others.

To that end, my dissertation research focuses on families of related contours. I investigate these families by developing a new transformational model that examines contour relationships using a fuzzy lens, based on shared transformational pathways. This approach has allowed me to comment on contour’s role in melodic coherence or development across a wide variety of musical genres. I examine relationships between regional variants of medieval plainchant, explain how melodic shape contributes to motivic development in the works of Johannes Brahms, and show how repetitive patterns in minimalist music support variable perceptions of melodic shape.

In many ways, this seems like a niche topic, but as I explore the model’s applications, I am struck by how many different angles it can touch upon. For example, in my analysis of Brahms’s Regenlied Op. 59, No. 3 and the related violin sonata Op. 78, not only was the model able to illuminate how Brahms developed and related his motive families, but it also shed light on a narrative of nostalgia for youth centering around Brahms’s feelings for his godson, Felix Schumann. In another study, I use the model to explore the element of surprise and subsequent recovery that listeners experience in the minimalist work of Philip Glass. These studies have shown me just how valuable it can be to examine those aspects of music that often are overlooked. Every day I sit down to do my research, and I am consistently surprised at how many areas of music theory, and how many different genres of music this has the potential to inform. Indeed, it is this diversity that has captivated me throughout this project, and I imagine it will have the power to inspire my curiosity for many years to come.

Since picking up that new shiny blue Music Theory Spectrum, my journey has led me to amazing places, and given me the opportunity to meet and work with so many incredible people. I have received tremendous support from my colleagues and professors in ways that have shaped my perspective on music theory, as well as my own talents as a scholar. During my master’s degree, I had the great privilege to work closely on contour with Rob Schultz, who advised my master’s thesis. His constant support and his faith in my abilities as a theorist is truly a gift that I will never forget. The faculty at the University of Western Ontario have also provided tremendous support as I write my dissertation under the supervision of Catherine Nolan. I am continually motivated by the enthusiastic responses I receive from the music theory community, and I am honored to be chosen as the recipient of the first annual SMT-40 dissertation fellowship. I am thankful to the Society for Music Theory, to the CSW for their incredibly useful resources and mentoring programs, and to everyone else (too numerous to mention) who has had a hand in this journey. These many sources of support are a testament to what music theory can be—a vibrant, constantly evolving discipline that values new dialogs and new ways of thinking about music.

kristen-wallentinsen150x200.jpgKristen Wallentinsen is a PhD candidate at Western University. She has earned Master’s degrees in music theory and violin performance from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and a bachelor’s degree in violin performance from the University of Arizona. Her research focuses on mathematical representations of melodic contour in music, and she is currently working to apply her contour methodology toward the study of familial relationships within a wide variety of repertoires.  She is the inaugural recipient of the Society for Music Theory’s SMT-40 Dissertation Fellowship for her dissertation entitled “Fuzzy Family Ties: Measuring Familial Similarity between Contours of Different Cardinalities.” Her other research interests include the music of Brahms, music cognition, minimalism, music theory pedagogy, transformational theory, and the analysis of early music.

Battling Unconscious Biases

Most of us know that we harbour implicit or unconscious biases, but are at a loss about how to address them. Many orchestras have long acknowledged these biases and have responded by having job candidates audition behind a screen to ensure anonymity, resulting in an increased number of women in these orchestras. Similarly, the Society for Music Theory has worked at removing the impact of these biases by engaging in double-blind review of articles for the Society’s journals; double-blind review has been successful: the acceptance rate of articles by women in Music Theory Spectrum and Music Theory Online is on par with men.

Most scholars, whether male or female, believe that they are not prejudiced against women, or members of the LGBTQ communities, or people with disabilities, or people of colour, but scientific studies show us clearly that unconscious biases shape all of our interactions. As bell hooks says, we are all capable of being both oppressed and oppressor (Hooks, 2000, 16). We unwittingly act on these biases in a number of ways, but I will focus here on letters of recommendation, on our citation habits, and on our invitations to conferences and academic panels. It is only by recognizing and actively countering these biases that we can dismantle systemic barriers and create true diversity in our institutions and in this Society. Here are some concrete suggestions for how to do that.

Letters of reference for male students, whether or not the letter-writer is male or female, are “4x more likely to mention publications” and emphasize research, praising achievement, while letters for women are 50% more likely to use adjectives that praise effort (Commission on the Status of Women, University of Arizona). When we write letters for women, we need to make a deliberate effort to highlight their achievements.

In academic publications in general, we cite more male authors than female, which has a negative impact on the careers of women. You can address this problem by checking your bibliography and resources when writing your next article or course syllabus, and deliberately seeking out work by women.

Finally: avoid the all-male panel; seeing panel after panel of only men presenting reinforces implicit bias. If you can’t think of a female theorist who is working on the topic of your special session or event, review recent issues of music theory journals, and check out the SMT Committee on the Status of Women’s most recent resource, a directory of women in music theory, developed by student member, Stefanie Acevedo.

Jennifer Bain

List of citations:

bell hooks. Feminist Theory: from Margin to Center. London: Pluto Press, 1984; 2nd edition, 2000.

Avoiding gender bias in reference writing.” Commission on the Status of Women, University of Arizona.

October Featured Links from Facebook Discussions

Disclaimer: Not all links are re-posted – please don’t take it personally if things you posted are not re-linked. Links are selected based on number of views/likes/comments and relevancy.


Avoiding Gender Bias in Recommendation Letters
1200 Years of Women Composers (Playlists of Music by Women) 

Music by Women Festival
Job Listing: Post-Doc Resident Scholar at Indiana University
Opera Grants for Female Composers (Opera America)
Arts and Humanities Research Council/BBC Workshop
From AMS List: Call for Compositions from Women & Music Journal


Students See Male Professors as Brilliant Geniuses, Female Professors as Bossy and Annoying