featuredWiMT

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.

New Blog Features!

The CSW is always working hard to develop programs that will fulfill our mission to diversify the field and promote gender inclusion.

We have developed three new ideas, and are launching them just in time for this year’s SMT/AMS meeting!

You will now find three exciting features on our blog:

A) Directory of Women in Music Theory – this new public directory welcomes entries from all women in music theory. We hope this will serve as a resource for those seeking to diversify their conferences, editorial boards, etc. as well as to give a powerful overview of the multitude of research being done by women in our field.

B) Featured Research – New blog series that will feature an article, book, or other project written by or about women. Please send in your suggestions using our online form!

C) Featured Woman in Music Theory (WiMT) – New blog series that will feature a woman in music theory! Please send in your suggestions using our online form!

Featured Woman in Music Theory – Brenda Ravenscroft

brenda-ravenscroftToday, we feature past CSW-chair Brenda Ravenscroft, who has recently published her co-edited book with Laurel Parsons, Analytical Essays on Music by Women Composers, Vol. 1. You can find more about her recent work at her book website.

Dr. Ravenscroft has also recently been appointed as Dean of the McGill Schulich School of Music. Please join us in congratulating her!

She writes:

“I’m currently an Associate Dean in the Faculty of Arts and Science at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, a position I’ve held for the past ten years. When I started at Queen’s in 1993 I taught music theory and analysis in the Dan School of Drama and Music (which falls within the Faculty of Arts and Science), but I now work full-time as an administrator in the Dean’s office.

As of July 2017 I am going to bring my music and administrative careers together when I take over as Dean of the Schulich School of Music at McGill University.

Three interests animate my research in music theory: my fascination with time, my love of poetry, and my passion for equity for women in music. I investigate these interests through analyzing post-tonal music to answer the question, how does it work? Through rhythmic analysis I discover how composers shape time in music that lacks the regular metric framework of tonal music, and how musical time interacts with the temporal unfolding of a poetic text. In addition to quantifying compositional structures and systems, I am interested in the perceptual and cognitive aspects of time. Much of my work focuses on the vocal music of Elliott Carter (1908–2012), the preeminent musical interpreter of modern American poetry, who employed a contrapuntal approach to texture and complex rhythmic organization to express his layered interpretation of the texts he set.

One of my most exciting recent projects is a four-volume series of analytical essays on music by women composers, which I’m working on collaboratively with my colleague Laurel Parsons. Laurel and I were graduate students together at the University of British Columbia in the late 1980s and, thirty years later, are now co-editors and contributors to the series. Female composers have been marginalized and overlooked throughout history, and, while women have made significant social and political advances since the early twentieth century, this has not been reflected in the musical world. Women composers are underrepresented in performances, in the classroom, and in scholarly research, particularly in music theory. Our book project aims to address this by making available detailed, technical analyses of compositions by women composers in order to stimulate new research into this overlooked repertoire, to enable music by women to enter the classroom, and to facilitate its inclusion in concert programs. The first volume, Concert Music 1960–2000, was published in March 2016 and will be followed by three volumes covering different time periods and genres.

I think that people often place limitations on what they believe can be achieved if one is a woman. I’ve never believed I am limited by being a woman, and a combination of hard work, courage, support, and good luck have led to wonderful opportunities in my professional life. I’d encourage everyone, regardless of their past experiences or their gender, to be attentive to the social and systemic barriers that limit women, and to be purposeful in questioning and dismantling them. If we no longer limit each other—or limit ourselves—we can all realize our potential.”