Michael Schachter defends dissertations

Earlier this week, Michael Schachter successfully defended his dissertations. You read that correctly: as a Theory/Composition PhD, he had to write two dissertations. Please see below for titles and abstracts. Congratulations, Michael!

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Vol. I: “The Black Clown”

Abstract

   The Black Clown is a music-theatrical work scored for Bass-Baritone, mixed chorus, and orchestra. Adapted from the dramatic monologue of the same name by Langston Hughes, the work fuses influences from vaudeville, gospel, opera, jazz, and spirituals to bring Hughes’ verse to life onstage and animate a black man’s resilience against a legacy of oppression. The orchestration is informed by the theater and “popular music” orchestras common in 1920s and 1930s New York, not unlike what Hughes would have heard if he had spent an evening at the Cotton Club.

   Developed with starring Bass-Baritone Davóne Tines, the full stage work of The Black Clown was commissioned by the American Repertory Theater, who premiered the work with a four-week run in August–September 2018, which will be followed by a production this coming July at the 2019 Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center.

Vol. II: “On Musical Reasoning: A Garland of Three Articles”

Abstract

   This dissertation consists of three articles, each of which explores questions of musical reasoning: the processes, frameworks, and heuristics through which we mediate our understanding about music.

   In “‘Autumn Leaves’: Intricacies of Style in Keith Jarrett’s Approach to the Standard,” I examine a traditional divide in theoretical conceptions of jazz improvisation, between “formulaic” models on the one side and “organicist” models on the other. Using transcription and analysis of Keith Jarrett’s performance of “Autumn Leaves” from the 1994 album Live at the Blue Note, I highlight core aspects of Jarrett’s improvisatory practice, showing them to be neither as inscrutable as many peers and critics tend to assume, nor as uncomplicatedly schematic as demonstrable in other performers. In doing so, I propose that Jarrett reveals a middle path between the assumed poles of “formulaic” and “organicist” ideological extremes.

   In “Structural Levels in South Indian Music,” I propose a theory of structural levels in Karnatak music, the classical music of South India. In the characteristic patterns of melodic ornamentation and phrase construction that contribute to the identity of a raga, as well as in formal approaches to composition and improvisation, Karnatak musical practice involves sophisticated elaborations of simple voice-leading strands that themselves elaborate a normative background structure. My theory draws on precedents in Indian musical scholarship, firsthand accounts of practitioners, and close analysis of performances (including those of T. M. Krishna, Bombay Jayashree, Lalgudi Jayaraman, Ranganayaki Rajagopalan, and Karaikudi S. Subramanian) and compositions (including those by Tyagaraja, Muthuswamy Dikshitar, and Papanasam Sivan).

   In “Categories, Ambiguity, and Hybridity,” I apply recent thought in the philosophy of categories to musical contexts. For millennia in the West, we have more or less unquestioningly subscribed to Aristotle’s conception of “natural categories”: that categories can be concretely defined through necessary and sufficient conditions, and that membership in a category is binary (“in” or “out”) and validated through logic. As intuitive as this conception is, thinkers such as Ludwig Wittgenstein (1953) demonstrated that in practice, we tend to have much more fluid, “family-resemblance” conceptions of categories, which are defined not by universal criteria but by overlapping networks of properties, not all of which need be present in any one member; moreover, these categories can have fuzzy spectra between “in” and “out,” as well as gradience in terms of degree of membership. In this article, I explore how issues of categorization have been chafing at music theorists and practitioners for centuries, and how the new categories can suggest transformative approaches to old problems as well as windows to new avenues in analysis. I demonstrate this potential through a case study in ambiguity, showing how much old models of reasoning (assuming ambiguity to be an intolerable uncertainty to be definitively resolved) can benefit from the new categories, in particular the significant compositional and analytical richness that opens up through the concept of hybridity.

Stephen Lett defends dissertation

Last Tuesday, Stephen Lett successfully defended his dissertation, entitled “The Psychedelic Listener: Theorizing Music in Therapeutic Practice,” before a mesmerized and near-ecstatic audience. Congratulations, Stephen!

Abstract:
The Psychedelic Listener: Theorizing Music in Therapeutic Practice

Since the advent of sound reproduction, new types of listener have emerged: a consumer-listener enters Muzak’s affective atmosphere and purchases more than planned; prisoner-of-war-listeners are assaulted with earsplitting pop music until their will is broken; an analysand-listener’s unconscious is catalyzed by the dynamic textures of classical music. Although technology has afforded the production of such diverse listening subjects, music theorists have yet to consider such listening encounters as valuable sites of music-theoretical inquiry. Rather, the image of an attentive, detail-oriented listener continues to prevail in the field. Questioning the necessity of this image as the sole ground for music-theoretical discourse, this dissertation opens an archive of theories about music we have yet to engage as music theory: thought about music in psychotherapeutic practice. In particular, I study theories of music grounded on the image of a listener experiencing the dissolution of the subjectivity necessary for engaging music in music theory’s fastidious manner: the psychedelic listener.

This dissertation traces a form of music psychotherapy called Guided Imagery and Music from its roots in 1950s psychedelic psychiatry through to its present-day use in a therapist’s private practice. Developed by Helen L. Bonny in dialogue with intellectual currents of the counterculture, thought about music in GIM offers a striking counterpoint to that of music theory. As a field establishing itself in the North American academy at the same time, music theorists grounded their discipline in positivist inquiry. While music theory has moved away from this position following numerous critiques, I argue that the specter of this disciplinary origin continues to haunt our present in the form of a presumed image of what it means to listen. To better respond to critiques of music theory, then, I propose that we begin to engage music-theoretical contributions of those who base their theories on listening otherwise. My dissertation seeks to begin this reparative process.

In chapter one, I think through a provocative statement in order to explore two images of the listener: the modern and the psychedelic. In chapter two, I explore how the modern listener regulates what counts as music-theoretical work, while also demonstrating that music theorists have always appeared unfulfilled by this image of listening as evidenced in their investment in musical experience. Chapter three recasts experience by tracing the co-emergence of the concept of the psychedelic and what came to be called psychedelic psychotherapy. In order to foster the kind of experience they found therapeutically efficacious, researchers began playing music during the sessions. Chapter four follows up on this practice by studying two approaches to selecting music for psychedelic psychotherapy—one premised on psychological behaviorism, the other, Bonny’s, on humanistic and transpersonal psychology. In Chapter five, I study Bonny’s theory of music in GIM. Through a close reading of her primary music-theoretical text, I work to tease her voice out the cacophony of sources she cites. In chapter six, I explore how a therapist uses GIM in private practice today. Drawing on fieldwork with a practitioner, I present a detailed vignette of a single session before elaborating on the therapist’s thinking about the psyche and music. Chapter seven concludes by drawing the various strands of this dissertation together—integrating them so that we might reorient our music-theoretical practices moving forward.  

Vivian Luong defends dissertation

Last Monday, Vivian Luong successfully defended her dissertation, entitled “Analysis as Ethics: Experiments with Music Loving,” before an enraptured (not to mention strongly affected) audience. Congratulations, Vivian!

Abstract: “Analysis as Ethics: Experiments with Music Loving”

In response to critiques of music theory following Joseph Kerman’s “How We Got Into Analysis and How to Get Out,” theorists often hail the virtues of analysis to defend our unique position in music studies. In addition to enriching musical experience and our sense of self, analysis matters because it involves inhabiting an ethical attitude—a concern with adequately caring for and understanding music on its own terms. My dissertation builds on this last and often implicitly expressed argument for analysis. How exactly is analysis ethical? How does it do good? Elaborating on writings from feminist and queer music theory, I propose that we can locate this ethical attitude in the very relationships that animate analysis: music loving. Taking seriously this pervasive yet under-theorized concept, I consider how we might rethink music loving to better articulate the ethical potential of our work.

In chapter one, I explore how music theorists have framed the purpose of music analysis in the stories that we tell about our discipline. In particular, these narratives of disciplinary identity locate a loving ethics of music analysis in a separation of music from context. In chapter two, I bring together perspectives from feminist music theory and new materialisms to reconsider music analysis as an entangled and interconnected practice. Chapter three then draws on the concept of music loving to further theorize the particular affects produced in our networked analytical encounters. Building on Deleuzian ethics, this chapter proposes that we understand music loving as a practice involving multiple bodies, including analysts, music, theoretical apparatuses, and the physical spaces in which analysis happens. In chapter four, I then experiment with modes of writing oriented toward this alternate form of music loving. Drawing on work in affect theory and anthropology, I illustrate how autoethnography may serve as a valuable methodology by writing about my Schenkerian analysis of J. S. Bach’s Prelude in B-flat Minor, BWV 891. In a series of vignettes, I demonstrate how a loving, embodied enactment of analysis can shape a theorist’s bodily capacities and orientations. Chapter five concludes this dissertation by situating the ethics of analysis in conversation with recent perspectives on the effects of academic practices. In particular, I argue that alongside reparative musicology’s call for care in academic work, music theory’s examination of its analysis-oriented ethics might offer special insight into the ongoing value and sustainability of music scholarship.

Successful defenses: Anne and Austin

Last Tuesday, SMR members Anne Heminger and Austin Stewart mounted a double-header and successfully—not to mention adeptly and admirably—defended their respective dissertations. Anne’s dissertation is titled “Confession Carried Aloft: Music, Religious Identity, and Sacred Space in London, c. 1540–1560” and Austin’s is titled “The Opera is Booming. This is a City.: Opera in the Urban Frontier of Denver, 1864–1893” (see abstracts below). Congratulations, both of you!

Anne Heminger (middle) and dissertation committee
Profs. Charles Garrett, Theresa Tinkle, Stefano Mengozzi, James Borders

Abstract:
“Confession Carried Aloft: Music, Religious Identity, and Sacred Space in London, c. 1540–1560”

The gradual unfolding of religious reform movements in Tudor England has generated considerable scholarship intent on evaluating why and how the English Reformations happened as they did. Although musicologists typically consider the reigns of Edward VI (1547–53) and Mary I (1553–8) as distinct “Protestant” and “Catholic” periods, respectively, historians including Christopher Haigh, Susan Brigden, and Diarmaid MacCulloch have shown that religious practices and beliefs remained remarkably heterogeneous even into the reign of James I. This dissertation examines music and religious identity in mid-sixteenth-century London, investigating the cases in which local parishes and individual inhabitants turned to music—in a variety of forms, styles, genres, and contexts—to make sense of the doctrinal and liturgical transformations imposed on them by a rapidly changing succession of monarchs in the two decades from c. 1540–1560. Through a study of archival documents, popular print books and broadsides, contemporary diaries, religious drama, and manuscript and print sources of music—undertaking research into topics and repertoires not usually studied in musicological scholarship—this dissertation not only shows that music played a larger role in the early English Reformations than has been heretofore acknowledged, but also demonstrates that it was the versatility of music as a communicative medium that allowed it to facilitate, reinforce, and reflect religious change in this divided society.

A basic assumption underlying this study is that the transformation of religious life in mid-sixteenth-century London entailed a radical rethinking not only of religious dogma, but also (and more importantly) of the phenomenology of ritual as a sensory experience. Drawing on theories of ritual, space, and place by writers such as Michel de Certeau and Catherine Bell, as well as work in sixteenth-century sensory theory by Matthew Milner, this dissertation highlights how Londoners used music and sound to sacralize formerly Catholic (and then recently Protestant) spaces, corroborating Jonathan Z. Smith’s contention that “ritual is not an expression of or a response to ‘the Sacred’; rather, something or someone is made sacred by ritual.” In sixteenth-century England, the church was omnipresent; people attended mass on Sundays, read from prayer books in their homes, celebrated with their trade guilds at special worship services, and sang religious ballads together. Beginning with the parish church, this dissertation offers evidence that polyphonic music—whether in Latin or English—was foundational rather than incidental to liturgical as well as domestic religious expression. Text-oriented forms of religious music, especially that issued in print for wide circulation, provided an important means for articulating confessional teaching during these years. Both reformers and conservatives also saw the potential of music and sound to render profane places temporarily sacred; those on either side of the confessional divide used public performances including celebratory religious processions and theatrical productions as opportunities to invite religious conversion. By investigating music making across these confessional, performative, and contextual boundaries, this dissertation demonstrates that mid-sixteenth-century Londoners used both new and old music to anchor contemporary practice in the past and mediate between shifting religious orthodoxies, providing a window into what historian Christopher Marsh has called “the view from the pew.”

Austin Stewart (front and center) and dissertation committee
Profs. Naomi André, Katherine Preston (William & Mary), Steven Whiting, Gabriela Cruz, Mark Clague, and Philip Deloria (Harvard, on Skype)


Abstract:
“The Opera is Booming. This is a City.: Opera in the Urban Frontier of Denver, 1864–1893”

In 1888, a Harper’s Weekly correspondent praised Denver, Colorado as “a metropolis, a center of refinement, a place rich in itself, influential, and the admiration of all beholders.” Three decades earlier, Denver was little more than an outpost at the edge of the American frontier; now, Denver was representative of civic respectability and westward progress. This dissertation examines the presence of opera during the emergence of Denver as an economic and political center in the American West, and how opera was experienced between 1864 and 1893 by audiences in spaces from makeshift theaters above saloons to the Tabor Grand Opera House. The first date marks the earliest known performance of opera in Denver; the latter, the onset of the city’s economic depression following the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act. Whether performed by itinerant professional troupes or local amateurs, opera played an active role in the process of urbanizing the frontier and sustaining Denver’s civic identity. Opera, as the cultural institution of the nineteenth century, also signposted settler colonialism in the American West, as well as opportunities for both dominant and minority groups to construct place and community. Challenging perceptions of culture in the American frontier, “The Opera is Booming. This is a City.: Opera in the Urban Frontier of Denver, 1864–1893” explores not only the performance and reception of opera in Denver, but also its use by civic boosters to direct a fledgling city in political and social matters.

This dissertation navigates the relationship between opera in Denver and place-making, identity, civic boosterism, the exchange of vernacular opera, and participatory music-making. By examining the role of opera in Denver’s public life, discourses about the moralizing influence of theater and “civilizing” the frontier emerge, which reframe new Western history scholarship on “high” culture. Institutions such as the Tabor Grand Opera House (1881) reflected the stability of the city’s economy and growing population, as well as its perceived affluence. The existence of this theater entwined Denver in a nation-wide cultural exchange of English-language opera for the middle class, and inspired local amateur operatics to involve themselves in creating opera. They crafted their collective identity into a Colorado-themed operetta Brittle Silver (1882), a homespun piece that contributed significantly to place-making for Denver’s amateur musicians, inspired an affective attachment to the region, and took as its themes silver mining labor disputes, interactions between miners and tourists, and relations with the indigenous nations. Finally, this dissertation brings to light the same phenomenon of amateur operatic activity in Denver’s African American community; this includes an examination of Harry Lawrence Freeman’s The Martyr (1893) and its performance by his amateur company, engaging representations of emancipation, religiosity, and liberty in the American West. On balance, this dissertation redresses several gaps in Western urban history by considering culture, class, civic and racial identity, and boosterism through the ambitious, often irrational lens of opera production.

(Photos by Andy Dil)

James McNally: Dissertation Defense

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Last Friday, James McNally successfully defended his dissertation (see abstract below) in the presence of a riveted audience. Congratulations, Jimmy, on your outstanding work, and all the best with final revisions.

 

 

 

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São Paulo Underground: Creativity, Collaboration, and Cultural Production in a Multi-Stylistic Experimental Music Scene

This dissertation investigates the interrelated dynamics of creativity, cultural politics, and cultural production in the context of an independent experimental music scene in São Paulo, Brazil. The participants in this scene hail from a variety of institutional backgrounds and incorporate creative practices that draw from a range of musical styles, from free improvisation to experimental hip hop to local practices such as capoeira and forró. Over the past decade, these musicians have created a collaborative network of artists, organizational leaders, and independent performance spaces and record labels dedicated to the production of experimentally oriented sound. Drawing from fifteen months of ethnographic field work conducted over a period of five years, the dissertation proposes a framework for understanding musical experimentalism in terms of hybrid, collaborative social practice. The study argues for investigating cross-stylistic experimental musical creativity as a distinct phenomenon motivated by multiplicity, situated in opposition to established institutional supporters of experimental music, and complicated by the tensions that arise from encounters between diverse perspectives, identities, and practices. I further examine the social ramifications of this process, focusing on how participants seek to develop more egalitarian forms of discourse, performance, and community in the face of increasing stratification and authoritarianism in the contemporary Brazilian public sphere.

The dissertation’s chapters follow a general narrative of cause and effect, beginning with a discussion of the role of previous cultural movements in shaping the scene’s current form, continuing through the ways in which individuals negotiate and transform these ideas within the context of creative and organizational practice, and finally turning to the ways in which the resulting practices sound back into broader urban and aesthetic contexts beyond the immediate milieu of the scene. Chapter One discusses the historical and ideological context of the São Paulo scene, focusing on the emergence of Brazilian independent experimentalism and the ways in which the DIY ethos pioneered in punk culture motivates experimental musical creativity. The second chapter addresses the ways in which the scene’s rhizomatic network dynamics foster ideal conditions for cross-stylistic collaboration and the strategies musicians employ to create the conditions for effective collaborative performance in the face of obstacles such as divergent idiomatic norms and onstage expressions of machismo. In the third chapter, I address the organizational and institutional context of collaborative creativity in the scene, focusing on how musicians have established a network of independent spaces and employed alternative media in order to respond to systemic institutional marginalization and create lasting connections between artists from different backgrounds. Chapter Four addresses the urban context of the scene’s creative and institutional dynamics, concentrating on the ways in which musicians employ public performance as a means of facilitating material engagements with urban space and sound. In Chapter Five, I investigate the ways in which members of the São Paulo scene engage with broader aesthetic structures, focusing on the ways in which musicians symbolically contest genre standards and song forms as a means of creating less hierarchical means of musical expression and developing more immediate responses to resurgent authoritarianism in the Brazilian political sphere.

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Photo credit: Myra Palmero, William van Geest

Anne’s Dissertation Oral Presentation

Last week, Anne Heminger delivered her Dissertation Oral Presentation at the Burton Tower between soundings of the carillon at quarter-hours. Her sizable audience, held in rapt attention, learned about shifting musical practices that attended the turbulent period of 1540–1560 England and how liturgical music both reflected and facilitated religious perspectives during this time (see abstract below). Congratulations, Anne, on your stimulating work, and all the best as you draw your dissertation to a close!

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Dissertation Abstract

What can the musical practices of communities and individuals tell us about their religious orientations, especially during periods of turmoil? Although musicologists typically consider the reigns of Edward VI (1547–53) and Mary I (1553–8) as distinct “Protestant” and “Catholic” periods, respectively, historians including Christopher Haigh, Susan Brigden, and Diarmaid MacCulloch have shown that society remained remarkably heterodox well into the reign of Elizabeth I. This dissertation examines music and religious identity in mid-sixteenth-century London, investigating the cases in which local parishes and individual inhabitants turned to music—in a variety of forms, styles, genres, and contexts—to make sense of the doctrinal and liturgical transformations imposed on them by a rapidly changing succession of monarchs in the two decades from c. 1540–1560. Through a study of archival documents, popular print books and broadsides, contemporary diaries, and manuscript and print sources of music—undertaking research into topics and repertoires not usually studied in musicological scholarship—I not only show that music played a larger role in the early English Reformation than has been heretofore acknowledged, but also demonstrate that it was the versatility of music as a communicative medium that allowed it to facilitate, reinforce, and reflect religious change in this heterodox society.

A basic assumption underlying this study is that the transformation of religious life in mid-sixteenth-century London entailed a radical rethinking not only of religious dogma, but also (and more importantly) of the phenomenology of ritual as a sensory experience. Drawing on theories of ritual, space, and place by writers such as Michel de Certeau and Catherine Bell, as well as work in sixteenth-century sensory theory by Matthew Milner, this dissertation highlights how Londoners used music and sound to sacralize formerly Catholic (and then recently Protestant) spaces, corroborating Jonathan Z. Smith’s contention that “ritual is not an expression of or a response to ‘the Sacred’; rather, something or someone is made sacred by ritual.” In sixteenth-century England, the church was omnipresent; people attended mass on Sundays, read from prayer books in their homes, celebrated with their trade guilds at special worship services, and sang religious ballads together. Beginning with the parish church, this dissertation offers evidence that polyphonic music—whether in Latin or English—was foundational rather than incidental to liturgical as well as domestic religious expression. Text-oriented forms of religious music, especially that issued in print for wide circulation, provided an important means for articulating confessional teaching during these years. Both reformers and conservatives also saw the potential of music and sound to render profane places temporarily sacred; those on either side of the confessional divide used public performances including celebratory religious processions and theatrical productions as opportunities to invite religious conversion. By investigating music making across these confessional, performative, and contextual boundaries, this dissertation demonstrates that mid-sixteenth-century Londoners used both new and old music to anchor contemporary practice in the past and mediate between shifting religious orthodoxies, providing a window into what historian Christopher Marsh has called “the view from the pew.”

20181207_155107

photos: Stephen Lett and William van Geest