SMR Blog

Dorian Mueller presents at Western University Graduate Symposium

This past August, I presented a paper entitled “Traversing Musical Narrative Space in a Chopin Nocturne” at the 20th annual Western University Graduate Symposium on Music (WUGSOM) in London, Ontario (abstract below). The conference featured papers on diverse topics presented by graduate students in musicology, ethnomusicology, music education, music theory, and music performance from universities across Canada and the US. I was also joined by another U of M student, Taylor Flowers, who presented a paper entitled “Rose-Windows to the Beyond: Parallels Between Messiaen’s Couleurs de la Cité celeste and John’s Apocalypse.” The conference concluded with a both captivating and informative keynote address given by Dr. Michael Klein (Temple University) entitled, “Five Things (Plus or Minus 2) that Lacan Teaches Us About Musical Meaning.”

From attending multidisciplinary talks, to engaging in interesting discussions and making new acquaintances in the field, I really enjoyed taking part in such a productive and collaborative event!

Abstract: “Traversing Musical Narrative Space in a Chopin Nocturne”

Within studies of music and narrative, the concept of agency and its role in musical discourse has been theorized from various standpoints (see Guck 1998, 2006; Maus 1998; Monahan 2013; Hatten 2018). However, the narrative spaces in which agency occurs—what one may describe as “musical worlds” as rendered and experienced by the listener—have yet to be explicitly accounted for in as much depth. As “narrative comprehension closely correlates with an understanding of the spatial organization of the storyworld” (Alber 2016, 187), further fleshing out a concept of narrative space in music would provide valuable insight into ways in which we engage with musical narrativity. In this paper, I explore the concept of musical narrative space, drawing parallels to how one conceptualizes narrative space in literature: namely via the constructs of spatial frame, setting, story space, narrative (or story) world, narrative universe, and lived space (Alber 2016; Herman 2002; Ryan 2005, 2009). Focusing mainly on the two constructs of spatial frame and lived space,I propose ways in which these spaces may be (re)defined in music. I then offer an approach to analysis that accounts for the listener’s positioning in relation to musical narrative space throughout the course of listening, as demonstrated through examples from Chopin’s Op. 48 no. 2 Nocturne in F-sharp minor; in particular, I utilize the construct of spatial frames to trace the transformative path through narrative space of the opening “sighing”gesture of the piece, while I conceptualize the Nocturne’s lived space in terms of the latent musical worlds activated and experienced by the listener in the course of tracing this path.

Through my invitation to explore musical narrative space, I hope to not only further perspectives on music and narrative, but to offer a new lens—one that more directly engages with the experiential spaces of the listener—through which to frame approaches in music-analytical discourse more generally.

Welcome message from the co-chairs

Welcome back! We are excited to begin our tenure as co-chairs for SMR for the 2019–20 academic year. Following a successful 2018–19, which included numerous events such as professional development workshops, academic support and interest groups, and social events, we are eager to continue to offer our members similar activities in 2019–20 and expand the opportunities for academic and personal growth while at the University of Michigan.

The many events planned for this upcoming academic year reflect SMR’s commitment to fostering an enriching and supportive community for Michigan’s graduate students in music research. With the help of our social committee and the SMR Forum (SMRF)—the large group of organizers dedicated to planning academic and professional events—we will continue to increase the variety and number of events offered by SMR, from barbecues to conference-proposal writing workshops; from our long-standing weekly dissertation writing group to an autumn weekend of apple picking; and from inviting esteemed alumni for workshops to bittersweet goodbye parties for our members on their way to the next step of their careers. In addition to visiting our website for news on our society’s events, please be on the lookout for blog posts that reflect the diverse research interests and experiences of our constituency.

If you are an SMR member and have ideas for SMR, an initiative to suggest, or any other feedback, please let us know! If you are a prospective student and would like to find out more about us, please contact us at

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank William van Geest and Dorian Mueller, who run the SMR website, the music theory and musicology faculty, and SMTD dean David Gier for their continued advocacy on behalf of our organization.

With our best wishes,
Anna Rose Nelson and Alyssa Wells

Alyssa Wells: summer archival research

Alyssa Wells, a fifth-year PhD candidate in Historical Musicology, has spent the Summer of 2019 doing archival research in Chicago. Funded by a new summer research grant from the U of M Musicology department, she visited the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois Chicago, the Chicago Historical Society, the Newberry Library, and the Chicago Public Library to access materials from their archives and special collections. While seeking out information about the brass, concert, and marching bands of German-American societies and organizations in interwar Chicago, she stumbled upon many amusing documents, including but not limited to:

  • Records of Big Bertha
    (a colossal, radioactive University of Chicago bass drum)
  • Accounts of a “monkey pie eating contest”
    (fortunately, monkeys ate banana pies in this event)
  • Photos of pigeon races
    (exact details still unknown)
  • Press releases for the time Mussolini’s “Black Shirts”
    (marching band) accidentally interrupted an outdoor concert by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Oddities aside, this exploratory research has allowed Alyssa to make plans for the more in-depth research she will conduct during the upcoming academic year.

Also while in Chicago, Alyssa managed to catch up with alum James McNally!

(photo credit: James McNally)

Elizabeth McLain on Disability Inclusion Panel

Recently Elizabeth McLain participated on a panel hosted by Disability Culture at the University of Michigan on the topic of Disability Inclusion. The event was met with great interest, with more than 450 taking part either in person or by live-stream. For those who missed it or otherwise wish to avail themselves, a video of the event is available here.