Music Theory Midwest

2000 Eleventh Annual Conference
Lawrence University
19-21 May 2000 - Appleton, WI

Paper Abstracts:

Friday morning         Friday afternoon
Saturday morning         Saturday afternoon

Friday Afternoon


Poster Session: Pedagogy and Cognition

Friday, 19 May, 2:30-3:30

Making the Grade: Contract Grading in the Music Theory Curriculum

Brian Alegant
Oberlin College Conservatory

        In brief, the idea behind contract grading is simple: a student completes a certain number of tasks at a certain level of competence in order to earn a grade. At the beginning of a course, the instructor specifies the criteria for grading; each student then contracts for a grade. If at the end of the semester a student satisfactorily completes all of the required tasks for this grade, he or she receives the corresponding grade--with no mystery, fanfare, pleading, or guilt.
        My aims here are to explore the pedagogical implications and applications of contract grading, to stimulate thought about the nature of evaluation, and to argue that it is not only possible but profitable to teach a course that has no exams, tests, or quizzes. Using model syllabi as points of departure, I shall share my observations and experiences with contract grading in upper-division music theory courses in form and analysis, and twentieth-century music.

Everything New is Old Again: Bartlett, Schenker, and Ishi

Claire Boge
Miami University

        Cross-disciplinary study can be very appealing as we seek to impart greater awareness of music theory's cultural contexts. Comparing different disciplines' ideas during a particular zeitgeist can help not only to elucidate their original theories, but also to understand potential for further adaptations and permutations. Here, we explore such links between psychologist Frederick Bartlett's 1932 theory of conceptual schema and Heinrich Schenker's theory of fundamental structure in tonal music.
        The poster focuses primarily on Bartlett's recall experiment incorporating the Native American story "The War of the Ghosts". It outlines how Bartlett's young British subjects "normalized" the unknowns of the story by means of omissions, changing order of events, transformation, and rationalization; and suggests parallels in some of the principles of Schenkerian theory. The experiment will then be re-presented through the eyes of a contemporary American student who was familiar with the Native American culture of Northern California (the apparent origin of the story) through a study of _ISHI, Last of His Tribe_ (whose existence was first known in 1911). Studying how Bartlett's original schema are differently influenced when cross-cultural awareness has been developed, it concludes by suggesting a parallel with current applications of Schenker's ideas in American classical jazz.

Buying Time: Let's Raise the Bar for First-Year Theory

Eric Isaacson and Brent Yorgason
Indiana University

        Factors including trends toward multiculturalism, pressure from accrediting agencies, personal preferences of a new generation of teachers, and time's passing challenge us to do more in less time in our curricula. Yet tonal music remains a key focus in our curricula. How can we find time to cover more material? Though we will finally have to rethink the content and structure of our curricula, we can, right now, raise our expectations of what our students know when they arrive on campus.
        We devote substantial resources to teaching terminology, concepts, and skills that students should have mastered before beginning college. The situation would be improved if college-bound music students had improved means and motivation to master fundamentals while in high school. We propose a three-fold approach. We should (1) develop and promote minimum standards for core music theory courses; (2) promote the teaching of theory in high-school music programs; (3) support the development of and promote the use of web-based resources for music fundamentals training. One such project, called Music Fundamentals Online, will be demonstrated. We will never cover all we want or ought to in our programs. But by raising the bar, we can buy ourselves a little time.

"Fantasy with Order": Utilizing David Blum's Casals and the Art of the Interpretation in an Analysis for Performance ClassAnalysis of Performers

Joseph Kraus
University of Nebraska

        Many schools now offer a course devoted to building bridges between the analysis of a piece and its effective performance. Such courses often treat these two musical activities as interdependent: anaytical points can help the musician to make wiser performance decisions; on the other hand, intuitive performance decisions can later be qualified (and justified) through an analytical exploration of the passage in question. For my presentation I will demonstrate several ways in which concepts from the musical approach of Pablo Casals (documented in David Blum's book Casals and the Art of Interpretation, 1977) may be utilized in teaching a course in Analysis for Performance, drawing upon my own experiences with this course in the classroom.
        In the first portion of my talk I will present several musical examples from Blum's volume, discussing Casal's handling of dynamics and time relationships (rhythmic patterns, rubato, and proper tempo) in relation to harmonic language, voice leading, and motivic process. Blum's particular method of transcribing Casal's instructions to performers, showing expansion and contraction of note values as well as a discrete approach to tempo rubato and ritardando, will also be explained. In the second portion of my talk I will offer a model assignment where students are asked to add personal performance markings to themes by Mozart and Schumann, explaining their choices in reference to an analysis of each excerpt. Actual student responses will be included as a part of this discussion.

Keyfinder: A Computer Algorithm for Key-finding based on Melodic Pattern Matching

Susan Rachel Mina
Northwestern University

        It seems likely that we determine key in part through matching newly presented melodic patterns with those already stored in long-term memory. In an attempt to unravel the human process of inducing key, I have developed a computer algorithm, Keyfinder, which assigns key based on the identification of ordered melodic patterns in music. Since a computer will be substituted here for long-term memory, two different systems of pattern ratings-one from psychology by Carol Krumhansl and one from music theory by Fred Lerdahl-were used to represent the brain's pattern matching. In both sets of ratings, patterns with higher ratings are analogous to frequently-heard pairs of notes which easily induce a key. Likewise, patterns with lower ratings can be compared to pairs of notes which are unlikely to occur and may cause tonal confusion. Keyfinder was created to yield the best statistical fit between the particular melodic patterns of a piece of tonal music and either the psychology-based or the music-theoretical-based ratings. It outputs a correlation for all 24 keys, with the highest correlation predicting the actual key of the piece.

Teaching Analytical Studies from a Methodological Point of View

Nico Schuler
Central Michigan University

        A University level course will be outlined emphasizing methodology of analysis. A new system of classification of music analytical methods in general will be presented and its use in a College level curriculum. The advantages of analysis courses in which analytical work includes reflections on the methods used will be shown, since analytical results are not only influenced by the choice of the research 'object(s),' but also, and especially, by the methods used. In the outlined course, the students will rather be enabled to get engaged with a whole set of different analytical methods, which they may choose depending on the music and the goal of the analysis. The methodological approach proposed in this conference presentation is supported by empirical investigations. Graduate students were questioned before and after taking an "Analytical Studies" course with respect to their musical (and analytical) background, their expectations from, and final evaluations of, this class, and with respect to specific knowledge about music analysis in general, about analytical methods, as well as about specific theoretical concepts necessary for any analysis.


Music and Literature

Friday, 19 May, 3:30-5:00

Comedy and Incongruity: Shostakovich's Adaptation of Gogol

Stephen Rodgers
Yale University

        This paper examines the very different comic effects of Shostakovich's opera *The Nose* and the Nikolai Gogol short story on which it's based. Shostakovich's self-commentary indicates that he vowed to serve Gogol's text faithfully and that he understood Gogol's style of humor (in which comic events are related in a "serious tone" and the absurd is treated as something ordinary). Despite all this, however, the score of *The Nose* is not serious in tone but in fact wildly parodistic and comic. Focusing on the textual and musical manifestations of one scene, I show that Gogol's and Shostakovich's comic devices are in fact inverses of one another. Both involve what philosopher John Moreall calls an "incongruity" between what we expect and what we actually experience; yet, to borrow from comic theorist James Feibleman, Gogol's incongruous humor involves "understatement," Shostakovich's "exaggeration." The paper concludes by proposing some explanations for this difference, considering how well a faithfully understated adaptation might have worked and whether the opera's exaggerated style of comedy might have been influenced by director Vsevolod Meyerhold, under whose encouraging eye the young Shostakovich wrote much of his opera.

Shared Uncertainties: Point of View in Britten's The Turn of the Screw

Joseph N. Shuffield
University of Texas at Austin

        The degree to which Benjamin Britten's opera, The Turn of the Screw, reproduces the ambiguities of Henry James's original novella has been a point of contention since the opera's premiere. A century of literary criticism has generated two popular but mutually exclusive readings of James's story: the ghosts the governess believes to be haunting Miles and Flora, her two young charges, may be real, or they may be hallucinations - unconscious expressions of her repressed desire for the children's guardian. Although most critics now agree that the novel's subjective narrative point of view allows for both readings, critics of Britten's opera have long argued whether the opera can sustain both readings. In spite of this dispute, no analysis of the opera has attempted to resolve the issue.
        One aspect of the opera that largely determines its possible readings, but which has never been the primary focus of an analysis, is the opera's "narrative" point of view. Unlike the novella, which is written exclusively from the governess's point of view, the opera's point of view is problematic - the governess is undeniably the main character, but there are scenes from which she is absent. This paper shows that the opera has a shifting point of view that is ultimately determined by the music. It elaborates the musical processes that create this shift, giving special analytical attention to a musical process that mimics the governess's cognitive process, and to three scenes in Act II that musically embody Miles's point of view. The opera's fluid point of view invites a reading that makes use of both the audience's initial identification with the governess and the subsequent musical and dramatic elements that compromise that identification.

Interrelationships: A study of poetic and musical symbolism in two songs from Edvard Grieg's song cycle, Haugtussa

Cheryl Christensen
The University of Texas at Austin

        Edvard Grieg's song cycle, *Haugtussa*, (The Mountain Maid) opus 67, a relatively late composition in Grieg's ¦vre (composed in 1895), exemplifies Grieg's synthesis of folk elements and art music within his own unique voice. It is considered by many scholars to contain some of Grieg's best vocal compositions. Arne Garborg, the author of the poem cycle from which Grieg took his texts, makes effective use of parallelism throughout his poem cycle, using metaphor, poetic meter, and stylistic borrowing from traditional Norwegian folksong rhythms to make connections between poems. Grieg set several of these interconnected poems in his song cycle, complementing the literary parallels with musical ones. The interrelationship of two of the songs from the cycle, "Møte" (Meeting) and "Vond Dag" (Hurtful Day) is the focus of this paper. The two poems frame the short love affair between the heroine, Veslemøy, and the young man, Jon. I will discuss the connections between these pieces with regard to poetic and musical structural elements, as well as poetic and musical metaphor. Of particular importance is Grieg's use of two predominant motives-an arpeggiated tonic triad (the "Veslemøy" motive) and a falling, three-note gesture-in the musical interpretation of these poems.

Friday morning         Friday afternoon
Saturday morning         Saturday afternoon

Return to: Music Theory Midwest - Home


Webmaster: David Loberg Code, School of Music,
Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI, 49008.
Revised: 9.Apr.00