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

Saturday Afternoon


Special Forum: Reimagining the Core Curriculum

Saturday, 20 May, 1:30-3:00 p.m.

Including Rock Music in the Core Curriculum

Barbara E. Bowker
William Rainey Harper College

        This presentation describes an evolving personal transformation regarding rock music. Several years ago my students pointed out that my displeasure with rock was exactly the same as their initial discomfort with contemporary art music--simply the result of unfamiliarity. Rock wasn't "my" music, any more than Schoenberg was theirs. So, to demonstrate the open-mindedness that I wanted from my students, I undertook an intensive listening/analysis of rock recordings. And after a while, I began to like the music, so that I now attend rock concerts by and with my students, and frequently include rock in my teaching curriculum (particularly as aural skills dictation materials).
        Among the benefits of this experience has been its validation of basic teaching methods--many in-depth listenings, analyses, and discussions of a particular kind of music do in fact lead to a greatly enriched experience with that music. Another, personal, benefit has been experiencing a new source of musical enjoyment. And a third benefit is the increased credibility and sense of connection I have with my students. For me these benefits easily justify the inclusion of rock within the core curriculum.

The Role of Music Cognition Research in Revising the Core Curriculum

Nancy Rogers
University of Iowa

        Altering the core curriculum invariably provokes stimulating discussion, but the issues raised are becoming predictable. Theorists are by now accustomed to deciding what portion of our precious four or five semesters we can spend on twentieth-century music, and we are starting to ask ourselves with increased frequency whether we are adequately representing women and minorities, popular music, and music of other cultures. However, we have yet to inquire in any serious way how research in music cognition should impact our pedagogical perspective (for instance, facilitating musical memory or accommodating different learning strategies). This is especially surprising in relation to aural skills classes, given the wealth of relevant information available.
        I do not mean to imply that theory teachers are failing. On the contrary, I think that we are educating students reasonably well, given that so many of our curricular choices seem to be determined by a combination of what has worked in the past and pedagogical instinct. Music cognition research could inform our curricular decisions and serve as a catalyst for further improvement, leading us to develop teaching techniques that will be more helpful to a broader range of students.

In Theory, In General

Eleanor Trawick
Ball State University

        Like many musicians who now teach and "do" theory in university music departments, I came to theory by way of composition, and I continue to think of myself both as a composer and as a theorist. However, more and more I think of these as separate activities that perhaps even require opposite and contradictory perspectives.
        It is a cliche of undergraduate teaching to explain analysis, and perhaps theory as a whole, as being "composition in reverse." The composer* puts together* her or his materials into a piece, it is said, and the analyst *breaks apart* the sections and motives to reveal the structure and content of the work. The trouble with this model, as much for pedagogy as for analysis, is that it can imply that the *one* best analysis is the one that most exactly retraces the compositional process, leading students into the intentional fallacy and leading even more sophisticated musicians into a too-narrow explanation of a work. With only a few exceptions, the least interesting analyses or discussions of pieces are by their composers, who often do little more than retrace the technical steps they took in composing the work; these discussions can be the among the most narrow and pedantic.
        As a composer, I feel that my aim is to be *exclusive*--to find the single best solution to a compositional problem and to choose it over the others. Composers must move quickly from the general to the specific, putting a vague idea into concrete form. The best analysis and the best theory are *inclusive*: they acknowledge that any explanation is provisional at best, excludes other equally valid interpretations, and cannot do more than provide one view from one singular perspective. Theory at its best is a powerful generalization from many different analyses, an idea that reveals an unexpected principle common to many different contexts and treatments. I believe it is this belief in the power and utility of generalization and inclusiveness that theorists share and that differentiates us not only from composers, but also from performers, historical musicologists, and others of our fellow musicians.


Theorists Revisited

Saturday, 20 May, 3:15-4:15 p.m.

Historical Analysis and Hermeneutic Dialogue: Revisiting the Kirnberger-Schulz Analysis of Bach's Fugue in B minor

Frank Samarotto
University of Cincinnati

        Analyses dating from 18th- or 19th-centuries present a challenge to modern-day theorists, who cannot ignore recent methods of analysis. Engagement with historical analysis requires a deft negotiation between past and present to ensure that each receives its due. One of the most significant of the few examples from the eighteenth century is the complete fundamental bass analysis of J.S. Bach's Fugue in B minor from Book I of the Well-tempered Clavier, published in 1773 under the name of J. P. Kirnberger, though it probably represents the work of his student J.A.P. Schulz. It seems ironic that two major scholars of the history of 18th-c. theory, David Beach and Joel Lester, have dismissed this rare analysis of a complex work as of little value in understanding Bach's music.
        I propose to reevaluate this analysis using the model recently proposed by Thomas Christensen for the interpretation of the historical texts of music theory: a hermeneutic dialogue, as set out by Hans-Georg Gadamer, which speaks to the past on its own terms, but which recognizes our inescapable immersion in the present. I will actualize this dialogue by showing how the historic analysis can be incorporated in a substantive way into my own Schenkerian analysis; the voice-leading analysis can than serve to reinterpret the fundamental-bass reading, thus continuing the hermeneutic circle. This could serve as a model for the practice of modern-day theory that meaningfully interacts with and listens to the past without sacrificing itself to it.

Another Look at Brahms's Three-Key Expositions

Peter H. Smith
University of Notre Dame

        Insight into Brahms's sonata forms has been aided by attention to the relationship between his expository strategies and Schubert's practice of organizing his expositions around three keys. Emphasis on the three-key idea, however, has also had the effect of concealing a number of qualitatively different exposition types. The present study suggests the possibility for a more differentiated categorization of Brahms's expositions. Three-part expositions that arise via a mode shift in the secondary area are as common as expositions based on three distinct keys. These mode-shift patterns derive from late eighteenth-century alternatives to bi-polar organization, rather than from Schubertian innovations. A concern to demonstrate variety within the mode-shift category accounts for the choice of the fourth movement of the C-minor Piano Quartet and first movement of the First Symphony for detailed examination. The quartet and symphony demonstrate that different mode-shift strategies can relate to differences in approach to tragic expression. The paper highlights the role played by stereotypical musical topics in realizing these different approaches and concludes with a comparison of Brahms's incorporation of religious topics in the two works.



Saturday, 20 May, 3:15-4:15 p.m.

Music Theory, Notation, Improvisation: A Consideration of the Music-Theoretical Study of Improvised Music

Mark J. Butler
Indiana University

        Since the nineteenth century, when musical analysis became an established part of the practice of music theory, musical notation in the form of the score has been an essential component of the discipline. As contemporary theorists begin to look beyond the central canon of Western art music, however, they encounter many musical traditions that do not use notation. While relatively fixed works do occur in some of these oral traditions, in others, improvisation is prevalent. A particular piece might vary widely from one performance to another, even though it is always known by the same name. How might theorists approach such repertoires? In particular, how might the traditional textual practices of music theory affect the study of improvised music?
        These are some of the questions I will address in my paper. I will begin with a consideration of the role of notation in contemporary music theory; then, drawing from ethnomusicological sources, I will discuss some of the issues that theorists might consider when using notation to study non-notated music. In the second part of my paper, I will focus specifically on improvisation, considering several arguments about the nature of improvisation and their implications for the theoretical study of improvised music.

Making the Changes: Complexity and Coherence in Jazz Harmony

Robert Hodson
University of Wisconsin-Madison

        This paper will explore the harmonic field in which simultaneously improvising jazz musicians play, and will propose a generative theory of jazz harmony; that is, a theory that describes the process of harmonic negotiation that takes place between players in a small-group jazz performance. The linguistic concepts of deep, shallow, and surface structures are used in this theory to reconcile the many possible variations or realizations of a specific harmonic progression. The paper will present two analyses in support of this theory. The first analysis will compare three common variants of the 12-bar blues progression, showing that each of the three progressions can be seen as a different surface manifestations of a common underlying harmonic deep structure. The second analysis will examine a recorded performance by the Thelonious Monk Quartet of Monk's composition "Rhythm-A-Ning." The analysis of "Rhythm-A-Ning" will show that, in a sense, jazz musicians literally "make the changes" in performance; the specific harmonic progressions they choose to play may be flexibly realized, often changing from simple to complex within the course of a single performance.

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