paper delivered at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Music Theory Society of the Mid-Atlantic
For both historical and pragmatic reasons, staff notation represents timbre and timbral manipulation only indirectly, namely, through orchestration. Traditionally, timbre was considered to be its own domain, separate from pitch and rhythm; however, in both theory and practice, the line that separates harmonic from timbral compositional elements is less obvious than we might think, and by the emergence of “spectral music”, they had collapsed into a single inseparable technique. This paper examines how timbre as a perceptual phenomenon can inform music analysis. I argue that timbral listening is a schema-based synthetic mode of perception analogous to the perceptual organization of etic speech-sounds into linguistically meaningful phonemic units. Timbral listening is an engaged participatory listening—contextual, subjective, fluid, and, to a surprising degree, willful. [PDF] … [show more] [show less]
paper delivered at the 2014 Society for Music Theory Annual Meeting
A cornerstone of compositional training during the seventheenth through nineteenth centuries was a reliance upon exempla—models worthy to be studied and imitated. Not coincidentally, this emphasis was also shared by rhetorical pedagogy. This paper explores the four categories of rhetorical imitatio—memorization, copying, paraphrase, and translation—and discusses specific analogs to these techniques common in historic compositional pedagogy. Viewing these various techniques in light of their shared humanist tradition of rhetorical pedagogy and its disciplines of imitatio can provide an additional perspective on their interrelationships, functions within their cultural context, musical utilities, and potential applications both historical and contemporary. [PDF] … [show more] [show less]
master's thesis, Peabody Conservatory, Johns Hopkins University
Music theory as we teach it in our undergraduate theory classrooms must encompass both musical perception/analysis and musical practice. A standard component of musical practice in the theory classroom is composition exercises, often voice-leading assignments in four-part chorale style, figured bass realization, or stylistic imitation compositions. Students generally write these by following to the best of their ability guidelines set forth by their teacher and textbook regarding appropriate harmonic, melodic, and contrapuntal motion, but these guidelines cannot adequately encompass subtleties of a variety of musical elements, including differences from style to style. As a result, the students fail to make a connection between their study of music theory and their musical lives in general.… [show more]
I propose approaching the compositional element from the idea of Imitation. Classical pedagogy taught that skills are acquired by a combination of theory, imitation, and practice. I believe that much contemporary music theory pedagogy has lost sight of the importance of imitation, which has the dual effect of weakening the connection between theory and practice and limiting careful and personal interaction with actual music. By drawing on pedagogical imitatio techniques from classical rhetorical pedagogy—namely, Memorization, Copying, Paraphrase, and Translation—it is possible give the students the necessary interaction with music from the repertoire, provide a context for the connection between theory and practice, as well as guide them by very practical and manageable steps through the craft of composition.
Such techniques have been used by composers, teachers, and students throughout music history. A brief survey of some examples explores how various disciplines and exercises fit the paradigms of the classical imitatio techniques, with an especial focus on Bach, Handel, Mozart, and Beach. Finally, I suggest possible ways of incorporating these pedagogical techniques into contemporary music theory and composition pedagogy. [PDF][show less]
critical reflections on fourteen* 20th-century symphonies
In the fall of 2013, in preparation for beginning to compose my own as my dissertation composition, I undertook a score-study project that attempted to answer the perfectly innocent question, ‘So, what exactly is a symphony, anyway?’ Well, actually, I was just looking for some musical and orchestrational ideas I might steal; I hadn’t planned on attempting to wax philosophical or poetical on the nature of the symphony since the death of Mahler, but as with any sort of creative act, sometimes the materials have ideas of their own.… read full essay … [show more] [show less]
an artistic manifesto
When a composer sets out to write a new piece of music, the question that must be asked is not ‘What will be the end result of this composition?’ but rather ‘How shall I go about composing this piece?’. Circumstance, medium, voice, technique, and a host of other issues largely circumscribes what shape a piece can ultimately take and still be effective; the composer’s vaunted ability to freely create as he himself deems fit is largely an illusion.… read full essay … [show more] [show less]
Long before I began to study music with any degree of dedication, my childhood dream was to become a famous writer. And I suppose, in a sense, becoming a writer is what came to pass (let us ignore my conspicuous obscurity), just not in the way that six-year-old me had so boldly envisioned. But, even as I let this literary career path fall the way of other boyhood fantasies of mine (e.g., quarterbacking for the Philadelphia Eagles, or—and somewhat more realistically—being their placekicker), while I exchanged playing with words for playing with notes, I never completely lost my first love.
A good friend of mine once described the decision to become a composer as a choice one should make only if you meet a single necessary and sufficient condition: ask yourself, ‘Can I imagine myself being equally fulfilled doing anything else?’ If you answer ‘no,’ only then may you proceed. Writing is like that too, I suspect—more than something you do, it is something you are, and it is not a passion that simply vanishes merely because one's life or career happens to unfold in a different direction.
Fortunately, as I staked out areas in which to work, I have found that I have been afforded with ample opportunity to write as well as compose, and further, that those prose opportunities were as diverse as the musical ones: scholarly writings, poetical writings, technical or pedagogical writings… And this is fortunate indeed, as I would probably go mad were I forced to do only one thing or the other. The English language is a particularly delicious type of music, and I write for the same reason I compose—it is how I explore and experience this world. And I share my writings with you now, dear reader, for the same reason I share my music: if perchance you find it interesting, then the communication that results can be a beautiful thing. And this is good.