Something happens in the third semester of music theory. Sometimes it’s early in the semester, sometimes it’s later in the semester, depending on which book (if any) you’re using and how the class is overall. Currently, it’s happening right now for my Theory III kids this year.

It’s the point where we’ve cleared most of the *conceptual* framework and can start getting more into analyses and study of entire pieces. There are still concepts to cover (extended chords, other modulatory techniques, etc.), but most of the puzzle pieces are in place. We can move into analysis that transcends the descriptive and start thinking in terms of prescriptive; that is to say, we can start applying what the analysis yields to actual performance.

For various reasons, most books/sequences use German Lieder as the springboard into this new analytical world. There are piano pieces, chamber works, and symphonic works that could show these concepts equally well, but it is almost always Lieder that we use. Part of this is because there are so many songs out there; you could get the entire third semester and a good hunk of the fourth just with four composers (Schubert, Schumann, Wolf, Schoenberg for the fourth). Part of it is because you can bring in text for discussion, taking things out of the realm of absolute music and into something more programmatic. And part of it is simply because it’s just so wonderful. Schumann’s cycles especially do such a great job at showing the totality of human emotion.

I leave you with a video. This is tenor Ian Bostridge and pianist Graham Johnson with what is my favorite Lied – Robert Schumann, Myrthen, Op. 25, no. 1, “Widmung.” Du meine Seele, du mein Herz…


Pedagogical question this week: How many of you out there in Theoryland incorporate what the students are doing in lessons/ensembles on a regular basis? I’m always looking for ways to do that. I believe the more the students can do theory on their instruments/in their voices, the more likely they are to understand the concepts.


For today, since Conference Submission Deadlines are approaching, I thought I’d throw it open to the readers and solicit your advice on getting papers into conferences.

A few years back, I had the opportunity to hear a paper at SMT about this very topic. I recently rediscovered the handout, which is in a place of honor at the office. Since I have a couple of papers I’m prepping and need to get the proposals done fairly soon, I’ve been thinking about the submission process. You all know that this is not one of my more successful endeavors, though after hearing from some Big Time Theorists who haven’t gotten papers into SMT in nearly seven years I feel much better about all those rejections.

Here’s what I try to do:

(1) Read the call for papers.

(2) Reread the call for papers.

(3) Reread the call for papers.

(4) Write an abstract/submission that gives a lot of information, but doesn’t give away the ballgame.

(5) Edit said abstract.

(6) Reread the call for papers.

(7) Attach examples/bibliography/other requested materials.

(8) Make sure all identifying metadata is gone.

(9) Reread the call for papers.

(10) Submit.

Any suggestions?


I have submitted – and am optimistic that it will come to pass – a proposal for a new course. This will be an undergraduate music theory seminar. First topic: 20th century analysis. I recognize this is an involved topic, so I’m trying to think of ways to narrow it slightly.

By way of background, our students get a rudimentary knowledge of atonality and 12-tone music in the second half of Theory IV. I also add a little bit of minimalism into the mix, and the year always ends with an in-class performance of In C.

These are what I’d like you, Gentle Reader, to think about:

(1) Given a seminar for undergraduates, what topics do you think are appropriate? An overview of techniques that would help them with the totality of 20th/21st century music, or paring it down to one to three ideas and working the heck out of them?

(2) The class will meet twice a week for 100 minutes at a time. I am thinking that, say, Tuesday meetings will feature discussion of the readings and Thursday meetings will feature analysis projects. Thoughts?

(3) Any recommended books/articles? I do like Miguel Roig-Francolí’s Understanding Post-Tonal Music, but I will admit to a certain bias: Miguel was and is a faculty member at CCM, and was both on my dissertation committee (and always helpful and appreciated) as well as a colleague for a year.

(4) I remember taking Danny Mathers’s Copland seminar at CCM back in 2000, and the seminar included a performance component (though added after the fact and at the instigation of the students in the seminar). Do you think a seminar such as this would benefit from a performance component?

I look forward to the discussion.


There may be more to this tomorrow, though tomorrow is an insanely long day and I don’t know if I’ll have time to update the blog. (I have been doing better lately!)

I’ve been working on some analyses of The Rocky Horror Show. I was originally going to do it through the prism of queer theory and the “othering” of the aliens vis-a-vis the humans, but it’s looking more and more like a Baudrillardian simulacrum might be the operative model. Of course, this is not new for me, as my work on Susannah used Baudrillard as well.

My fear is that, because I understand the Baudrillardian approach, I’ll try to shoehorn everything I analyze into that. So I ask you, Gentle Reader, to help me keep my focus.

More bulletins as events warrant.


The local PBS station (which seems to be very good) has been showing the Metropolitan Opera’s most recent production of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. Tonight is opera number three, Siegfried.

As most of you music types know, Wagner was a big fan of the Leitmotiv, or motive connected to a person, place, thing or concept. The Ring uses tons of these, but they’re probably used to the fullest in Tristan und Isolde. Like a development section, the interaction of the Leitmotivs with each other show the evolution of the plot and of the characters. Many theorists and musicologists have charted these motives; I encourage the reader to seek out some analyses.


I’ve taught one session of every class I will be teaching this semester. So far so good, though getting through the syllabus took longer than I would have liked.

Teaching aural skills for the first time in a *very* long time now. Scared, but excited as well. Good to stretch out and get some experience with what may be the single most important part of the undergraduate theory curriculum. Plus, given the textbook I use for Form and Analysis and what I can see doing with Counterpoint, I may redefine the AS curriculum as an ongoing thing rather than just the four-semester basic undergraduate sequence. Ideally, you never stop using these skills.

(I guess this technically qualifies as Theory Thursday!)


I’m teaching Theory I, Theory III, and Form and Analysis this semester. Since the Theory III kids already have their old textbooks, I am not changing their texts. Textbooks are expensive enough as it is.

So, here are the books I’m using for Theory I and for F&A.

Theory I:

The Musician’s Guide to Theory and Analysis – Jane Piper Clendinning and Elizabeth West Marvin
The Musician’s Guide to Aural Skills (both volumes) – Clendinning, Marvin, Joel Phillips and Paul Murphy
MacGamut – Ann Blombach
Music for Sight Singing – Robert W. Ottman and Nancy Rogers
There will be several articles as well.

Form and Analysis:
Hearing Form (with anthology/workbook) – Matthew Santa
Scores – Beethoven, Symphony no. 9, op. 125 and Schubert, Quintet in A major, D. 667, “Trout”
There will be several articles as well.

The goal is to have the students *writing* about music as early and often as possible, including the Theory I kids.



(This has also been posted on my Facebook timeline. I’d like to bring it over here as well.)

One of the things I want to do at the new gig is get students writing earlier and more. I’d like to have them read some articles to get a sense of what academic writing in this discipline is all about, but I don’t want to throw them into the deep end. Can anyone recommend good articles (solid, good research and analysis shown) that are geared more toward people who are starting out in the field? I figure if they get used to this early on, they’ll have a better sense of how to write.

Some articles/books that have been suggested include Deborah Stein’s Engaging Music, Joseph Kerman’s Contemplating Music, Leonard Meyer’s Music, the Arts, and Ideas and Explaining Music, David Epstein’s Beyond Orpheus, David Lewin’s article “Figaro’s Mistakes,” and Edward T. Cone’s article “Three Ways of Reading a Detective Story – or a Brahms Intermezzo.”


(Heh. I guess this qualifies as a Theory Thursday.)

Kind of a metaphysical moment today in Form and Analysis. Follow me for a moment – you know the transition to the Turkish march in the 4th movement of Beethoven’s 9th? We’re solidly in D major, moving to A (the dominant, what one might expect), then all of a sudden BAM – F/A dyad, implying an F chord. Next thing you know, this 6/8 thing in B-flat. Janissary instruments (triangle, cymbals, bass drum), and the Freude theme, but in the wrong meter and key. (The recording I use, Bernstein with the NY Phil from 1964 or thereabouts, also features a tenor soloist who sounds like he’s about 3 feet tall and wearing a huge Kaiser Wilhelm helmet. That’s why I love that recording.)

Why is that?

Here’s the way I went with it.

“Alle Menschen werden Brüder.” These words are the underpinning of the Enlightenment. Sadly, the leading lights of the Enlightenment – those who first gave voice to this most noble of sentiments – usually fell well short in their actual application of this belief. In America, the young nation founded on these principles, thousands were held in chattel slavery because of the color of their skin. Western Europeans weren’t much better. Vienna was arguably the most cosmopolitan city in Europe at that point because it was both the capital of a multicultural empire and centrally located, but even it treated the exotic as an “other.” Janissary bands were still a novelty item, loved and sought out but still viewed through the filter of what Edward Said would later term “Orientalism.” Still, Beethoven – even as a vaunted master – knew what people liked to hear, so he threw one in. Give the people what they want.

It’s in B-Flat, a key that has been the “Other” key throughout the work. A Viennese audience with any level of sophistication would have caught the Janissary thing immediately, and consciously given it no more thought than “Oh, cool, Janissary stuff.” Subconsciously, though, might something have registered?

What does the Janissary band/soloist/men’s chorus perform? The Ode to Joy. This same theme that was the great Enlightenment ideal set to music. After the statement, the soloist sings a wonderful line over the top of it, and the chorus comes in to reinforce. Here is the Other, the different, the swarthy, the non-Westerner, performing this incredible Ode. This catches the Enlightenment off-guard. “What? These…Not Us-es wanting to hold to *our* ideals?”

A fugue ensues, as the Enlightenment wrangles with one simple question – are these ideals truly universal? The standard Western response has been that these incredibly lofty ideals are reserved to them and to them alone, at least at this point. Perhaps someday, the non-enlightened ones will be worthy of this, but until then, we have to keep them from it. The Janissary setting of the tune destroys that. If what was considered “exotic” in Vienna in 1824 can pick up the tune, what of the slave? The non-European? The native American?

Beethoven gives his answer. After the fugue, the Freude theme returns. It’s in its original key of D major, but now in 6/8. His answer is a resounding “Yes.” Alle Menschen werden Brüder, indeed. If these ideals apply to anyone, they must apply to everyone. Alle Menschen. Every last stinkin’ one of us on this ball of mud.

That was a radical idea for 1824. Still is. And perhaps this is why several composers have written ninth symphonies, but there is only one Ninth. When the orchestra in the Congo featured on 60 Minutes this past week performed, what did they perform? The Ninth. For Beethoven, the “Other” as a concept simply doesn’t exist, and this is his way of telling us that.

It’s a thought, anyway.


I’ve been thinking more and more about the theory curriculum and how it is structured. Nothing new there; many a theorist has given thought to the basic four-semester undergraduate curriculum. That’s not where my thoughts are lately, though.

I’ve been teaching Scoring and Arranging this semester (a class I’ve taught before many times), but for some reason during the score study portion of class I’ve been paying extra attention to how contrapuntal and formal events affect timbral choices. This got me thinking – rather than three separate classes for form, orchestration and counterpoint, how about a one-year superclass in which all three topics are interconnected? (In case you haven’t noticed, the interconnectedness of the different aspects of the music curriculum is something that has always been an interest of mine. I blame thank my first undergraduate theory teacher, Dr. Christopher Gallaher, because he was big into Gestalt theory.)

It’s a thought, anyway. What do you think?


Although I might live to regret mentioning this in case any potential employers find the blog, there is an area of music theory in which I have not had much teaching experience.

I haven’t taught aural skills/musicianship in a while, and I’m rusty.

What is the pedagogical purpose of musicianship/aural skills? We require aural skills because – and this is not meant to be sarcastic or obvious – it makes a musician better. The ability to sing a melody at sight will improve performance accuracy. The ability to internally hear intervals, chords and progressions will improve analysis, which in turn will lead to a performance that is a better reflection of the composer’s intent.* A musician needs to hear a piece internally before he or she plays/sings it.

What is the proper balance of theory/analysis and aural skills? Whoever unties that particular Gordian knot is going to be the King/Queen of All Theory Pedagogues. Even though I don’t officially teach the Aural Skills classes at my current institution, I do incorporate hearing and singing intervals/chords/bass lines into my theory classes as well as a small keyboard component. Music is, after all, an aural art.

Fellow theory teachers – what sorts of materials and techniques do you use in your aural skills classrooms?

*Ah, yes, “composer’s intent.” That old canard.


Continuing with the theme launched in Tuba-Euphonium Tuesday this week, I decided to make a list of ten books every theorist should read at some point during the MA/MM program (or just before entering). Caveats here: 1. As always, I can’t claim to have read all of them, though at the very least I have read excerpts. 2. This list assumes an undergraduate degree in theory/composition or a solid BA. 3. Some are (or can be considered) textbooks.

And away we go, in no particular order…

1. Heinrich Schenker, Five Graphic Music Analyses
2. David Lewin, Generalized Musical Intervals and Transformations
3. Felix Salzer, Structural Hearing
4. Joseph Straus, Introduction to Post-Tonal Theory
5. Fred Lerdahl and Ray Jackendoff, A Generative Theory of Tonal Music
6. Allen Forte, The Structure of Atonal Music
7. Grosvenor Cooper and Leonard Meyer, The Rhythmic Structure of Music
8. William Rothstein, Phrase Rhythm in Tonal Music
9. William Caplin, Classical Form
10. David Huron, Sweet Anticipation

This list is going to be hopelessly and helplessly incomplete. I have tried to cover tonal music, atonal music, rhythm, form, and even cognition. The tonal materials skew Schenkerian; that’s not intentional, but even if you don’t like Schenker you have to deal with him.

Thoughts? Complaints? Addenda?


Though I guess this is technically more composition than theory…

I’ve been thinking about orchestration lately and how we decide what notes/themes work best with the different timbres at our disposal. John Adams’ On the Transmigration of Souls is playing right now, and I’m intrigued by the interplay of the spoken names/words and the string writing.

Composers – Where in your compositional process do you decide on timbre assignments? I know that several of Stravinsky’s works (I’m thinking of the Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments, among other things) started out life as something completely different timbrally-speaking. I personally make about 55% of my timbral decisions during the sketching and the other 45% during the final drafting, though those numbers may fluctuate (for example, I have made maybe 15% of the timbral decisions for the finale of the piece I’m currently working on; earlier variations had about 75% of the decisions made before the final draft) and are always subject to revision.

How about you?