Fall 2015 Graduate Seminars

Music 525, Composition:  The Musical Idea, Tuesdays 2-5, Lerner Center, room 210, Professor Jay Reise

This is a composition class in which we study the concept of the musical idea, and how to generate and develop it.  How do great pieces of music begin?  How do they end?   what are the most effective ideas in transitions?  How does opera sustain musical interest over long uninterrupted periods?  We will analyze pieces in standard forms and genres from the 18th to the 21st centuries, investigate the technical aspects of the ideas that make them and their pieces memorable, and then compose both imitative and original compositions within those genres.


Music 603, Aesthetics & Criticism, Wednesdays 2-5, Lerner Center Conference room , Professor Jeff Kallberg

Our Fall 2015 seminar on aesthetics and criticism will examine religion as a critical filter in art music of the second quarter of the nineteenth century, with a particular focus on Jews and Jewishness.  We will explore the implicit and explicit tensions involved in composing and hearing “the Jew” (construed positively and negatively) in music of this time.  Much of our class discussion will focus on the confusing image of Jewishness in Chopin, who invoked “Jew” as a casual term of opprobrium for most of his life, yet who counted among his close and important associates the most important Jewish composers of the time (Mendelssohn, Alkan, Meyerbeer, Hiller); our concerns will be less biographical (though these cannot be ignored) as musical.  Did engagement with Jewishness effect compositional style?


Music 605 301, Proseminar in Ethnomusicology, Wednesdays 2-5 p.m., Lerner Center, Room 210, Professor Jim Sykes

Ethnomusicology has undergone drastic changes over the years. What began as the comparative study of the world’s musical cultures turned, by the 1990s, into a discipline with a rigorous commitment to fieldwork and an abiding concern with the entanglements between music and identity. By the early twenty-first century, a tiredness with “identity” pushed ethnomusicologists to discover new vistas, including the suddenly booming fields of sound studies, posthumanist philosophy, ecomusicology, and science and technology studies. At the same time, a skepticism with identity politics emerged forcefully in writings on violence and trauma.

In this class, we will consider our ethnomusicological moment as one in which  “identity,” though perhaps discursively left behind, continues to have a nebulous, haunting presence. The course will begin by considering this current state of affairs, but it will include less-publicized developments as well, like the return of music theory and comparativism; new writings on the relations between fieldwork and history; and new developments in postcolonial studies approaches to music and religion, ethnicity, and gender. The goal of the course, though, is not only to consider the present moment but to provide students with the tools to trace the intellectual antecedents to these recent develoments, thereby gaining an in depth knowledge of the history of ethnomusicology.

The course will begin with three sessions geared towards understanding recent innovations, but the following sessions will mix recent and older scholarship to trace discrete movements of historical importance to ethnomusicology. We will consider colonial travelogues; comparative musicology; the works of Charles Seeger and John Blacking; the emergence of non-Western “classical” musics; engagements with structuralism; the consistent attempts (with limited success) to bring in psychological and sociological approaches; theorizations of cosmopolitanism and globalization in the “world music” craze of the 1980s; and anthropological linguistics and studies of the voice. These trends will be read through a contemporary lens, for what they offer us today. Students will give a presentation on a book once during the semester; each student will hand in two research projects, one that takes a critical eye on a significant moment in ethnomusicological history, the other exploring a “thwarted” ethnomusicological movement – an innovation that, in your opinion, should have happened but somehow never did.


Music 700 301, Composition Seminar:  Piano Music, Monday 2-5 p.m., Fisher Bennett Hall 419, Professor James Primosch

This course will focus on composing for the piano. A broad range of works for piano from the 20th and 21st centuries will be discussed and analyzed, with particular emphasis on music since 1945. Each student will compose a new work for piano. In coordination with the course, the department will present three concerts of contemporary piano music in the fall and spring semesters, with performances by Marilyn Nonken, Gregory DeTurck, Matthew Bengston, and James Primosch, as well as a departmental colloquium offered by Dr. Nonken.


Music 705 401, Africana Thought in Musical Perspective (Crosslisted with AFRC 640), Tuesday 2-5 p.m., Lerner Center Conference Room, Professor Tim Rommen

This course engages in an interdisciplinary conversation about the epistemological, methodological, and political interventions that frame, ground, and inform Africana Studies as a scholarly endeavor. Together, we will consider the context and content of this evolving field/discipline, examining the ideological and intellectual issues that animate debates within (and critiques of) African Studies. Our readings will comprise a broad subset of the major historical and contemporary literatures in Africana Studies across the humanities and social sciences, emphasizing “diaspora” as a guiding construct and organizing principle. We will tether our conversations about these readings to a series of concrete musical case studies, drawn from a wide variety of contexts in Africa, North America, the Caribbean, and South America, and including at least: dub, samba, champeta, hip hop, gospel music, jazz, the black rock coalition, stambeli, kwaito, and hip life. In so doing, our deliberations will be grounded in the sounds, bodies, communities, and performance practices that animate these examples of Africana thought. This focus will provide a sustained exploration of one possible model (from the perspective of music studies) for actualizing these ideas in scholarly practice. The interdisciplinary nature of our academic endeavors will, undoubtedly, suggest many additional models in the course of our discussions and we will have occasion to explore these as well.


Music 710 301, Festivity, Devotion, and Seasonality in Premodern Vocal Music, Monday 2-5 p.m., Lerner Center, Room 210, Professor Mary Channen Caldwell

Course Description:  In this seminar we will examine a selection of pre-1600 vocal repertories (chant, conductus, motet, mass, chanson) against the backdrop of festivity and devotion. Close attention will be paid to their shared orientation around the concept of seasonality as it emerges from the overlapping liturgical, ritual, civic, and agricultural year. Highlighting the simultaneous role of the secular and sacred in the seasonal intersection of festivity and devotion, this seminar builds on explorations of the sacred/secular dichotomy in much recent scholarship, continuing to blur this divide in the context of premodern music. A primary goal of the seminar will be to interrogate the ability of music and its accompanying poetry to function as an expressive linchpin for the layering of popular ritual, devotion, orthodoxy, and everyday life that characterized the existence of religious and lay women, men, and children in early Europe.

Throughout the seminar we will work with a variety of primary sources, from early calendars, theological writings, and customaries, to a range of liturgical and musical books. In addition to engaging with premodern writers such as Bernard of Clairvaux and Guillaume Durand, we will also delve into contemporary theories of festivity, devotion, and ritual in the writings of Bakhtin, Bourdieu, Huizinga, and Bell, among others. The goal is to contextualize our discussions of early music within a rich theoretical framework, paying attention to the ways in which early music does—or does not—lend itself to theoretical analysis and interpretation. This seminar will thus work to continually blend the conceptual and the historical.


Music 780, Seminar in Theory, Thursdays 2-5 p.m., Lerner Center Conference Room, Professor Jairo Moreno

Course Description:  Comparative Ontologies. This seminar considers recent proposals to rethink questions of agency, assembly, entanglement, connectivity, mediation, sociality, and relationality that pry open long–held ontological and cosmological foundations subtending distinctions and divisions (differences, identities, similarities, limits) between nature and culture, human, non-human, and other animate and inanimate domains, among others. Bringing this work to bear on our critical, historiographic, and ethnographic projects might well help us, in turn, to further relate music subdisciplines—not yet immune from conservative neo–positivist backlash and recalcitrant Euro– and Anglocentrisms—, to foster links across the humanities and social sciences, and to remain on the alert for archival complacency and its political effects (a common, though not exclusive or exclusionary, thread will be the global south as locus for the production of theory, as well as a concern with emerging definitions of society, exchange, value production, and of general inscription past textuality and its recent avatar in performance). What are the possibilities and limits that expanded senses of “being” might impose on our understandings of music and sound? We will read work from a number of philosophically attentive anthropologists such as de la Cadena, Descola, Escobar, Holbraad, Ingold, Kohn, Strathern, and Viveiros de Castro, in open conversation with writings by de Landa, Deleuze and Guattari, Latour, and Whitehead and a select number of authors closer to music and sound studies such as Feld, Ochoa, Born, Seeger, and Hennion.