Subsequent to the founding of the Society for Music Theory in 1977, American music theory has evolved considerably—transforming itself from a discipline primarily concerned with “Schenker and sets” into one whose practitioners are interested in an wide variety of activities. In this course we will survey a collection of these current trends through weekly reading assignments and engage these topics’ major issues and methodologies critically through weekly writing assignments and seminar discussion. Students will also conduct individualized research into topics not survey directly in class.
PDFs of all assigned readings will be available on the course website.
Each student will be placed into a study group of three or four members that will rotate throughout the semester. The group list can be found here. Students share weekly response essays with the members of their group and write commentaries on the essays written by their group members.
12 response essays (3 pages): In these essays, students write a response to any aspect of the assigned reading for the week. Essays may take the form of a critical summary of one reading, a critical comparison of several readings, an original analysis of music referenced in the reading, or any other serious engagement with the ideas presented in the reading. Essays should be placed in the class Dropbox folder by 9 a.m. on the Sunday before class. I will not return or comment on the paper, but students will receive written responses from the members of their study group. Please be sure to adopt an appropriately diplomatic, professional tone. Sample essays are available here.
24 commentaries (1 page): These commentaries are short responses to the essays written by students’s group members. They should be collegial, thoughtful, and professional. Commentaries should be placed in our class Dropbox folder by 9 a.m. Monday, the morning of our class meeting. As with the response essays, I will not return or evaluate these commentaries.
Formatting and length: Your name should appear in the text of your document (for example, in a header). Titles are fine, but leave out things that can clog up the header (course name, course code, etc.). A length of one page means the essay ends on page 2. Double spacing, 11 or 12-pt. serif font, and 1-inch margins are standard.
Grading As long as your essays are completed on time and with appropriate seriousness and professionalism, you will receive full credit for this part of the course.
Topic Students will choose a subfield or repertoire not covered in class, write a 10-page critical review of recent theoretical literature on that topic, and give a thirty-minute presentation on the topic during the final two seminar meetings. Your essays should be modeled loosely on the review essays that appear in top-tier music theory journals, such as Music Theory Spectrum.
Bibliography (5–8 items) In consultation with me, students will compile a short bibliography of scholarly articles, books, and/or dissertations—the majority of which should have been published in the last fifteen years. The bibliography is due on March 23. I will work with students to condense the bibliography into a reading list for the final paper (approx. 5 articles or 2 books).
Presentation (30 minutes) Students should teach us about the articles and books they’ve read, providing a critical response that expresses a point-of-view directed at the topic in general and the readings surveyed. Presentations should consider why the topic is important, what the main issues are, and how has each author approached the topic. Handouts are required.
Final paper (10 pages) A complete draft of the final paper is due on the day of the presentation. I’ll return it with comments within a few days, and on the basis of those comments, students will write a final draft, due by email on May 16.