In Conversation with Daphne Leong

Crossing boundaries, connecting disciplines

During the Winter 2023 semester, the Schulich School of Music was honoured to welcome Daphne Leong as a Distinguished Visiting Professor and Dean’s Chair in Music. In this position, Leong shared her knowledge and experience with our students, collaborated with faculty across disciplines, and supported the School more broadly in its strategic direction. She is also directing a conference at Schulich in September 2023, titled Rhythm in Music since 1900.

Prof. Leong is a music theorist and pianist known for connecting scholarship and performance. She often collaborates with internationally-known performers in these areas and has done so around the world—most recently in Finland, Norway, and the Netherlands, as well as in her book Performing Knowledge. She has also been featured in distinguished workshop series in North America and abroad.

We caught up with her to learn more about her travels, her approach to pedagogy, and her experiences at Schulich.

How does music move you?

Through doing: literally, making music with chamber colleagues. I love how this opens new worlds by creating connections with the music itself, my fellow musicians, and our audiences. Music also moves me by intriguing me with its intellectual and aesthetic challenges.

Your work lives at the intersection of performance and musical theory. What attracted to you to this particular area of study?

That is really hard to say! It just happened; I’ve always enjoyed doing both, though initially as separate pursuits.

You’ve presented everywhere from Finland to Hong Kong. Tell us what it’s like to share your passion with people around the world.

It gives me an appreciation for many different ways of “seeing” and “hearing.” In this rich tapestry of humanity in which we live, there are so many threads we might miss by remaining in one corner. When I was at the Sibelius Academy recently, I constructed a game around collaborating across disciplines. This was something I’d never done before, and the students came up with the most amazing things!

Here at McGill, I love the international make-up of my graduate seminar; it’s given me new appreciation for political and human struggles across the globe.

What do you believe is a key feature in enabling the best kind of music-making and music-learning experience?

Asking questions. The kinds of questions that might be overlooked because of “tradition” or habit. Experimenting. Enjoyment! Seeking excellence, within a community that challenges and supports.

In a teacher-student dynamic, the learning often goes both ways. What did you learn during your interactions with Schulich students?

Many things. Specific things, about Persian rhythmic theory, metric processes in Schumann, and satisfying “drops” in electronic dance music. More broadly, intangibles of human and professional interaction.

What do you hope our students learned from your teachings here?

Connecting analysis and performance. Theories of rhythm and meter, in a context of global musics. I hope they had fun in our explorations and exercises. I hope that what we did feeds into how they understand and practice rhythm going forward. (My graduate seminar was titled “Rhythm in Concept and Practice,” and we tackled both theoretical and performance questions.)

Tell us a bit about your upcoming conference in September 2023.

I’m excited about this! We’re featuring keynote presentations from different musical areas (composition, jazz, music theory), with special presentations and performances by McGill faculty. The topic is Rhythm in Music since 1900 – any approach, any music. More info here.

A hallmark of your work is connecting disciplines. How has this played out at Schulich?

It’s been exciting to collaborate with McGill’s faculty in performance and in technology. Fabrice Marandola, Marcelo Wanderley, and I are examining a question of practical significance for composers, performers, and music theorists, related to the skilled performance of 20th- and 21st-century music. Violaine Melançon invited me to lead a workshop with her violin students, addressing conundrums in their repertoire. And violinist Jinjoo Cho and I will collaborate on the study and performance of an interesting rhythm problem in Sibelius’s Violin Concerto.

Music theory colleagues Edward Klorman, Ben Duinker, and I have also been discussing a potential project bringing together different traditions in which scholarship and performance intersect. That’s an exciting prospect!

What is the thread that ties all your experiences together?

A theme of my life and career has been crossing boundaries. Connecting cultures, musical practices, and disciplines. Perhaps growing up and living in multiple cultures (Canada, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Germany, the UK, Romania, the United States) has made me perpetually curious about other points of view. The same is true in my performance and scholarship. What is it that the “other” side has to say and how might bringing together different universes change what we do?

Learn more about Daphne Leong’s work.


Rhythm in music since 1900 remains a rich and fascinating field of inquiry. The second RiMs1900 conference seeks to bring multiple perspectives to bear on this field. It will address repertoires ranging from jazz and popular music to global musics and art musics, and topics from performance and pedagogy to cognition and theory. Read more about RiMs1900.


Located in downtown Montreal, Canada, the Schulich School of Music embodies the highest international standards of excellence in professional training and research. We're known for our programs in orchestra, opera, jazz, early music, and contemporary music, and our leadership in sound recording and music technology creates unique possibilities for collaborations with the music community at large.



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