Music Research on Display in San Antonio

The Schulich School of Music has an impressive cohort presenting their research at the 2018 joint conference of the American Musicological Society (AMS) and the Society for Music Theory (SMT).

Musicologists and Music Theorists are coming together this weekend in San Antonio for the joint conference of the American Musicological Society (AMS) and the Society for Music Theory (SMT).

This is the major international conference for the fields of musicology and music theory, and being selected to present research at the event is no mean feat. The Schulich School of Music has an impressive number of faculty and students presenting this weekend, with twelve representatives escaping the Montréal cold to present on an array of topics ranging from improvisation in the sixteenth century right through to tonality in the pop music of today.

We took this opportunity to ask each Schulich representative a little more about what they are presenting, and what they are looking forward to at the conference:


Peter Schubert
Professor of Music Theory, and Area Chair of Musicianship

I will be participating in a joint session: Extemporaneous Dialogues on Historical Improvisation: Bridging Music, Music History, and Theory.

My presentation is called “Super librum: Improvising Polyphony” and it builds on work I have been doing about how kids in the sixteenth century learned music, and how they used that information when they became composers. I will demonstrate by singing some counterpoint. This will be fun because the other people who will be there are into it, so it’s a little club!

Vanessa Blais-Tremblay
PhD candidate, Musicology

I’ll be presenting in a session called Rethinking Amateurism with my paper “Vera Guilaroff and the Maple Leaf in (D)Rag: Issues of Identity, Genre, and Historiography with the Novelty Style.” My paper introduces novelty-style pianist Vera Guilaroff (1902-1974). As a composer, recording artist, improviser, radio broadcaster, and as the first Canadian woman to record popular syncopated music, Guilaroff has received surprisingly little scholarly attention. An article related to this conference paper will appear inWomen and Music23 (Spring 2019).

Above all, I look forward to meeting up with McGill alumni! AMS is a great opportunity to meet up with friends who have now graduated from McGill and are now working all across the world! It is always a great treat to see their research and careers develop between each AMS.

Nicole Biamonte
Associate Professor, Music Theory

I'm presenting a 3-hour workshop for graduate students on issues in popular music analysis. We'll analyze a variety of songs through two broad lenses: (1) conceptions of consonance and dissonance as they apply to pitch structures, rhythm, and texture, and (2) ambiguities of form, tonality,and meter (formal sections that don't fit one of the standard section types, either because they combine aspects of different section types or because they seem to change their formal role over the course of a song; chord loops that don't clearly identify a tonic, but seem to fluctuate between a pair of relative major and minor keys; rhythmic patterns that are so complex as to obscure the underlying meter).

I'm excited to be leading this workshop, because I will have the chance to work in depth with graduate students from various other institutions. This will be much more like teaching a seminar than my typical conference activities, which consist of sharing my research in paper presentations, chairing or attending other paper sessions, giving professional advice one-on-one or as part of a panel, and administrative work for the society or one of its many subgroups - all of which are valuable, but which offer a much more limited scope for interaction.

Ben Duinker
PhD candidate, Music Theory

I'll be presenting a paper called “Hybrid Tonics in Recent Pop Music,” which explores aspects of tonality in recent pop songs that all utilize the same specific chord collection. Because this chord collection doesn't allow for an expression of tonality as found in most other popular music, I investigate whether we can construe tonality's rhetorical properties in this music.

I've always enjoyed attending and presenting at SMT, but this is the first time I've attended in a year in which the joint AMS/SMT conference occurs. With so many more scholars from diverse fields present, I look forward to meeting new people who are interested in similar repertoire as me.

Marie-Ève Piché
PhD candidate, Music Theory

I am presenting in a session called Nineteenth-Century Music: New Perspectives. My paper is about a family of “minorized” augmented-sixth chords that are common in late-tonal music but haven’t been discussed much in the literature. I call these chords “Swedish sixths” because I first found them in the music of late-Romantic Swedish composers. I discuss the common variants and their harmonic function.

It is the first time that I am presenting at SMT and I am very excited (and slightly nervous) about sharing my work with a broad audience. I’m really looking forward to receiving feedback and comments on my paper. 

You can read more about Marie-Ève's research here.

Kristin Franseen
PhD candidate, Musicology

I'm presenting as part of the AMS History of Theory Study Group Round-Tables. This year's session is on the history of women in music theory, and is broken into two sections: the lives and works of individual theorists and the notion of "credit" and what kinds of research/pedagogical labor are deemed "theoretical." Since my dissertation is in part a re-examination of the history of musicology in the early twentieth century, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to consider what sort of analytical knowledge the two women featured in my project, philosopher Vernon Lee and biographer and program note annotator Rosa Newmarch, considered important in both their own research and in their approaches to public music appreciation.

As always with large conferences, I'm looking forward to catching up with friends and mentors from around the world! It is so great to get to hear what people are working on now, whether that's a new project in the preliminary stages or the culmination of decades of research. I'm also enthusiastic about the number of sessions, round-tables, and seminars this year on gender, sexuality, and the histories of musicology and theory!

Trevor Penoyer-Kulin
PhD candidate, Musicology

I'm going to be giving a presentation about how attitudes towards sacred music were evolving during the 1840s, using the critical reception of Rossini's Stabat Mater as a case study. There were some marked differences in how French and Italian writers reacted to the work vs. how German ones did, and so I talk about these differences and how they represented distinct national approaches to sacred music as a genre.

It's going to be my first time attending so I'm looking forward to just being there and seeing all the big names walking around. And of course it's very exciting to be a presenter as well.

You can read more about Trevor's doctoral work here

James Donaldson
PhD candidate, Music Theory

Surrealism's figurehead André Breton may have called music the 'most profoundly confusing' of all arts and, given the wonderful diversity of theoretical approaches on offer, an SMT attendee may be sympathetic to Breton's comment. Nevertheless, my paper aims to show practically how Poulenc engaged with early surrealist concepts in his music. Through treating the cadential progression as a musical "object", elements of his works have analogies to surrealist principles, such as juxtaposition and the calligram. Though, as I explore, given the cadential progression's primarily ending function, it is challenging to maintain cohesion whilst isolating it in a manner of a surrealist object.

Although few have studied surrealist ideas in music from a more theoretical perspective, many have written on the movement's broader relationship to music. Coming from a theoretical background, this year's joint conference with AMS gives me an opportunity to develop and challenge my paper through discussions with those who are more historically-inclined.

Julie Cumming
Professor, Music History/Musicology

My paper is co-authored with Zoey Cochran, a graduate student in musicology. It looks at the origins of the Italian madrigal in Florence in the 1510s, in relation to the Questione della lingua, the debate about what kind of Italian should be used for Italian literature. By examining the musical style and tracking the spellings used for poetry in the earliest madrigals, we see that the Florentines were using the new genre as a way of asserting the importance of their own language for Italian literature.

I am also a new member of the Board of Directors of the AMS, and I will be going to lots of meetings about how to make the AMS more useful and responsive to the needs of its members. The McGill party, held Saturday night, is also a great place for us to see our former students and colleagues, and to meet students interested in coming to McGill for graduate work.


For any readers interested in the full scope of events at this year’s AMS/SMT Conference, you can access the full program online here.