Editor’s Message

Dear Readers:

[1] Welcome to Volume 27, Issue 2 of Music Theory Online. Along with MTO’s four Associate Editors, Brent Auerbach, Inessa Bazayev, Jenine Brown, and Brad Osborn, I am pleased to present eleven articles and two reviews for you to take to the beach, lake, or mountains!

[2] This issue begins with a special symposium on the topic of cognition in aural skills, work that began with the “Rethinking Aural Skills Instruction through Cognitive Research” session at the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Society for Music Theory in San Antonio. In “A Cognitive Basis for Choosing a Solmization System,” Gary S. Karpinski illuminates widespread connections between cognitive systems of tonal inference and do-based solmization as opposed to la-based solmization, which he characterizes as useful in more limited contexts. In “What Are the Truly Aural Skills?,” Timothy Chenette advocates for increasing the autonomy of aural skills instruction and delinking it from the sequenced topics of the standard music theory curriculum. Answering the question of the title, Chenette argues that aural skills are those that “engage working memory with minimal knowledge-based mediation.” Chenette’s article includes a bold and ambitious proposal for an aural skills curriculum “founded on learning goals related to perception and cognition rather than content goals derived from music theory [emphasis added].” The third article in the collection is Sarah Gates’s “Developing Musical Imagery: Contributions from Pedagogy and Cognitive Science.” Gates, in a wonderful example of experimentally informed pedagogical scholarship, incorporates recent research on skilled memory performance to the training of aural imagery. By isolating various tasks related to hearing notated music in “the mind’s ear,” and by differentiating the difficulty of mastering these tasks, Gates argues that aural pedagogues can “ease the initial learning curve of acquiring both new skills and strategies for tasks with heavy working memory demands [7.3].” And by bringing together areas of research and practice that have had too little contact to date, Gates points the way towards a wealth of new research on the horizon. Accompanying these three articles is Elizabeth West Marvin’s response drawn from her decades of experience as a music theory scholar, experimental researcher, pedagogue, and textbook author.

[3] Three other articles in the issue address rhythmic complexities across jazz’s historical sweep. Joshua W. Hahn explores Jeff Pressing’s concept of generated rhythms (Pressing 1983) and the metric matrix (from David Locke) in the syncopation of Scott Joplin’s rags, connecting these rhythms to the hyperspace philosophy of the early twentieth century, a philosophy also foundational to W. E. B. Du Bois’s racial uplift ideology. Leaping forward a century, Scott Schumann and Antares Boyle, in separate articles, address rhythmically or metrically complex ostinati in the music of Tigran Hamasyan and Craig Talborn, respectively. Schumann develops a typology of Hamasyan’s ostinati as phrasal, structural, or developmental, each with their own implications for compositional function and form. And Boyle, following Anne Danielsen’s work on groove, examines Taborn’s “flexible ostinati” as grooves from both a material standpoint and an interpretive standpoint. By attending to flexibility in Taborn’s ostinati, Boyle focuses attention on the emergence and dissolution of groove, a concept that in other literature tends towards a focus on stasis.

[4] The four remaining articles in this capacious issue treat recent music through a variety of approaches. Abigail Shupe, writing on George Crumb’s “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” from Winds of Destiny: A Cycle of Civil War Songs, Folk Songs, and Spirituals, interprets the song as a musical memorial, one that criticizes received narratives of the Civil War and other American conflicts through its grotesquerie. Examining Dawn Upshaw’s recent performance of the song in light of this century’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Shupe shows how Crumb’s treatment of the American Civil War song may acquire further meaning each time “the U.S. takes on a mission of preserving its ideals abroad.” James Donaldson’s “Melody on the Threshold in Spectral Music” unpacks and extends the analytical potential of Gérard Grisey’s writings to show how melody can shift in and out of focus in the music of Grisey, Claude Vivier, Georg Friedrich Haas, and Kaija Saariaho. Mariusz Kozak offers a new perspective on a much examined piece, Steve Reich’s Violin Phase, based on the notion of kinesthetic knowledge. This perspective informs his consideration of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s choreography of Violin Phase, which Kozak describes as a “proto theory–a fantasy, an awe-inspiring spectacle” of Reich’s work. Finally, Jeremy W. Smith considers continuous processes in electronic dance music, arguing that such processes, as opposed to discrete ones, provide “sonic instructions that help dancers ride the emotional waves” of this music.

[5] Thanks to the efforts of Reviews Editors David Heetderks and Bryan Parkhurst, we are also pleased to publish two commissioned reviews. Michèle Duguay reviews Victoria Malawey’s A Blaze of Light in Every Word: Analyzing the Popular Singing Voice, a book that builds on, among much other scholarship, Malawey’s work on Björk published in Volume 16 of this journal. Studies of the voice in the past have tended towards “essentialist frameworks of gender,” and Malawey’s analysis of transgender and non-binary voices is an important intervention. Stephen M. Kovaciny reviews Roger Matthew Grant’s Pecular Attunements: How Affect Theory Turned Musical, noting how Grant’s insights into historical theories of mimesis and organology could connect to recent work on music and emotion in the humanities and social sciences. Through a lengthy “analytical digression” on Jean-Philippe Rameau’s analysis of Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Armide (1686), Kovaciny exemplifies “Grant’s appeal to reimagine the history of music theory as a history of musical experience and as a theory of the visceral and affective [16].”

[6] I conclude with two housekeeping announcements for readers and, especially, prospective authors and reviewers. First, we have recently updated our submission guidelines in a number of ways. We now explicitly encourage authors to make use of the mentoring programs administered by the SMT’s Committee on Race and Ethnicity and the Committee on the Status of Women. Further, we encourage all authors to consider whether the citations in their submission exclude the work of scholars from historically marginalized groups. Other changes seek to make the “hidden curriculum” of journal submission more visible. Namely, we clarify our existing practices, that (1) authors are allowed and encouraged to let editors know of a small number of individuals who should not be contacted as reviewers, (2) that authors who seek redress regarding editorial decisions or practice can contact the chair of the SMT Publications Committee, and (3) authors can request an update on the status of their submission at any time. Second, we have also updated our guidelines for reviewers, which you can read [here]. We are now encouraging scholars to sign their reviews and, increasingly, MTO is able to secure signed reviews. We’ve also attempted to more explicitly define the meaning of recommendations like “accept pending revisions” and “revise and resubmit.” Many of these items were suggestions of the Engaged Music Theory Working Group, as well as an ad-hoc group led by Jennifer Iverson, Joseph Straus, Chris Segall, and Nicole Biamonte (a past Editor of MTO). I thank them so much for their thoughtful consideration and assistance in drafting these decisions.

[7] All MTO volumes dating back to our first issue in 1993 can be accessed from our contents page. It is a pleasure to serve in this capacity, and I wish you all a summer of happy reading!


Mitch Ohriner
University of Denver