Archive for the ‘Reviews’ category

2016 Newsletter

The December 2016 Newsletter is available online:

You can navigate its different sections through the links in the contents page.

If you would like to respond to any of the items featured here in the next Newsletter, please send your response to

Despite all care taken, mistakes are not impossible; happily they are amendable, as this is an online version. Therefore, if you spot any, please get in touch with the Information Officer, Shay Loya:

Posted on 31st December 2016 by Shay Loya in Music Analysis, Reviews, SMA, Uncategorized No comments »

Review: SMA Music Analysis Workshop

On the last Saturday in November, the first SMA Music Analysis Workshop took place at Cardiff University’s School of Music. Alongside the TAGS conference, the biannual Summer School (coming up this July) and the Writing Club workshops, the Music Analysis Workshop constitutes a new and important addition to the varied events through which the SMA supports its student members and fosters interest in music analysis.

The conception of this project was formed during a series of discussions among members of staff at Cardiff University (particularly Charles Wilson, David Beard and Keith Chapin) and myself, in consultation with Dr Nicholas Reyland (Keele University) and committee members of the SMA. What emerged from these talks was the format of an interactive workshop, in which the participants get not only a theoretical introduction into a particular methodological approach to analysing music but also a ‘hands-on’ experience of its practical application. In that way we intended to reach out to a broader audience: those whose primary research interest lie outside music analysis were offered a comprehensive introduction into the discipline, while more experienced candidates were given the opportunity to explore methods they were not particularly familiar with.

The first workshop was conducted by Dr Charles Wilson (Cardiff University), who focused on post-tonal music theory. He started his session with an introduction re-negotiating the position of music analysis in the aftermath of the wave of criticism from the New Musicology movement. Challenging the common objection that music analysis is divorced from the ‘actual’ experience of music, he illustrated through musical examples as diverse as Debussy, Webern and Berio the correlation between ‘perceptibles’ and ‘observables’; that is, between musical features or events which are perceived as significant in the process of listening (regardless of theoretical education or rational endeavour) and structurally significant features or events which can be observed analytically in the score. This was practically demonstrated in the interactive parts of the session, when participants were asked to make ‘intuitive’ comments on musical examples, which were subsequently linked to more rigorously analytical observations. The participants learned to identify different kinds of scales (pentatonic, diatonic, hexatonic, octatonic, etc.) using ‘clock diagrams’, to trace their alteration within a piece by Debussy, and to compare the contrasting uses of such modes in pieces by different composers. Particularly in his analysis of a song by Webern, tracing the symbolism of Stefan George’s poetry in Webern’s treatment of hexatonic modality, Dr Wilson gave convincing examples of sensitive application of analytical methods, demonstrating that music analysis is one of many mutually interconnected ways of engaging hermeneutically with music.

Dr Nicholas Reyland

These issues were also central to the second workshop, led by Dr Nicholas Reyland (Keele University) and focused on the functioning of music in audio-visual analysis of screen media. Dr Reyland drew attention to the ‘middle ground’ between sophisticated analytical reflection of music on the one hand and visceral response to musical stimuli on the other, in which music is perceived through familiar stylistic or topical conventions and, broadly speaking, enculturated knowledge. The participants had chance to ‘audio-view’ the newest Star Wars trailer and get closer understanding of the role music plays in it. Another interactive exercise involved ‘blind listening’ and ‘deaf viewing’ of a particular scene from Krzysztof Kieslowski’s trilogy Three Colors: Blue (music by Zbigniew Preisner). This technique of ‘masking’, in which the elimination of one element of perception draws attention to another, offered valuable insight into the ways in which music contributes to the production of meaning in multi-media contexts and generated lively discussion. It became apparent that approaches and techniques employed by audio-visual analysis have profound implications for analysing music on its own. Indeed, the argument was convincingly made that music is never quite ‘on its own’.

Although the above described sessions constituted the main body of the event, many exciting things happened in between and afterwards. Several participants made use of the opportunity, kindly offered by Wilson, Reyland and Beard, to discuss their research during thirty-minute individual meetings. Breaks for coffee and lunch (generously provided by the SMA) offered an opportunity to get to know colleagues from across the country. The event was formally concluded by a discussion session, attempting to wrap up the numerous topics and ideas let loose during the day. Particularly prominent was the question of the boundaries of music analysis, which were revealed to be far from solid, allowing significant and stimulating overlaps with other sub-disciplines and methodologies of music studies. This vibrant debate continued among many of the participants over a pint in a nearby pub.

The event attracted more than twenty participants from eleven UK institutions, including not only students of musicology but also ethnomusicology, performance and composition. This can be considered a proof that the interest in analytical understanding of music is not an ‘ivory tower’ phenomenon endemic to a particular academic discipline but rather one that it is shared by people from all branches of music studies. The enthusiastic and positive response of the participants suggest good reasons to hold high hopes that further similar events will follow this successful pilot scheme.

Martin Curda
Cardiff University

Posted on 23rd December 2014 by Shay Loya in Music Analysis, Reviews, SMA No comments » Tags:

September 2014 Newsletter

The September 2014 Newsletter is available online:

SMA_newsletter_Sep 2014

You can navigate its different sections through the links in the contents page.

If you would like to respond to any of the items featured here in the next Newsletter, please send your response to

Despite all care taken, mistakes are not impossible; happily they are amendable, as this is an online version. Therefore, if you spot any, please get in touch with the Information Officer, Shay Loya:

Posted on 16th September 2014 by Shay Loya in Music Analysis, Reviews, SMA No comments » Tags:

Review of Julian Horton’s Keynote address

‘In Defence of Music Analysis’

Julian Horton opened his keynote jokingly apologising for a sense of disorientation stemming from the train journey from Waterloo to Egham, ‘in which you seem to cross the Thames from the North to the South about three times… so I’m now not entirely clear which side of the Thames I’m on’. No such confusion was apparent, however, in his arguments for the role of theory and analysis in the age of postmodernist scholarship. Horton’s paper conjoined ‘two parallel threads’ that run throughout his research of the past decade or so. The first, polemical thread describes a series of published position papers that have ‘tried to stake out a territory for theory and analysis’. The second, analytical thread ‘put into practice the terms of the position papers somehow’. Not surprisingly, given Horton’s field, this knitting exercise transmuted into a coherent five-part form, with a modulation from polemics to analysis between parts 3 and 4 respectively, and then another smooth transition out of analysis into the concluding part 5.

Part 1 of the keynote cited two scholars whom Horton had identified as representative of a massive academic trend that has privileged ‘historical specificity over theoretical, analytical or hermeneutic engagement’. First, Horton recalled Roger Parker’s keynote speech from the 2011 conference for the Society for Musicology in Ireland, in which Parker, according to Horton, ‘aligned theory and analysis with a variety of dogmatic attitudes, not only modernism but also formalism, structuralism, positivism, organicism, Hegelianism, which by the turn of the millennium had come to be regarded as inhabitants of a historical dustbin’. He then mentioned Richard Taruskin’s view that only theory that explains composers’ actions in their historical context has historical, and therefore scholarly, validity. This, according to Horton, effectively ‘makes theory subservient to history, since history is the source of verification for theoretical explanations’. Adding the perspectives of New Musicologists to the mix (notably Lawrence Kramer and Susan McClary), Horton demonstrated how this basic stance has been radicalised and politicised to the extent that theory and analysis were charged with being somehow complicit in immoral acts of gender and race oppression.

In part 3 Horton began his defence by offering a plethora of personal reflections and rejecting the intellectually tyrannical assumption that we—all of us—have simply ‘passed from the time that generates discourse to a time that generates discourse about discourse’, as if no other scholarship were possible or desirable in the early twenty-first century. However, this did not mean a wholesale rejection of some of the things New Musicology brought to attention, which do indeed require us to think as theorists and analysts, notably, the need to address rigid cultural hierarchies and the consequences of ‘ahisotricst’ and canon-orientated musical-theoretical perspectives of the Western art-music repertoire. It was at this point that Horton brought in his personal research and put forth the notion of a ‘de-centred theory of sonata-form’, the idea of viewing this form from a variety of composers, locales and historical periods using a large-scale database, rather than through the lens of models predominantly based on Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven (as has been the case from A.B. Marx to Caplin and Hepokoski). Part 4 put this claim to the test through a number of case studies that challenged traditional Mozart-centered models applied to nineteenth-century piano concerti, in the course of which Hepokoski and Darcy’s Type 5 sonata form was put under special scrutiny. In the concluding part 5, Horton suggested that the aesthetic of the present, as uncovered by theory and analysis, is just as important as the techniques of history that uncover the aesthetics of the past. Plurality and interaction of these discursive modes are welcome, but each discourse can also sometimes operate independently to some advantage. In other words: theory and analysis can interact with the new discourses in immensely creative ways, without being subservient to them.

As is customary, formal questions were not invited to what the chair, Anne Hyland, described as a provocative address. Indeed, it was clear that Horton had conjured many-a-thought deep within the minds of the audience, some of which became voiced over post-address nibbles and wine. Overall, Horton’s keynote provided at least one clear example of how the discipline could decisively respond to, and even appropriate, the postmodern challenge. Indeed, the trend right now seems to be that of a quiet yet persistent convergence among the musicological disciplines (see Loya’s review of the recent BFE-AAWM conference), suggesting that it is the shrill and divisive posturing of 1990s that will soon find a home in the historical dustbin.

Stephanie Jones and Shay Loya

Another version of this talk, with a different analytical demonstration in the second part, was delivered at Durham University and is currently available on You Tube:

Posted on 9th September 2014 by Shay Loya in Music Analysis, Reviews, SMA, Uncategorized No comments »

Impressions from the BFE-AAWM conference

The Analysis, Cognition and Ethnomusicology Conference took place at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London, in the first four days of July. This was a joint Meeting of the Third International Conference on Analytical Approaches to World Music (AAWM 2014), and the Annual Conference of the British Forum for Ethnomusicology (BFE 2014). It was hosted by the Department of Music SOAS as well as the Institute of Musical Research (IMR) at Senate House, and associated with the Centre for Music and Science (University of Cambridge). The SMA’s involvement comprised of a some financial assistance and also being represented there by a special panel, which I will tell you about in a moment.

Why were we involved? AAWM was launched about four years ago and since then went from strength to strength. It is not exactly an organization in the formal sense as an interest group within the Anglophone (and so far predominantly North American) music theory and analysis community. It started as an international conference (see their 2010 CFP), and then expanded also into an online journal that has seen five issues since its launch in 2011. It has an impressive line-up of editors, advisers and contributors, many of whom made their name theorizing Western classical music (take a look). But both conferences and journal are part of a greater ongoing convergence among historical/critical musicology, ethnomusicology, music theory and cognitive studies that has accelerated in the last decade — a trend theorized in publications by Nicholas Cook, Georgina Born, Wim van der Meer and Laudan Nooshin among others. If these writers I mentioned represent different agendas, that is precisely because such a massive trend is pulled by different interests. Perhaps not every agenda is that friendly to the kind of scholarly activities that engage most SMA members, but I would argue that this trend is very good for our discipline.

Analysis has taken a battering in the 1990s, prompting several defences– memorably by Kofi Agawu in 2004 (Music Analysis, 23/ii-iii) and more recently by Julian Horton in a keynote address at TAGS 2014 (to be published soon in the SMA Newsletter). It is the inherent malleability of the discipline and the intellectual curiosity of its practitioners that nullifies such attacks in the first place. Moreover, many of us have already moved some time ago into studies of music from everywhere in the world, beyond the West vs. rest divisions. As institutionalized boundaries continue to dissolve, the systematic and rigorous analysis of music is no longer regarded, at least not by serious scholars, as some form of Western intellectual imperialism, to be kept with a barge poll away from the study of ‘non-Western’ music. If it were, then a joint conference of AAWM and BFE would have been all but impossible.

Nevertheless, some institutional divisions were still apparent through the simple fact that this was a joint event, organized by two different bodies with two different conference traditions. Panels did not mix: they were either based on 30-minute analytical papers, or 20-minute ethnomusicology ones. This says absolutely nothing about the excellent coordination and relations between the BFE and AAWM, and this being early days one can understand t7he practical, logistical difficulties of a more complete merger. But perhaps in future — perhaps with the SMA’s help — we can try somehow to integrate the two traditions in a single conference so that the boundaries are further dissolved, and delegates have an even greater chance to mix with and meet scholars across disciplines.

With over 100 papers spread over four days, a structure of four parallel sessions, three keynotes and concerts galore, t he organizers and formidable team of student helpers (with unforgettable tee-shirts) should be applauded for making the whole thing run like a well-oiled machine. But all this richness is also difficult to capture in one review: in fact, this is not the kind of review that should attempt such a thing. Looking solely at the more analytical part of the conference, papers theorized all manner of musical parameters across cultures from melody, harmony, rhythm, metre, sound/timbre and so on to ostinato patterns, cycles, improvisation, schemata and gesture. Familiar tonal theories, most notably pitch-class-set, Schenkerian, and generative theories, were put through their paces as they ventured beyond their cultural comfort zones. But if you really want to get a sense of the content you should take a peak at the programme and abstracts. As I mentioned, a more fulfilling review selecting a few papers and picking up more specific themes from this conference may be forthcoming: watch this space.

But I should get back to the SMA’s contribution. I explained why we were involved but not so much how. Apart from the sponsorship, we were represented by a special panel (no. 26 in the programme) entitled ‘Traversing Disciplinary and Geographic Continuums. As the title suggests, there was a fortuitous geographic continuity between my paper that focused on Transylvanian Gypsy-band music, Mark Gotham’s (University of Cambridge) which looked an Balkan music, and Costas Tsougras’s (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki) that applied (Lehrdhal’s) generative theory to the polyphonic singing tradition of Epirus in North Greece. Furthermore the middle (Mark’s) paper on metre and rhythm counterbalanced the two outer papers that concentrated on pitch. We also progressed from the near past (nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century repertoire) to the present. So it was a really nice, well-balanced and coherent session, I thought; and happily it was well attended and well-received too, with plenty of follow-up discussion, even if my time-keeping left something to be desired.

Shay Loya addressing the BFE-AAWM conference on behalf of the SMA

Anyway, this panel took place on day 3 of the conference by which time the SMA’s profile was already raised so to speak. As the panel’s chair I originally planned to speak a little about the SMA’s involvement when our session started and read out a message from our President, Julian Horton, to those attending our session. But fortunately, in an early meeting on the first day of the conference Richard Widdess kindly suggested I should address the whole conference in the more imposing surroundings of the Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre, just before Nicholas Cook was due to give the first keynote. And so I did (see photo), which certainly meant we got more attention. I was also able to read out Julian’s message, now addressed to all of the delegates. It sums up, in more elegant prose, some of the points I have made above about the purpose of our involvement:

One of the happiest consequences of the pluralism that defines our present scholarly environment is a new rapprochement between analysis and ethnomusicology. Disciplines, which may in the past have seemed irretrievable distant, have come together over the shared territories of performance, cognition and expression; structural commonalities between the musics of widely dispersed cultural contexts have returned decisively to the research agenda; and repertoires that until recently seemed beyond the pale of analytical engagement are now comfortably within its purview.

The energy behind these developments is amply attested by this year’s joint BFE/ AAWM conference, which brings together an extraordinary diversity of papers around its theme of Analysis, Cognition and Ethnomusicology. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the programme committees of the AAWM and the BFE and the conference organisers. I’m delighted to offer the Society for Music Analysis’ wholehearted support, and look forward to many fruitful affiliation in the future.

In my view, this healthy growth that Julian describes above counteracts the shrinking habitat of our discipline in other fields. So when the AAWM came to town, as it were, all the SMA needed to do was seize the opportunity and signal our interest, show that we really do welcome analytical research ‘in all musical repertoires and cultures’ as our home web page declares. And so we did: sponsorship, panel and welcoming message–a good start. But the fourth aspect of our involvement is perhaps the most important, namely the ‘fruitful affiliation in the future’, Julian hinted at. It has already started, in fact, through informal networking during and after the conference, and will probably lead in the short term to some involvement with the next AAWM 2016. Expect more news to follow.

Shay Loya

Pictures from our panel, in order of appearance: Shay Loya, Mark Gotham, Costas Tsougras

Posted on 9th September 2014 by Shay Loya in Reviews, SMA, Sister Organizations, Uncategorized No comments »

TAGS 2014 Roundtable

Anne Hyland, Julian Horton and the TAGS mascot

Facing the audience, with a bottle of wine and a mascot squirrel between them, SMA President Julian Horton and conference organizer Anne Hyland began a roundtable on the ‘future of music analysis’. This took place at Royal Holloway, on the very last session of TAGS 2014, on 3rd March. Continuing some of his arguments from the keynote address of the previous day, Professor Horton stated that he believes music theory and analysis should become core subjects in music studies in the UK, and that students should also be aware of the ethical dimensions of the discipline. The problem, of course, is how we go about achieving this. The ensuing discussion focused at first on the ethics of theory and analysis, but soon turned to the more urgent issue of the survival and growth of the discipline itself in academia. The lowering of technical proficiency requirements at A-level were identified as one central problem. However, Julian argued that (as he learned in a national meeting with teachers and civil servants) raising A-level standards would diminish the number of students studying music as an academic subject at secondary schools, and therefore the number of those applying for music courses at university. Damned if we do or if we don’t, it seems.

dscf1675So the question went back to how we may raise music literacy in primary and secondary schools. After playing a simple example of invertible counterpoint on the piano, Julian turned to us with this question: why do we not teach such basic counterpoint to 12-year-olds who are perfectly capable of absorbing mathematics at a comparable level? Well, insofar as we should, the question was rhetorical. But it was both sobering and depressing to mull over the non-academic reasons for this. A point was raised about a cultural-political agenda that unfortunately identifies technical proficiency with social elitism (somehow math is exempt from the same association). And David Bretherton has argued that Music is the only A-level subject where private instrumental-vocal tuition is built-in by default, which means that most music undergraduates almost invariably come these days from better-off families, reinforcing the image of elitism. In other words, there is an expectation that private tuition will fill the gap, and this certainly applies to counterpoint, harmony and musicianship in general. The only thing that may break this vicious circle of social elitism and educational deficiency is a fundamental change in the perception of what music skills are for, which music skills should and can be acquired, and at what age.

All we need to do now is convince the government. Good luck, everyone.

Perhaps we can try and change things in our own patch first. At present there are hardly any designated jobs for analysts, so most of us get into university positions by being able to do other things. This is fine as far as getting a foothold in academia, and as Anne reminded us (and I can concur), once one is part of an institution there is some scope to expand analysis in the curriculum, slowly but surely. But growth by stealth may not be enough. Towards the end of the discussion, Horton raised the prospect of adopting here the American model of institutionalized music theory. The argument for this is that the discipline will be protected, it will create jobs, produce students, raise the overall level, create its own prestige (which hopefully will trickle down to secondary and primary education)—and so on. Putting aside how this can be actually done in practical terms, there was some skepticism from the audience (as well as Horton himself) about this idea in principle. After all, some of our colleagues in the US routinely lament the level of undergraduate literacy. So irrespective of innovation at the highest levels, it seems that the trickling down is not working terribly well on the other side of the pond. Moreover, others have noted that institutional music theory results in more formalist and conformist work that often propagates central theories rather than critiques them.

So once again we were left with no clear answers and as much as I wished for a happy ending, the meeting and conference cadenced on a troubling note. If anyone has further thoughts about any of these issues please feel free to join the conversation and respond to this blog.

Shay Loya

Posted on 10th May 2014 by Shay Loya in Music Analysis, Reviews, SMA No comments » Tags:

The Fourth Meeting of the Postgraduate Writing Club

University of Leeds, 6th March 2014

From left to right: Andrew Cheetham, Danielle Hood, Daniel Holden, Joseph Knowles, Martin Curda, Derek Scott and Stephanie Jones.

The latest meeting of the Postgraduate Writing Club took place on 6th March 2014. The event, sponsored by the SMA, was hosted by the music department of the University of Leeds and chaired by Professor Derek Scott.

Although the number of participants was lower than last time, this was not to the detriment of the intensity and richness of discussion. The quality of the meeting was also ensured by the fact that all papers reflected a late and mature stage of research, and are now being prepared for publication. On this occasion the Writing Club allowed us to test our work against friendly criticism of fellow postgraduates before subjecting our papers to the full rigour of the peer-review process. As ever, the meeting unfolded in a climate of good humour, friendship and mutual support.

Martin Curda’s study of ‘The Body, the Grotesque and Carnival in the music of Pavel Haas’ relates the work of a relatively obscure composer to the context of Czechoslovakian avant-garde of the 1920s, thus bringing new material into the Anglophone musicological discourse. The discussion initially focused on the problem of translation of the terminology used by Czech musicologists and the idiosyncratic theoretical language of Leoš Janáček. Subsequently, attention was shifted to the position of Czechoslovakian avant-garde in the plurality of European avant-garde movements of the 1920s. Comments have also been made on formal structure of the text in relation to the problem of transition from a PhD thesis chapter to the format of a journal article.

Andrew Cheetham’s recent conference paper, combining archival research with comparative analytical enquiry, brings to light a hitherto unknown connection between particular works of English seventeenth-century composer George Jeffreys and the madrigals of the (in)famous Italian composer Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa. The panel suggested ways to expand the analytical section of the paper, which is to become a chapter in a collected volume dedicated to Gesualdo, by considering broader issues of genre and style. It has been pointed out during the discussion that further research might focus on Jeffreys’s choice of literary text and scrutinise the extent to which it corresponds with the expressive language, apparently inspired by Gesualdo. Andrew was also encouraged to elaborate on the historical and technical implications of the fact that Gesualdo’s madrigals were transcribed into figured bass notation for a performance in which Jeffreys himself is believed to have taken part.

After lunch, Derek Scott enlightened us with his talk on ‘how (or how not!) to deal with T.V. and radio’. Drawing upon his widespread experience with all forms of media, Derek selected a couple of his most recent appearances, such as BBC Breakfast TV (2011), The One and Only Mrs Mills (2012) and Len Goodman’s Dance Band Days (2014) to provide advice about what really went on behind the scenes, the most important of which was ‘what might interest you might not interest the BBC’ (there were plenty of examples). Moreover, we are all now thoroughly informed that the BBC do at times try and recruit junior academics for research on the cheap and that it is often best to politely decline certain requests. Not that Derek wanted to put us off from enjoying a few minutes of fame here and there. Indeed, a public appearance looks great when having to demonstrate ‘impact’ in a research proposal. All in all, it was very interesting and useful to hear about the realities that an academic can face when dealing with media appearances.

Danielle Hood contributed her study of ‘The Uncanny Topic in the Fünf Orchesterstücke Op. 16’, approaching Schoenberg’s music in a novel way – from the perspective of Freud’s theory of the unconscious. Outlining the continuity with the ‘Ombra’ topic of earlier music, she identifies in Schoenberg’s works the topic of ‘the Uncanny’. Drawing on Freud’s description of the term, she suggests ways in which anxiety, repression and castration complex are signified in Schoenberg’s music. During the discussion, several pieces have been identified which might be eligible to scrutiny from a similar perspective. Finally, several remarks were made on the form of the soon-to-be-submitted article; given the breadth of Danielle’s (brilliant, one must say) conceptual argumentation, a careful use of subheadings might help the reader navigate in the text.

The research seminar which was to conclude the day was, unfortunately, cancelled. However, this provided the company with welcome opportunity to continue the discussion over a pint at the local pub, and what a discussion it proved to be! Small talk aside, some of the serious topics that came up included conference presentation experience, academic opportunities, research methodologies and avoiding sexism in academic writing. Now, lest anyone gets the wrong impression, we actually had fun – not only in the pub but throughout the day. The Writing Club meetings offer much more than a platform for heavy academic discussion: they create a sense of community. We would therefore like to thank the people who made it happen this March and encourage more people to join us for the next meeting, details of which will be advertised in due course. Finally, special thanks are due to Derek Scott for the advice, encouragement, support and wonderful hospitality.

Martin Curda

Posted on 10th March 2014 by Shay Loya in Reviews, SMA No comments » Tags:

Protest Music in the Twentieth Century (15-17 Nov 2013)

The conference ‘Protest Music in the Twentieth Century’ was held in the Complesso monumentale di San Micheletto in Lucca, Italy, from the 15th to the 17th November 2013. The conference attracted some fifty delegates from countries as far afield as Australia and the United States and offered those attending the opportunity to hear papers that encompassed a multiplicity of topics within the overriding theme. » Read more: Protest Music in the Twentieth Century (15-17 Nov 2013)

Posted on 27th December 2013 by Shay Loya in Reviews, Uncategorized No comments » Tags:

Postgraduate Writing Club

Clockwise, from left: Becky Thumpston, Jun Zubillaga-Pow, Olga Sologub, Kirstie Hewlett

Huddled around a table in the intimate setting of Room C143 at City University London, four postgraduates spearheaded what might be one of the most exciting of our student rep, Kirstie Hewlett’s (University of Southampton), ventures: a ‘Postgraduate Writing Club’. The idea behind this initiative was simple enough: to form an analysis-centred study group, comprised of postgraduate students engaged in the discipline from around the country. The event was bound to generate the kind of concentrated disciplinary discussion and group dynamic that cannot be expected in local groups with wider interests, however interesting and useful these may otherwise be. Moreover, this meeting—the first, we hope, of many—was specifically designed as a ‘dry run’ for the RMA conference this January. And so Becky Thumpston (Keele University), Olga Sologub (University of Manchester) and Jun Zubillaga-Pow (King’s College London) presented papers that were still in-progress, though at an advanced, nearly finished stage, which gave each one of them an opportunity to focus on the delivery. A frank exchange of views about the more memorable as well as problematic aspects of each paper followed. (To save time and allow more discussion, Kirstie Hewlett graciously withdrew her paper.)

Each paper gave us a taste of the participant’s PhD research. Thumpston’s paper on Britten’s Symphony for Cello and Orchestra focused on the tension between energized gestures through which ‘agency’ is projected and a form of stasis through which it is dispelled. This study was derived from a wider interest in narrativity in 20th-century British concertante cello works, which is the topic of her PhD. As part of a revisionary dissertation on Prokofiev’s harmonic language, centring on the composer’s Eighth Piano Sonata and the Fifth Symphony, Sologub’s paper allowed us a glimpse into the work of Yuri Kholopov. Sologub contended that Kholopov’s important work on Prokofiev deserves to be far better known in the West, especially in the way it rigorously tackles Prokofiev’s flexible negotiation of diatonic and chromatic spaces, beyond the more narrow interests of systematic but mutually exclusive theories of tonality and post-tonality. The most interdisciplinary paper was Zubillaga-Pow’s, an offshoot of his PhD on the way Schoenberg’s music intersects with philosophy, psychology and ethnography. The paper examined five different analyses of the Third movement of Schoenberg’s Fourth String Quartet as instances of the three psychoanalytic orders of neurosis, psychosis and perversion, all of which were considered in relation to the philosophy of chance.

The post-presentation discussions dealt not only with the content of individual papers but, even more pointedly, with the delivery itself. For example, in relation to her paper, Thumpston found the discussion fruitful in ‘its exploration of strategies for presenting analysis to a non-specialist audience’. Each speaker had a slightly different goal in that respect, but thinking through the target audience was useful to all present, not least myself. Much of the discussion surrounded the issue of sharpening the message and the mode of communication itself, so that ideas are better understood and pitfalls of misunderstanding avoided. The order and structure of ideas was also a major talking point, as well as big issues in our disciplines such as the relationship between theory and analysis, accessibility vs. analytical substance, and so on. And there was no shortage of smaller, more practical issues: for example, how to identify and weed out cross-references from the dissertation that no longer make sense when isolated in a conference paper.

A moment of inspiration

This hardly covers the topics raised, nor does it convey the energy and enthusiasm that animated the discussion around the table. But it gives a little taste, I hope, of what that intensive and thoroughly rewarding afternoon was like. A delightful dinner followed, or so I heard: unfortunately I had to miss it.

Any takers for the next meeting? As the host of this one and (paradoxically) its non-student invited guest, I can only heartily recommend it. The next meeting is provisionally planned to take place in Manchester during the Spring. If you are a postgraduate interested in having your work discussed, or, indeed, if you would like to nominate yourself to host future meetings of the Writing Club, please get in touch via this blog, or through our profile, which is managed by Kirstie. Further information about the next event will be emailed out when the details have been confirmed.

Posted on 4th December 2012 by Shay Loya in Reviews, SMA No comments » Tags:

November 2012 Newsletter

The November Newsletter is now available online. You can navigate its different sections through the link in the contents page. Follow this link:

Despite all care taken, mistakes are not impossible; happily they are amendable, as this is an online version. Therefore, if you spot any, please get in touch with the Information Officer, Shay Loya:

Posted on 4th December 2012 by Shay Loya in Reviews, SMA, Uncategorized No comments » Tags: