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