[Smt-talk] Theory impacting performance

Kris Shaffer kshaffer at csuniv.edu
Thu Jul 5 06:55:13 PDT 2012

On Jul 4, 2012, at 10:40 PM, Steven Rosenhaus wrote:

> I've long lamented the switch to hiring folks with theory-only degrees to teach music theory at the expense of composers, who more often than not know the practical application of what is being discussed. And a theorist who composes is not the same as a composer who can explain theory/analyze music.

Dear Colleagues,
I'll refrain from joining the well worn debate over the relative merits of composers and theorists in teaching music theory, which I hope has not been newly ignited by the above comment. The discipline of music theory involves more than teaching voice-leading, harmony, form, and aural skills to undergraduates. And I think that most of the folks on this list would agree that our discipline is all the richer for having a diversity of composers, composer/theorists, performer/theorists, "pure" theorists, etc. teaching theory at various institutions and contributing to the ever growing body of music theoretical knowledge.

That said, I'd like to point out one important aspect of this discussion often left out, to the detriment of our common understanding of what we do. In Westergaard's article, "What Theorists Do," brought up by Charles, there is a lovely diagram of the professional activities of musicians (included below in T-shirt form, created by a former grad school colleague and the only version of the diagram I have on hand—caption is not Westergaard's):

Someone very important is left out of this diagram—the historian (a source of light-hearted consternation as theorist grad students including myself, and one theory faculty member, wore this shirt around the Yale department of music).

While historians are rarely eager to teach undergraduate theory, the relationship of theorists to historians is as important as the relationship of theorists to composers—perhaps more so, if only because it is so often overlooked. Though there is less interaction between theorists and composers at Yale than I would have liked, I was blessed to be surrounded both by excellent theorists and by excellent historians. That environment shaped my thinking greatly and pushed me to think about things in ways I wouldn't have on my own, given my theoretical interests and my performance background. My understanding of music in general and theory in particular is richer for my interactions with historians (and my occasional pretending to be one), and I think the same it true of our discipline.

So let's please not start a public debate over whether theory-teaching positions should be given to theorists or composers! But let's do remember the value, no matter what our professional niche, of interacting with those in other disciplines and other sub-disciplines as we develop our own thinking and seek to guide our students in developing theirs.

Kris Shaffer, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Music Theory
Charleston Southern University
twitter: @krisshaffer
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.societymusictheory.org/pipermail/smt-talk-societymusictheory.org/attachments/20120705/9334f084/attachment-0004.htm>
-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: Screen Shot 2012-07-05 at 9.30.45 AM.png
Type: image/png
Size: 298811 bytes
Desc: not available
URL: <http://lists.societymusictheory.org/pipermail/smt-talk-societymusictheory.org/attachments/20120705/9334f084/attachment-0004.png>

More information about the Smt-talk mailing list