[Smt-talk] Theory impacting performance

Steven Rosenhaus srosenhaus at earthlink.net
Thu Jul 5 07:16:49 PDT 2012

Dear Kris,

I hope I did not start a ruckus with my comment. I realize that it  
should have been more specific. I am =not= against theory-only  
degrees, or with hiring folks with them to teach theory. The problem I  
have is with the attitude -- not promoted by most theorists I know but  
rather by the nameless committees who determine what qualifications  
are needed for a position -- that =only= people with theory degrees  
should apply for such a position.

I also realize that in order to cut the number of applicants down to a  
manageable number one needs to eliminate folks in some way, and it is  
certainly convenient to do it this way. Still, I've seen some  
brilliant folks not get past the CV submission because their degrees  
were in composition or even composition/theory and they did more  
professionally as composers than theorists.

I should also mention that my undergraduate degree included theory  
tutelage from theorists with great understandings of how music works  
and with the ability to express it. They were, with one exception,  


On Jul 5, 2012, at 9:55 AM, Kris Shaffer wrote:

> 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):
> <Screen Shot 2012-07-05 at 9.30.45 AM.png>
> 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
> http://kris.shaffermusic.com
> twitter: @krisshaffer
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Dr. Steven L. Rosenhaus
E-mail: srosenhaus at earthlink.net
URL: https://files.nyu.edu/slr3/public/

Link to "Writing Musical Theater" by Allen Cohen and Steven L.  

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