[Smt-talk] Theorists and scientists

Ildar Khannanov solfeggio7 at yahoo.com
Sat Jul 7 00:27:23 PDT 2012

Dear Michael  and the List,
I think this discussion is as important as it is difficult to bring to a decisive conclusion. Who would argue that composers can become good theorists? On the other hand, there are two questions which can be of interest to any Search Committee hiring a composer for the position of a theorist:
1) How much time, actually, a candidate had invested in study of music theory per se? A mere fact that someone is a "composer" does not merit for desirable level of knowledge and skills in music theory. For example,  if there were two additional seminars in music theoy taken by a grad student in composition, resulting in some record in the transcript, this does not seem to be enough to teach 2500 years of theoretical achievements;
2) How much time and energy a candidate is willing to invest in the work in the field of music theory after being hired? Will it be just a rutine job which covers for expenses incurred by active composing and promoting one's compositions? How often a candidate will be able to attend conferences, prepare and give papers, publish articles and books? Without this component, teaching music theory becomes another case of Mozart's Effect discussed earlier.
Music theory is a very demanding profession. In fact, it is the most academically demanding course of study in music.There are many things that a theorist should know. Riemann and Schenker studied law at a certain time of their careers. Is it important? Yes, inasmuch a theorist wants to form and defend his or her ideas. Knowledge of history of Europe is ultimately important. How about philosophy and math? Languages? Skills in harmony, cp and form must be on the level, exceeding that of any other major.
 If the two questions above are not answered, hiring a person who is not a theorist would jeopardize the academic component.
Best wishes,
Ildar Khannanov
Professor of Music Theory
Peabody Conservatory
solfeggio7 at yahoo.com 

--- On Fri, 7/6/12, Michael Morse <mwmorse at bell.net> wrote:

From: Michael Morse <mwmorse at bell.net>
Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] Theorists and scientists
To: smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
Date: Friday, July 6, 2012, 7:57 AM

Professor de Velde,

  Although they may not articulate it directly, the reason so many here insist on musicianship and composition skill for theorists is because of the conception of music experience it can provide. Bluntly, the statement "music theory is the theory of music" depends entirely for its sense on that capacity. And even the most tenaciously blinkered positivist would agree that such a conception is not to be established by merely postulating a simplistic and arbitrary definition.

  For those of us who disagree that music theory is or should be a science, there is historical evidence in the futility so far of quantitative methods, and their copious but strikingly meager results. And there is a plain and axiomatic reason for this ongoing failure: qualitative problems cannot be solved quantitatively. Or, more precisely, quantitative analysis only succeeds to the extent that what is being quantified is coherent.

  I do agree that there are scientific dimensions to music theory and musical experience. Pythagorean investigations into the properties of scales and tonal systems are an indispensable part of the theoretical canvas. But these are not exceptions to my blunt generalizations; the calculable differences in intervallic structure of the various maqams, for example, and of untempered pitch systems in western music history, are entirely tangible elements of the music experience. Calculating these differences is substantial and germane music knowledge.

  But not everything in music is calculable. I don't agree that abjuring quantitative methods amounts to embracing anti-rational sentimentality, or some dingbat essentialism that tries to claim with a straight face that music "is" emotion rather than notes or numbers. On the contrary; it is music; that's more than complex enough!

  Music theory succeeds when it remembers its subject matter. And there are still many of us who disagree that psychology is a science, for just that reason. It was the science of "mind"; then, no, it was the science of "behaviour"; now, no again, it is the science of brain physiology processes. The last has worked a charm, because psychologists can poach from a real science. Unless and until it can come up with a substantial subject matter of its own, however, it will remain on the fringes of science. We in the music community have especially strong reasons to feel this way, given the spectacular recent charlatanism of the "Mozart Effect." To tar all psychology with the brush of that incident would be unfair. But, alas, it does illustrate the problem: quantification can never precede clear analysis of the subject matter. It will be "time" for computers to create symphonies when they're human. That's not sentimentality; that's respect for science.

MW Morse
Trent University
Peterborough, Oshawa

-----Inline Attachment Follows-----

Smt-talk mailing list
Smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.societymusictheory.org/pipermail/smt-talk-societymusictheory.org/attachments/20120707/2868ec63/attachment-0004.htm>

More information about the Smt-talk mailing list