[Smt-talk] The Craft of Harmonization

Daniel Wolf djwolf at snafu.de
Sun Oct 6 12:07:34 PDT 2013

On Sun, 06 Oct 2013 18:43:20 +0200, Ninov, Dimitar N <dn16 at txstate.edu>  

> Another problem that I treat in the introduction is the necessity for a  
> national discourse on the theory curriculum in American music  
> departments.

With all due respect, I find this a profoundly misguided suggestion.   
Having experienced European and North American music training first hand,  
including one country in which the curriculum was entirely uniform, I find  
one reason for the strength, variety, and liveliness of American  
composition is the variety of approaches taken in training.  Musical  
training in the US and Canada is not standardized, but competitive and  
dynamic, and that seems to be a good fit for the musical landscape into  
which they fit, particularly when one regards the accomplishments in  
American composition and performance.

I am an advocate of such changes that will let the
> disciplines of harmony, counterpoint and musical form emerge on their  
> own  right, freed from the umbrella of a generalized theory sequence,  
> and taught creatively by professors who have specialized in each of  
> these disciplines - musicians whose working knowledge will allow them to  
> harmonize all kinds of melodies, play harmonic progressions and  
> modulations idiomatically, work out skilfully canonic sequences in  
> invertible counterpoint, and analyze musical forms creatively, going  
> beyond the limitations imposed in most books. The most important factor  
> here is the realization that a theory teacher will become a professor of  
> harmony, or a professor of counterpoint or a professor of musical  
> analysis - he/she does not have to cover all of those disciplines at a  
> dilettante level, but specialize in one of them and bring real  
> professionalism to the school!

I suspect that such a proposal, even if it were wise, would be impossible  
to introduce institutionally outside of isolated conservatories.  I also  
suspect that American music theorists or teachers of theory would much  
prefer not to be locked into careers teaching only one sub-discipline, and  
in particular, sub-disciplines whose separation from a holistic view of  
music is artificial and not necessarily related to current compositional  
trends. (Let's not forget that getting away from a separation of harmony  
 from counterpoint from analysis from musicianship was a hard fought effort  
just a generation ago!)  Teaching invertible counterpoint, for example,  
may not be a productive use of training time when computer based tools are  
available to assist the composer to generate exactly that and current  
significant repertoire looks more, for example, to the phasing and  
cyclical forms with incidental harmonies found in minimalist repertoire or  
to American vernacular harmony or to using the spectra of voices or  
instruments to generate tonal structures.

Daniel Wolf

Dr. Daniel James Wolf
Frankfurt am Main

djwolf at snafu.de


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