Virtual AMS/SMT 2020 Annual Meeting

AMS and SMT logos

November 15, 2020 | 10:00AM

Sunday, November 15

10:00 AM – 10:50 AM – New Directions in Topic Theory

“Musical Topics as Products and Tools of Historically Informed Performance.” Olga Sánchez-Kisielewska

The theory of musical topics aims to recuperate expressive associations elicited by musical styles in their original contexts but lost over time. This desire to approximate modern listening experiences to those of historical audiences is shared by topic-driven analysis and historically informed performance (HIP). In this paper I discuss how performance decisions influence whether topics can be easily identified as such, and argue that facilitating recognition of a topic contributes to the historical informed-ness of a performance.

A series of vignettes illustrate the potential for a productive, bi-directional influence between topic theory and HIP, drawing on performance analysis, topical analysis, and reception study. For example, Mozart’s Violin Sonata in E minor, K. 304, Steven Rumph hears a hymn topic suggesting a “spiritual retreat.” But whether the passage sounds hymn-like depends largely on phrasing and articulation. Such performance choices need not be informed by performers’ identification of a topic but they nonetheless communicate the expressive associations related to the topic. In other cases, topical analysis can offer novel, historically-informed suggestions for performance. The aria “Odio, furor, dispetto, dolor” from Haydn’s Armida deploys the common signifiers of rage. Less obvious is the presence of the alla turca topic, a stylistic allusion that tends to be lost in performance because the accompaniment remains too far in the background. Highlighting the topical elements would accentuate Armida’s sonic Turkishness, and in so doing engage with Haydn’s musical commentary on how ideas on race, gender, and emotion were intertwined in eighteenth-century culture.


11:00 AM – 11:50 AM – Timbre

John Y. Lawrence, chair

"Chord Spacing and Quality: Lessons from Timbre Research." Matt Chiu and Noah Kahrs (Eastman School of Music)

"Janáček's Virtual Viola d'Amore." Ethan Edl (Yale University)

"The Acoustic Properties of Tanya Tagaq's Vocal Sounds as Situated on Timbral Continua." Kristi Hardman (The Graduate Center, CUNY)


1:00 PM – 1:50 PM – Clara and Robert Schumann

“Entextualization in Clara Schumann’s Nineteenth-Century Pianism.” Andrew Malilay White

How did pianists of the nineteenth century practice for improvisation, and how can their ways of practicing affect our view of musical texts and works? This paper develops an entextualization framework to describe how Clara Schumann assembled her musical materials in the mid- nineteenth century. Entextualization, a concept from the work of Michael Silverstein and Gregory Urban in linguistic anthropology, is used to describe how portions of discourse are adapted and treated as objects in new contexts—how utterances “become text” within a broad view of what Kristeva and Barthes called “cultural text.” This paper establishes a theoretical framework centered not around works or their composition, but rather built upon the specific “passage”-based practice method used by Friedrich Wieck and Carl Czerny. The framework is then used it to model Clara Schumann’s improvisatory and compositional process, showing how she alters not only her musical materials (as practiced “passages”) but also her fashioning of her own image as a performer. Schumann’s Caprices en forme de valse, op. 2 (1832) is analyzed, as well as a sketch of one of her improvised preludes notated late in her career. 

Midcentury piano repertoires, I ultimately argue, are well served by a decentered theory of musical creation based on entextualization and bodily skill. Such a theory would illuminate aspects of music-making that are missed by theories that prioritize musical works and hermeneutic interpretations. This makes vivid Barthes’s claim that “text is experienced only in an activity of production” (1988).


5:00 PM – 5:50 PM – Performing Identity in Popular Song

“The Color of Home: Difference and the Politics of Belonging in Kurdish Popular Music.” Jon Bullock

According to sociologist Nira Yuval-Davis, belonging is the result of emotional attachment that causes an individual or group to feel "safe" or "at home" in a particular context; the politics of belonging, on the other hand, comes into focus when this feeling of safeness or at-homeness is threatened, resulting in a collective response that constructs not only belonging but also the collective itself (2011). For many diasporic Kurdish communities, the politics of belonging is a result of having been displaced from their nations of origin, targeted in acts of state aggression or even genocide, and relocated to places in which their fellow Kurds might not even speak the same language. Given the importance of radio and other broadcasting technology in the formation of a transnational Kurdish "listening public" (Blum and Hassanpour, 1996), how has Kurdish popular music reflected the unique challenges of a Kurdish politics of belonging, and how has it created space through which to draw together such vastly differing experiences of "home"? In this paper, I attend to this question by analyzing the 2013 pop song "Take Me Home," featuring Kurdish artists Li Dinê and Dashni Morad. On their group's website, the three members of Li Dinê, who have ties to Turkish Kurdistan, describe their music using a Kurdish word that suggests the combination of all colors. The group goes on to describe this new genre as a blend of "eastern" and "western," as well as old (Kurdish folk) and new (R&B/hip-hop), traditions. Including Dashni Morad (originally from Iraqi Kurdistan) in "Take Me Home" allows the group to craft a musical politics of belonging that, through its very inclusiveness, aims to represent the vast majority of the Kurdish homelands. Analyzing the visual and musical features of the song and its music video, I show how its politics of belonging reflects the struggles of a Western-oriented, transnational Kurdish listening public. In particular, I highlight the song's use of themes such as nostalgia, rurality, and lovesickness to emphasize a shared, pan-Kurdish past, even as others of the song's sonic and visual markers suggest an affiliation with urban centers of capital and feminist critiques of contemporary Kurdish society. I argue that the resulting image of "home" created by the song represents not so much a geographic home for Kurds as a reimagining of the diasporic Kurdish community itself.