Every year, the Music Department graduates a number of promising and accomplished music majors from the College. While we are disappointed that we are unable to celebrate our graduates in person at commencement this year, we were very happy to be able to celebrate them at the University's digital convocation last Friday. We are also very excited to celebrate the achievements of two of this year's graduates who have received honors for their Bachelors theses.
Genevieve Faber, Leonard B. Meyer Award for Best Undergraduate Thesis in Music
For her BA thesis project, Gennie took to analyzing 20th century operettas (melodramas) by Menotti and Poulenc that have themes of technological mediation, especially via the telephone. In The Telephone and The Medium (both by Menotti), we witness characters who struggle to ground themselves amidst technologies such as the telephone and a [human] spirit-channeling medium that seem to extend the boundaries of human existence. In La voix humaine, Poulenc shows us a female character who loses her mind after a break-up, substituting the telephone for her boyfriend.
The music faculty were quite impressed with Gennie’s immersion in scholarship on voice, mediation, and technology. She skillfully brought several important books and articles to bear on her analyses of the operettas, weaving together critical theory, music analysis, and dramatic analysis of the plots and characters. Overall, Gennie’s thesis demonstrates a blossoming critical and scholarly mind. Though Gennie began her project long before COVID-19, her attention to mediation—the way our consciousness is altered by communication technologies—could hardly be more prescient. Gennie’s analysis of mid-century operettas reveals that generations of humans have struggled to manage technological encroachment in their lives. Gennie’s analysis of these operas provides humor, reflection, and insight into both the past and our present moment.
The modernist era coincides with the machine age and the inventions of several landmark technologies. Among these were media technologies, which extended the abilities of the senses and offered new perceptions of the world. It follows that many artworks of the modernist period considered the implications of these new inventions on the state and future of modern society. While scholars have often explored the intersection of technology and modernism, only a limited amount of this discourse has delved into the realm of opera.
In this thesis, I focus on three mid-20th-century operas, each of which revolves around a relationship mediated by a technological apparatus. Two of these operas, Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Telephone (1946) and Francis Poulenc’s La voix humaine (1959), center around a protagonist who has developed a sort of addiction to her telephone. Lucy, the main character of The Telephone, spends so much time making phone calls that her boyfriend Ben is unable to propose to her, while the unnamed lone character in La voix humaine desperately clings to her relationship with her ex-lover through her telephone conversations with him. The third opera, Menotti’s The Medium (1946), was originally presented as a double bill with The Telephone and features communication between parents and their dead children mediated by séances. These three operas make their commentary on mediated communications through a variety of registers: satire in The Telephone, tragedy in La Voix Humaine, and what we might conceive as the tragic occult in The Medium. In the end, all arrive at similar views about the futility and dangers of the technological apparatus as an affordance for human relationships.
About Genevieve Faber:
Gennie is a graduating 4th year student from Columbus, Ohio majoring in computer science and music. She sings in the Rockefeller Chapel Choir and the Chicago Chorale. After graduation, Gennie will be staying in Chicago and working for a consulting firm. Her BA thesis, Mediating Opera: Affective Technologies and Effective Sounds in Mid-century Modernist Opera studies cultural obsession with technological mediation in operettas by Gian Carlo Menotti and Francis Poulenc. Gennie’s thesis has earned the Leonard B. Meyer Prize for best undergraduate thesis in the music department this year.
Jonathan Gardner, Olga and Paul Menn Foundation Prize for Best Undergraduate Music Composition
The faculty found it very intrepid that Jonathan produced every aspect of this album himself: He wrote the songs (both lyrics and music), recorded all the vocal and most of the instrumental parts, wrote extensive liner notes, and mixed/produced all of the tracks. This is substantial effort, typically spread over several different kinds of talent and knowledge: composition is quite different from recording; performance is quite different from intellectualizing. That Jonathan was able to pull this together in his home—especially under the challenging circumstances—was exceptional.
The music itself is cunning and canny, sounding a bit like the Beach Boys meets Andrew Bird meets Owen Pallett. He worked extensively on the musical compositions with his teacher Anthony Cheung, refining and improving them over months with contrapuntal and harmonic insights from his course work. Likewise, Jonathan took private voice lessons to improve his singing voice. Jonathan shows his humanistic insight in extended liner notes, showcasing insights ranging from Fuxian counterpoint to meditations on the blurry genre boundaries of bossa nova.
Overall, Jonathan’s album demonstrates capacious creativity and utter resourcefulness. We love his commitment to joyful music making. Jonathan's self-sustenance in his creative practice is an inspiration for all of us to keep making.
Spring Break Forever is a collection of my songs, written, performed, recorded, and edited at my Hyde Park apartment from Autumn 2019 to Spring 2020. A lot of the music I love has a strong precedent of multi-instrumentalism and self-production; in Stevie Wonder’s Music of My Mind, Sly Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On, Shuggie Otis’ Inspiration Information, and Todd Rundgren’s Something? Anything?, the album artist fulfills a surprising number of artistic and technical roles.
Though I wished for my new band, Curious Jorge, to record this album with me, by late March I had to alter my course. I found myself sitting in my favorite chair, in my apartment’s poorly-named sunroom into which gray semi-light only quasi-radiates, looking at a new project file with no music in it, grappling my fingers around the gargantuan neck of a bass guitar.
About Jonathan Gardner:
Jonathan Gardner is a graduating 4th year student, a cellist, poet, and songwriter who studies American soul music and Brazilian popular music. He has been commissioned to compose music for the Smart Museum of Art’s exhibitions of Auguste Rodin, Jennie C. Jones, and Félix Buhot. When public gathering resumes, he will be performing with his bands Curious Jorge and Botany Pond. Jonathan’s BA thesis project, a self-produced album titled Spring Break Forever, has earned the Olga and Paul Menn Foundation Prize for best undergraduate music composition in the department this year.