Conference Agenda

The Online Program of events for the 2023 AMS & SMT Joint Annual Meeting appears below. This program is subject to change. The final program will be published in early November.

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Session Overview
Beyond the Staff: Notation Pedagogies and Practices
Thursday, 09/Nov/2023:
8:00pm - 10:00pm

Location: Majesty Ballroom

Session Topics:
Music Theory and Analysis, Ethnomusicology, Notation / Paleography, Disability, Global / Transnational Studies, Indigenous Music / Decolonial Studies, Material Culture / Organology, Traditional / Folk Music, AMS

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Beyond the Staff: Notation Pedagogies and Practices

Chair(s): Giulia Accornero (Yale University), Ginger Dellenbaugh (Yale University)

Organized by the AMS Music Notation, Inscription, and Visualization Study Group

For the 2023 meeting of AMS/SMT in Denver, CO, the Study Group for Music Notation, Inscription, and Visualization will be holding a session titled “Beyond the Staff: Pedagogies and Practices,” focusing on the advantages and limits of oral, staff and non-staff music notations when teaching music history and theory in a post-canonical, decolonial, and global classroom. By bringing together the research and pedagogical expertise of those who are currently addressing this problem, the panel's ultimate goal is to foster dialogue, as well as to exchange and discuss pedagogical methods for undergraduate and graduate assignments.

“Beyond the Staff: Pedagogies and Practices” will present talks that feature a diverse range of Western and non-Western notations, broadly defined, prompting our speakers:

  • to show through specific case studies how certain notations can change the implicit narratives we bring into the classroom, helping us rethink the ways in which we do music history and analysis.

  • to share original methods and practical solutions for familiarizing students without any previous knowledge to both staff, non-staff notations, as well as modes of music visualization and manipulation afforded by new technologies (e.g. music production softwares)

  • to bring in critical perspectives targeted at classroom discussions about notation/transcription systems and their entanglement with (settler-) colonialism, capitalism, and structural racism.

Dr. Olufunmilayo Arewa, currently the ​​Murray H. Shusterman Professor of Transactional and Business Law at Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, will be our keynote speaker.


Presentations of the Symposium


Notation, Context & Representation

Olufunmilayo B. Arewa
Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University

Notation is a set of instructions that contains musical information, which typically includes musical notes, and details concerning note duration, dynamics, tempo, expressivity, and other features. The history of music notation draws attention to its importance and potential limitations. The knowledge that we can gain from notation is highly dependent on the nature of the notation as a set of instructions, which in turn is closely related to musical context and genre. Notation serves varied purposes and may be used by composers, performers, arrangers, producers, students of music, scholars, critics, lawyers, and other creators and consumers of music. In the legal arena, both courts and legal commentators have addressed issues related to notation, musical practice, and sound recordings, at times in questionable ways. Several court cases, including White-Smith Music Publishing Co. v. Apollo Co. (composers and piano roll manufacturers), Bright Tunes Music Corp. v. Harrisongs Music, Ltd. (George Harrison and the Chiffons), Three Boys Music Corp. v. Bolton (Michael Bolton and the Isley Brothers), Newton v. Diamond (The Beastie Boys and James Newton), and Williams v. Gaye (Pharrell Williams/Robin Thick and the Marvin Gaye Estate), highlight issues that may arise in music copyright infringement cases that consider musical practices and notation.

The potential uses of notation highlight the importance of contextualization of musical and cultural factors. By their nature, written representations of music constitute reduced and often incomplete versions of musical expression. Dominant assumptions about creation and use may give precedence to visual-textual aspects of music presenting potential problems for aspects of music that are difficult to represent, including timbre and rhythm. The now dominant staff notation evolved within the European art music tradition. As a result of sacralization and other factors, conceptions about creation in European art music have been reinterpreted in ways that may not sufficiently encompass actual musical practices. These conceptions of music creativity have nonetheless had a significant impact on how we think about the creation and consumptionof music, even in far removed times and places. Such conceptions are particularly problematic for certain dominant sources for popular music, including African American and other African-based music.


Pedagogy through Performance: Shōga and Notation in Gagaku Music Theory

Toru Momii
Harvard University

My paper outlines an interactive lesson plan involving oral mnemonics (shōga) and visual notation for the shō, a free-reed mouth organ typically used in gagaku (Japanese court music). Incorporating YouTube videos, recordings, and other resources that are accessible online, the class introduces students to the basic musical features of gagaku, compares the mnemonics and notation in use by contemporary shō players, and invites students to reflect on how these two systems emphasize different musical parameters. Rather than aiming for a comprehensive survey of gagaku, the lesson encourages musical participation by introducing students to vocabulary and instrumental ensemble repertoire (tōgaku) through the perspective of a shō player.

The lesson is organized around Hyōjō Etenraku, one of the most well-known pieces in gagaku. I begin the lesson by introducing the two pedagogical systems available to shō players: shōga and notation. Shōga is a mnemonic device in which performers keep the beat with their hands while reciting a vocal melody that resembles the melodic lines played by the ryūteki and hichiriki, the other primary ensemble instruments. The notation, standardized in the late nineteenth century, shows the aitake, clusters of five or six pitches that are played by the shō in tōgaku. During the lesson, students memorize the shōga for Hyōjō Etenraku and listen for how the melody and syllables of the shōga correspond to 1) the aitake performed by the shō; and 2) the melodic lines performed by the ryūteki and hichiriki. Furthermore, the lesson invites students to reflect critically on which musical features are made explicit, implicit, or absent in each system and how shōga and notation complement one another. Through a comparison of shōga and notation, the lesson encourages students to evaluate the complementary relationship between oral and visual methods of learning music. The paper concludes by demonstrating how this lesson can be expanded into a broader discussion of gagaku’s intercultural history: Chinese influences on gagaku music theory and shō performance practice, gagaku’s role in Japan’s imperialist project in the twentieth century, and the expressive possibilities of the shō in Western art music.


Inscribing Music in the Body: How Sign Language Reimagines Embodied Musicality

Anabel Maler
University of Iowa

All linguistic communication involves inscription. Spoken languages like English or French are inscribed in the body through the vocal apparatus, which produces sound, and through writing. Sign languages, too, are inscribed in the body through the movement of the fingers, hands, arms, shoulders, torso, head, and face. Although there are no sign languages in the world that have spontaneously developed a written form (Pizzuto, Rossini, and Russo 2006), sign languages are transcribed and inscribed in other ways, through video, captioning, or glossing. Similarly, forms of musical communication are inscribed in our bodies. Sign language music is particularly striking in that it explicitly inscribes musicality into the moving body in order to create musical meaning through movement.

This paper explores how sign language music inscribes musicality into the performer’s body through analyses of two genres of sign language music: translated songs and original signed music. Sign language music is a broad category encompassing many different musical practices, each of which exists in a particular relationship to both Deaf and hearing cultures. Sometimes these relationships are fraught, and many are in a state of flux. Several authors have noted that feelings on music are mixed within the Deaf community; as these authors note, however, music continues to play an important and often-overlooked role in Deaf culture (Best 2015/2016; Maler 2013; Cripps et al. 2017; Listman, Loeffler, and Timm 2018). The paper also makes clear the distinction between types of artistic embodiments of sign language, differentiating between sign language poetry, dance, and music.

Translated sign language songs and signed rap music are particularly evocative sites of embodied musical inscription, as they involve multiple streams of musical information that may be perceived simultaneously: vibratory music, a sign language interpretation, and often captions. Original signed music, by contrast, involves no spoken-language lyrics, and may or may not involve any vibratory sound. Through analytical case studies of translated sign language music, signed rap and original signed music by Deaf artists Paris Glass, Harmony Baniaga, Rosa Lee Timm, Sean Forbes, Wawa, and Pamela Witcher, I reveal how each of these genres affords different kinds of musical inscription through embodied movement.


Black American Music and the Ambivalence of Notation

Jonathan A. Gómez
University of Southern California

Historically, the study of Black American music has had a complicated relationship to notated music analysis that could best be described as “ambivalence.” Challenged as reductive or inadequate for capturing the nuances of Black American musics, scholars have employed thick description or more abstract discussion of music performances in lieu of detailed notated musical analysis. However, Black musical performers and composers have frequently employed notation in both pedagogical and professional practice, making the aversion to notation a less stable position. With recent works across Black music studies by scholars interested in analytical methods (e.g. Shelley 2020; Brown 2020; Ege 2021; Steinbeck 2017 and 2022; Hannaford 2023; among others), musician-centered projects provide an opportunity to reconsider the place of musical notation in the study of Black American music.

In this paper, I argue for an understanding of notation Black American musical history rooted in “ambivalence” by exploring the career of multifaceted musician and composer Braxton Cook (b. 1991). Within, I analyze several of Cook’s musical performances from his YouTube channel, recorded performances, and ebooks as reflective of the many ways notation has functioned in Black American musical history. In so doing, I demonstrate how Black musicians have achieved artistic, pedagogical, and even financial goals through innovative or subversive uses of notation while keeping an eye towards the very real exclusions that cause such actions to be subversive at all.

In accomplishing this task, I argue for engagement with what many in Black music studies have called “qualitative” aspects of music-making (Agawu 2006; Maultsby 1990; Floyd 1995; Ramsey 2003). Extended consideration of the qualitative displaces “text” from its frequently privileged position and instead foregrounds a phenomenological “presence” in understanding notation in Black musical history. By presence, I refer to the ways relationships are forged between performers, between performer and composer, or transcriber and transcribed, through the medium of musical notation. Whether presence is manifested through the creation and performance of a transcription (Wilf 2014; Rusch, Salley, Stover 2016), or the realization of pre-composed material, notation enables meaningful connections to others through the interweaving of performance and notation (cf. Baumann and Briggs 1990).

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