Conference Agenda

The Online Program of events for the 2022 AMS-SEM-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
Twentieth-Century Schemas
Friday, 11/Nov/2022:
2:15pm - 3:45pm

Session Chair: Gilad Rabinovitch, Florida State University
Location: Windsor

Session Topics:

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Unison Opening as Schema in Post-1945 Compositions

Noah Kahrs

Eastman School of Music

Many post-1945 compositions begin with multiple instruments articulating a single note. Although such excerpts are often described through a specific composer’s poetics, this strategy persists across compositional styles, presenting a rare thread of unity across a wide-ranging repertoire.

I argue that unison openings constitute a schema for post-1945 music, with several possible continuations. Rearticulations of the same pitch are usually departed by some combination of a wedge moving away from the unison (W), a slow glissando to another pitch (G), or addition of further pitches to a collection (A). Additionally, the schema often highlights (psycho)acoustic phenomena, focusing a listener's attention on the basic elements of dissonance and consonance.

In James Tenney’s Critical Band, the outward wedge is so slow that listeners become aware of the constituent notes’ beating and their own ears’ attempts to parse overlapping notes, which are perceived as separate only when separated by the titular 15 Hz “critical bandwidth.” Both Critical Band and Julius Eastman's Crazy [N-Word] conclude on a harmonic series, affirming the link to consonance.

Many of these pieces begin with open strings or natural harmonics. Such pure sounds join wedges in making beating especially clear. In Sofia Gubaidulina’s second string quartet, wide vibrato leads away from the opening natural harmonic G4, again emphasizing beating. Likewise, Giacinto Scelsi's Xnoybis juxtaposes the E5 of a conventional violin tuning with the D-sharp5 of his own scordatura, using open-string conventions to emphasize beating.

I conclude with pieces whose opening unisons involve no open strings. György Ligeti's Lontano is characteristic of his 1960s works, but shares the characteristic wedge as it builds into a thick texture. Going further, I generalize the schema to electronic music: Pamela Z’s “Quatre Couches” layers samples of her voice, but still departs that unison through wedges and addition of material, following exit strategies described above.

These examples show that opening unisons, with their varied continuations and psychoacoustic correlates, constitute a schema that serves an initiating function in the music of many post-1945 compositional styles.

Unison Opening as Schema in Post-1945 Compositions-Kahrs_Handout.pdf
Unison Opening as Schema in Post-1945 Compositions-Kahrs_Slides.pdf

The Te Deum Climax: A Schema-Theoretic Approach to Howells

Robert Hamilton

Eastman School of Music

Herbert Howells’s compositional style is both idiosyncratic and consistent. Analytical approaches to his music must therefore confront two major challenges: his music is not easily referrable to a common practice, and intra-opus observations risk missing the context of his larger oeuvre. I address these challenges with a schema-theoretic approach that treats Howells’s style as self-contained. As a music theory subfield, schema theory continues to be associated mainly with galant scale-degree schemata (Gjerdingen 1988; 2007), but in a broader cognitive context, schema theory accounts for “our knowledge about all concepts” at “all levels of abstraction” (Rumelhart 1980, 34, 40). I explore some of this broader potential by defining a large-scale, Howells-specific schema: the “Te Deum Climax” (“TDC”). I trace the TDC through five works written between 1944 and 1952, investigating general schematic features and building up a network of nodes and arrows to explore the relational logic that connects the exemplars. I then analyze a passage from Howells’s St. John’s Service (1957) through the schematic lens of the TDC, uncovering a powerful—and otherwise hidden—moment of thwarted expectations.

Euro-American Harmonic Schemas in Hawaiian Popular Music

Christopher Doll

Rutgers University

“Modern” Hawaiian song, starting around 1820 after the arrival of hymn-singing American Calvinist missionaries and guitar-playing Mexican cowboys, is characterized by its blend of Hawaiian and Euro-American sounds and imagery (Stillman 2005). This presentation investigates these Euro-American influences—specifically, the employment of tertian harmony in the Hawaiian musical genres of hapa haole, hula ku‘i, and so-called “local song.” I pursue two main objectives: 1) to identify some of the Euro-American harmonic schemas that permeate each of these substyles; and 2) to problematize the distinction of these substyles from one another, at least from a harmonic perspective.

The reception in Hawai'i of the largely Anglophone hapa haole repertory—meaning “half foreigner,” especially “half white”—has been complex, with the associated artists sometimes being accused of trafficking in exoticist, colonialist stereotypes while at other times being lauded for their characteristically Polynesian multiculturalism. National hits like Elvis Presley’s “Blue Hawaii” (1961, originally 1937) and Don Ho’s “Tiny Bubbles” (1967) are representative of the harmony of this category: 32-bar AABA choruses based in harmonic schemas like the “shuttle,” “steady,” or “saint,” offset by a bridge structured around a “crossing” schema (Doll 2017; 2018). By contrast, hula ku‘i and local song have generally been perceived as exhibiting greater degrees of cultural sensitivity and authenticity—this, despite their similar (and indeed defining) blend of Hawaiian and Euro-American elements. Harmonically, hula ku‘i and local song are—I argue—effectively indistinguishable from hapa haole, as analyses of famous recordings of Lena Machado, Genoa Keawe, Gabby Pahinui, Israel Kamakawiwoʻole, and other major recording artists will demonstrate. This means that the greater perceived sensitivity and authenticity of hula ku‘i and local song, if well founded, must reside outside the realm of harmony, or reside in the relationship between harmony and other elements of the music and performance.

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