Here a Theorist, There a Theorist

I’ve come to a startling realization since moving out here to Minneapolis and starting doctoral study: It’s nice to have theorists around.

It’s not that I used to be anti-theorist; I’m just not used to sitting next to theorists in class, hanging out with theorists at receptions, talking about music with theorists. Neither of my previous schools had a substantial theorist presence. This is particularly true of the University of Illinois, where “composition/theory” faculty included about ten times as many composers as theorists when I left. Frankly, that’s a policy that does no favors for students of composition or theory, but I digress.

The opportunity to enroll in high-level theory courses is, of course, one major benefit of a large theorist population. I’ve probably read more critical theory in the past three weeks than in the previous six years, and my appetite for yet more has been whet. I’m engrossed in the subject material and lively discussions thereon (to say nothing of the chance to burnish my own theory credentials in a research paper that such classes offer).

Speaking of which, I have to confess that the specter of the job market adds an element of urgency. If I can more or less keep up with the theorists here, who are all (students and faculty alike) exceedingly sharp, maybe everything will be OK. Obviously I don’t expect to compete with them on their own turf, but to keep my head above the swirling waters of hardcore music theory is enough, for the time being at least.

Regardless of the projected concrete advantages to surrounding oneself with capable theorists, however, it’s just nice to be around people who are engaged on a day-to-day basis with the perceptual mechanics and historical trajectories of music. Composers (and musicologists and performers) can meet this description, of course, and many do, but the theorist is a breed with which I haven’t had too much contact yet. I’m excited to acquaint myself with their strange customs.

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5 thoughts on “Here a Theorist, There a Theorist

  1. Daniel Wolf

    I’ve got nothing against theorists, even some of my best friends are theorists, but…

    There was a time when composers fought hard for a nice day job in the academy teaching theory and — until recently, when musicologists claimed the turf — 20th century music history.

    Problem was, a few of us started taking theory seriously enough that specialist journals and societies and conferences and tenure-track slots started emerging in theory as an academic specialization distinct from musicology and composition. And once theorists got hired, they had to teach something, and the previous hold composers had on theory had to give way. We took theory so seriously that we put ourselves out of our day job.

    Nowadays, when I do a little theory in connection with my composing, or teach some counterpoint or orchestration too private student, I have to do it hit and run, under cover, Nacht und Nebel, sureptitiously, for fear of getting caught wondering across the forbidding disciplinary boundaries and daring to speak theoretically. Oh well, it was a nice job while it lasted…

    Reply
  2. philmusic


    Here a Theorist, There a Theorist

    With them there’s know doubt

    When you have a theorist
    You know what your about

    With a Theorist, and a Theorist

    It is always Spring

    When you know a theorist
    You always want to sing

    Put a Bennie on your Urlinie

    A figured bass, will always know its place,

    not in outer space!

    Here a Theorist, There a Theorist

    What is there to say?

    When you have a theorist
    You always find the way!

    Here a Theorist, There a Theorist

    With them there’s know doubt

    When you have a theorist

    You know what your about

    You know what your about!

    sometime I just gatta rhyme
    all rights (and wrongs) reserved by Phil Fried 2007

    Reply
  3. JKG

    Have fun!
    Advanced theory is like gourmet food. Some of it has some tasty stuff in it, but other dishes are made of unsavory items in and of themselves. Find the dish that’s right for YOU! *grin*

    Reply

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