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.