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Annual Meeting of the American Musicology Society - Instruments of Theory

Event Details
  • Location:
    Eastman East Wing Hatch Recital Hall
  • Date:
    Thursday, November 9, 2017
  • Time:
    9:00 AM to 11:00 AM
Event Description

Instruments of Music Theory:

Pre-AMS Conference

There will be coffee and breakfast served starting at 8:00 before the presentation in Wolk Atrium (adjacent to Hatch Recital Hall) 


Instruments of Theory


(abstracts and bios are available online at

Thomas Christensen (University of Chicago), Chair

Elizabeth Lyon (Cornell University), “Instruments of the Affections in Jean Gerson’s Tractatus de Canticis” 

David E. Cohen (Columbia University), “The Tensed String, the Intent Ear: Combative Instrumentalities in a Founding Myth of Western Music Theory” 

Joon Park (University of Arkansas), “Calligraphy as a Conceptualizing System of Traditional Chinese and Korean Musical Pitches” 

Abigail Shupe (Colorado State University), “The (Scientific) Instruments of Rameau’s Music Theory”

The History of Theory Interest Group of the Society for Music Theory and the American Musicological Society’s History of Theory Study Group have convened the Pre-AMS conference, “Instruments of Music Theory,” sponsored by the Interest Group of the Society for Music Theory. Our joint conference seeks both to build upon and to reinforce the increasingly eclectic and interdisciplinary set of questions now being asked within music studies and the humanities more broadly, to which the history of theory, as an inherently interdisciplinary field of study, has already begun to make significant contributions. The focus for this conference, “Instruments of Music Theory,” takes as its point of departure recent work by Alex Rehding (one of our keynote speakers) and heeds Prof. Rehding’s call to “reconsider the relationship between music-theoretical instruments and the music theory they occasion” (MTO 22.6 [2016]).

Music-theoretical systems have relied upon various forms of instrumental mediations, from the monochord and the Guidonian hand to the Music Encoding Initiative and computer-based toolkits such as music21. Such tools enable the articulation (and testing) of theoretical propositions, but they also limit the kind and content of the epistemic claims they enable. Does a “History of Music Theory,” then, map a “History of the Instruments of Music Theory”? What are the instruments (musical, scientific, mechanical, conceptual, digital, etc.) through which music-theoretical knowledge is generated, and how do such instruments shape and condition music-theoretical knowledge? Encompassing a global exploration of these questions, our conference will feature eleven papers by scholars in all career stages (from graduate students to full professors), three keynote speakers (David Catalunya, University of Würzburg; Gabriela Currie, University of Minnesota; and Alexander Rehding, Harvard University), a concert by David Catalunya on a newly reconstructed clavisimbalum (with music from the Faenza Codex and other recently discovered manuscript fragments), and an organological lecture-demonstration on the sensorial perception of music-theoretical precepts (featuring Pythagorean bells, the clavisimbalum, and the future reconstruction of the gothic organ of Sion, Switzerland).

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