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Performative Challenges

Daphne Leong (University of Colorado Boulder), Chair

“And the Nightingale Sings…”: Performative Effort in Elisabeth Lutyens’s The Valley of Hatsuse, Op. 62

Christa Cole (Indiana University)


The striking opening of British twelve-tone composer Elisabeth Lutyens’s The Valley of Hatsuse, Op. 62 (1965) highlights several key elements of her compositional style: dramatic registral explorations, an abundance of “altered octaves,” and a remarkable textural clarity. These features contribute to the highly gestural character of this opening passage, imparting a distinctive vibrancy to the sonic space—a quality consistent across Lutyens’s oeuvre. In this paper, I draw on performer-oriented, gesture-based, and embodied perspectives (Leong 2019; Kozak 2020; Cox 2016; De Souza 2018) to propose “performative effort” as a lens for centering these crucial gestural facets of Lutyens’s music. Performative effort arises through the enaction of gestures within particular instrumental or vocal spaces, and it is shaped by the various positionalities of performers and listeners. Because performative effort can encompass a wide range of affects, I outline several specific “effort qualities” that arise through a number of musical and gestural characteristics. I illustrate four such qualities—extension, precarity, discontinuity, and release—via analytical readings drawn from The Valley of Hatsuse. By integrating these analyses with more traditional aspects of twelve-tone analysis, I place performative effort as central to understanding experiential, embodied, and compositional facets of Lutyens’s music, inviting consideration of the relationships between performer, listener, and composer in analysis.

Unpacking Interpretive Difficulty in Contemporary Music

Ben Duinker (University of Toronto)


This paper explores the notion of interpretive difficulty in contemporary music, treating it as a structural, tangible aspect of music analysis. Interpretive difficulty comprises any challenge a performer may encounter in their practice—physical, cognitive, emotional; specific to a musical passage, or generalized across a repertoire, genre, or idiom. Inspired by Daphne Leong’s collaborative research on analysis and performance in twentieth-century music (2019), I interview professional musicians about their experiences learning and performing works such as Crimson (Rebecca Saunders, 2005), Taurangi (Gillian Whitehead 1999), and Mani.Δίκη (Pierluigi Billone 2012), focusing on how interpretive difficulty and musical structure intersect in their practice. While several interviews are hardly sufficient to theorize broadly on the relationship between interpretive difficulty and musical structure, the musicians’ comments suggest that this relationship manifests along several axes: accuracy, latitude (choice), narrative, and control. 

Interpretive difficulty is uniquely determined by any musician’s context: physical, cognitive, environmental, musical, or cultural. Despite this individuality, construing difficulty along the aforementioned axes establishes relationships between works, performers, and instrumental idioms that might otherwise have little in common—a particularly appealing prospect for recently composed repertoire, for which few comprehensive analytical strategies exist. My work subscribes to Nicholas Cook’s (2013) redefinition of the score from an immutable “text” to a “script” that is interpreted, supplemented, and molded in performance. This redefinition creates space to integrate performance issues into the analytical process and encourages the treatment of performer agency as a fundamental object of analysis. 

Techniques of a Musician-Dancer: Analysis of an Improvised Tap Dance Performance by Dormeshia

Kara Yoo Leaman (Oberlin Conservatory of Music)

bio for Kara Yoo Leaman

Kara Yoo Leaman (LAY-man) (she/her) is an Assistant Professor of Music Theory and Aural Skills at Oberlin College & Conservatory and co-founder of the Dance and Movement Interest Group of the Society for Music Theory. She earned an A.B. in Economics from Harvard University, a M.A. in Music Theory from Queens College, CUNY, and Ph.D. from Yale University, where her dissertation won the Theron Rockwell Field Prize in 2017. In 2019-2020, she was the Fellow for the Study of Russia and Ballet at The Center for Ballet and the Arts at New York University, a joint fellowship with NYU’s Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia. Leaman’s research on music-dance relationships appears in Music Theory Spectrum (forthcoming), the Journal of Music Theory, and SMT-V.


Rhythm tap, which developed alongside bebop in the twentieth century, is a style of dancing that is concerned more with the sounds produced by the dancer than with the visual presentation of dance movements. Practitioners, who often consider themselves musicians of jazz percussion (Hill 2010), combine rehearsed patterns with patterns improvised in response to the improvisations of live musicians. Despite this art form’s singular focus on the sonic product and its position within jazz tradition, rhythm tap has received little attention among music scholars until recently. 

In this paper, I offer a close reading of a performance at the 2013 Stockholm Tap Festival by Dormeshia. A woman in a male-dominated art form, Dormeshia’s intersectional identity explains in part why she is recognized as both one of the greatest tap artists of her generation and among the most underappreciated. My analysis explains the high level of musicianship demonstrated in her performance, a level that separates her from many in her field. Like Robbins and Wells (2019), I apply concepts of jazz improvisation from Paul Berliner and from Ingrid Monson. However, I draw especially on the metaphor of conversation in jazz, and I illustrate my analyses using annotated video clips and choreomusical transcriptions. The analysis examines trades between Dormeshia and the bassist, who imitate and challenge each other to greater virtuosity, rhythmic complexity, and inventiveness. In dialogue with the bassist, Dormeshia expresses her identity as a jazz musician, an insider in this way of music making and being in a musical community. 

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