Sunday morning, November 8, 11-11:50 CST

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Schemas, Frames, and Paradigms Poster Session

Janna Saslaw (Loyola University New Orleans), Chair

Poster sessions begin with a short presentation from each of the poster presenters. A link to this Zoom webinar is just above. Fifteen minutes after the beginning of the session, every poster presenter will enter their own breakout room and entertain comments and questions.

Complicating the Modal Paradigm with the Music of William Byrd

Megan Kaes Long (Oberlin College & Conservatory)

Megan Kaes Long is Associate Professor of Music Theory at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music and a 2020–21 ACLS Fellow. She holds a B.A. in music from Pomona College and a Ph.D. in music theory from Yale University. Her work focuses on the intersections of tonal and modal traditions in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Her monograph, Hearing Homophony: Tonal Expectation at the Turn of the Seventeenth Century, explores the role of text setting, rhythm, meter, and phrase in articulating tonal trajectories in homophonic vernacular partsong of the late Renaissance; it was published in May 2020 by Oxford University Press. Her articles appear in Music Theory Spectrum and the Journal of Music Theory, and her newest article, “What do Signatures Signify? The Curious Case of Seventeenth-Century English Key” will appear in JMT this fall. In non-COVID times, Megan is also a mezzo-soprano who specializes in early music; she performs with choral ensembles in the Cleveland area.


This project develops a historically grounded model of pitch structure in the music of William Byrd, drawing on sixteenth-century music theory, recent research on sixteenth-century pitch frameworks, and analysis of computational data. The poster presents a subset of this data to argue for a model of tonal structure in Byrd’s music rooted not in modality, but rather in solmization. I extracted key profiles from a digital corpus of Byrd’s vocal and keyboard music, then performed cluster analyses to identify pieces with similar pitch content.

Many compositions cluster into mode-like groups. Byrd writes in two forms of minor resembling the Dorian and Aeolian collections. Pieces with a flat signature and D keynote appear in both groups, suggesting that signature and keynote are not consistently reliable indicators of pitch content. Instead, these paradigms differ because of flexibility built into English solmization. A scale ascending from D (D-E-F-G-A, or la-mi-fa-sol-la) may continue to either B♭ (fa) or B♮ (mi). Apparently modal clusters do not necessarily imply pre-compositional modal planning; we might instead understand modality as an emergent property of other characteristics of sixteenth-century pitch structure.

Cluster analysis also highlights outlying works. Compositions with A keynotes and no signature divide into two groups with sharper and flatter orientations. Some multi-part compositions straddle these two groups. Typically, Byrd creates tonal contrast in multi-part works by changing the keynote. However, these findings reveal that Byrd also shifts orientation flatward or sharpward to create similar contrast. Again, these distinct paradigms reflect solmization’s flexible treatment of B♭.

What Kind of Linear Theory is Schema Theory?

Gilad Rabinovitch (Florida State University)

Gilad Rabinovitch is Assistant Professor of Music Theory at Florida State University. He completed PhD degrees in Composition (2013) and Music Theory (2015) at the Eastman School of Music, with prior training at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Jerusalem Academy of Music. His research interests include eighteenth‐century phrase schemata and the reimagining of historical improvisation, bridging past and present approaches to music‐making and teaching. His articles and reviews have appeared in (or are forthcoming from) the Journal of Music Theory, Music Theory Online, Music Theory & Analysis, Theoria, Indiana Theory Review, Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy, Engaging

Students, Empirical Musicology Review, and Eighteenth‐Century Music, as well as in an edited volume on keyboard skills (Olms). He has presented at conferences including annual meetings of the Society for Music Theory and the 9th European Music Analysis Conference (Strasbourg, 2017). He has also given invited lectures and workshops at institutions including Cornell University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Texas at Austin.


Dialogs between schema theory (Gjerdingen 1988, 2007) and Schenkerian theory have been adversarial (e.g., Agawu 1991; Lester 1990; Proctor 1989). However, analysis using schemata creates pitch reductions, which has led to some recent studies on theoretical intersections (Froebe 2014; Schwab-Felisch 2014; Rohringer 2015). Gjerdingen rejects “Schenker’s totalizing ideology of a transcendent tonality” and his German chauvinism (2007, 435) and describes the conventional schemata of eighteenth-century galant style. Moreover, in his central “Il filo” chapter, Gjerdingen models schema successions probabilistically, not based on an overarching linear of formal outline. Rabinovitch (2018) suggests that constraints on the organization of schemata within form (Byros 2015; Caplin 2015; Neuwirth 2020) might potentially lead to a reconstruction of Urlinie-like structures. Do typical schema successions within form lead to a somewhat consistent global linear model or to a variety of paths? 

I examine this dilemma through a sample of 27 first reprises of two-reprise movements from the 1740s. Despite its variability, the un-hierarchized skeletal outline that emerges from the concatenation of schemata resembles somewhat Schenkerian assumptions regarding the linear organization of a sonata exposition. A first reprise is, of course, not a sonata exposition but rather its predecessor (Ratner 1980; Greenberg 2017). However, due to the tight constraints on schema successions in this decade, it is a productive case study for the resultant global linear structure. Poster attendees are invited to speculate along with the author on the interaction of local and global musical factors in this typically galant repertoire.

Spectral Fission in Barbershop Harmony

Jordan Lenchitz (Florida State University)


Why do barbershop chords “ring”? I argue that the best barbershop quartets produce “ringing” chords due to spectral fission, which I define as the perception of timbral upper partials as discrete pitches when they have enough amplitude to be separably audible and are prominent in their regions of the frequency spectrum. I apply two complementary computational models to recordings by two championship quartets—Vocal Spectrum and Ringmasters—to demonstrate how their “ringing” chords fulfill both the amplitude and prominence requirements of spectral fission and to highlight the relationships between chord spacing, intervallic content, and pitch perception. The first of these is a vowel-neutral predictive model of vocal timbre that identifies probable frequencies of maximal spectral overlap due to formant tuning and vertical just intonation. The second is an original digital signal processing script based on a rivalry model of spectral prominence that recursively compares amplitudes across frequencies using the Discrete Fourier Transform, yielding frequencies that represent candidates for spectral fission. Correspondences between my timbral model’s predictions and my script’s candidate frequencies provide an explanation for our aural experience of barbershop’s “ringing” chords. Ultimately, understanding the distinctive qualities of these chords—both as acoustical signals and as auditory percepts—has practical implications for composers and arrangers of this style and offers a new avenue of inquiry into other a cappella vocal repertoires.

Tracing Music Theory’s (un)Shifting Frames: A Natural Language Processing Approach

Tom Johnson (Skidmore College)

Megan Lavengood (George Mason University)

Evan Williams (Georgetown University)


“What is music theory today?” The question is especially pertinent as SMT enters the 2020s. Major universities have de-emphasized theory coursework and national music societies have called for foundational curricular changes, all while decades-worth of music theory publications celebrate, admonish, or simply note the accelerating centrifugation of SMT’s orbit.

To gauge professional music theory’s evolution, this project applies natural processing (NLP) techniques to the entire corpus of Music Theory Online articles in order to investigate changes and constants of music theory’s ideologies. We employ basic n-gram analysis, bag-of-words models, and word embeddings to analyze music theory’s texts. For this poster, we focus on two main trends. First, we demonstrate the well-known broadening of music theory’s focus. In particular, we show the diversification of repertoires and techniques by tracing their increased usage across articles appearing in MTO. Second, despite indices of progress, we find clear evidence of pernicious inequities especially when it comes to gender.

As a professional field in North America, music theory’s decade was capped by two self-reflective moments: the landmark, critical SMT plenary session, and the public reaffirmation of values through a widely circulated open letter. Each grappled with the field’s apparently sturdy ideologies and their inextricable link to the demographic homogeneity of the current field and of its foundational practitioners. In this poster, we lay out a methodology for interrogating these forces and proffer ideas for remedying them.