Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Two UTSA scholars join a new podcast about music theory research

Two UTSA scholars join a new podcast about music theory research

FEBRUARY 18, 2022 — A new podcast developed by scholars from around the globe is breaking the mold on how researchers analyze music and tackle contemporary issues in music theory.

The new project called SMT-Pod launched in January through the national organization, The Society for Music Theory, as an audio scholarly publication.

Jennifer Beavers, associate professor of music theory, in the College of Liberal and Fine Arts Department of Music, is co-chairing the SMT-Pod. Joining Beavers on the podcast’s program committee as the composition chair is Thomas Yee, assistant professor of instruction in music theory.

UTSA Today spoke to Beavers about the new podcast and what it means for music theory scholars and how it is evolving the field of music theory.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

“We want to make it accessible to anyone who is interested in music or wants to go deeper into music theory.”

What is exactly is the SMT Pod?

JB: SMT stands for Society for Music Theory and it is the premier audio publication that’s featuring scholarship from around the world in the field of music theory. It’s the first time our field has ever done anything like this. We have traditional print and online journals as well as a video journal, but this year we launched the podcast.

How did the idea to create something like the SMT Podcast come about?

JB: It was pitched by a graduate student who is my co-chair. Her name is Megan Lyons and she’s working on her Ph.D. in music theory at the University of Connecticut. These young, up-and-coming scholars are just really changing the field. She pitched it to the board and they were looking for somebody in the field to oversee it, so they asked me to chair it.

I have a lot of experience doing audio publications and flipping classrooms, so I had all the technology and resources available to do it, and I have been advocating for a more transparent and collaborative form of peer review, which we have successfully developed at SMT-Pod.

Aside from yourself, what does the group behind the podcast look like?

JB: We have a board of about 13 members from across the nation. I believe there are two associate professors at my level and the rest are junior faculty or Ph.D. students. We’re active for all the processes involved from running our call to proposals to sending it out to peer reviewers and working sort of in between the production team and peer reviewers.

Copyright is a huge issue because we’re dealing with a lot of music excerpts. Our episodes so far have had audio from artists like Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan and these are heavily watched clips, so we’re always having to work around fair use and copyright permissions.

It’s very involved from everything that goes up on the website to everything you hear.

People say music theory can be a little intimating and a very complex subject. How is this podcast going to change that notion?

JB: We want to make it accessible to anyone who is interested in music or wants to go deeper into music theory. We try to reduce the jargon so that if you were to listen you would understand when we’re talking about stylistic competencies. For example, you have an immediate explanation in layman’s terms followed by the sound of Jimi Hendrix’s sound, as well as how it’s emulated by others.

The podcast is trying to match more friendly words with immediate sounds in a way that a print journal avoids or are unable to do. The research is still very solid, but we’re trying to make it so it’s delivered in a simpler conversational modality to a larger audience.

What sort of topics do you all hope to tackle?

JB: We have a great variety of stuff. We have a senior scholar in the field who is talking about “musicking while old.” So, he’s talking about what it’s like to be an old person, how old age it represented in music, especially opera, and how we cognitively perceive, listen, and perform music as we age.

We have stuff on Reddit communities and how it’s changing the world of scholarship. We have underrepresented women composers from the beginning of the 20th century to post-millennial punk. It is a little bit of everything. It’s breaking down a lot of boundaries.

It’s so interesting to hear you all are incorporating music from Jimi Hendrix or Bob Dylan in this.

JB: It’s great! One of my favorite episodes was the way composers use sad chords and pop in film. It looked at “Love Actually” and “Star Wars” and Radiohead. It’s just so effective because as soon as you hear them talk about the sad chord and play it, you’re right there in the middle of the movie or song.

What are you most excited about?

JB: It is awesome to be on the cutting edge of what scholarship is doing. It feels so relevant and important and even necessary. Knowing UTSA can be a part of it is super cool. It puts us on the map because this is being reached in over 23 different countries around the world. I’m being integrated into my society in ways I never thought I would. I’m talking with the most senior of the senior scholars to Ph.D. students that can’t wait to do what I do. It’s incredibly rewarding. I get to bring it into my classroom too. Instead of a class, we’ll talk about what the podcast revealed and what kind of research is going on.

What has been your student's response to listening to this piece of scholarship versus. a traditional class lesson?

JB: Oh, they love it. I think they find it harder than they thought. Listening to a podcast for fun is one thing, but listening to it and then following it up with a conversation is another. They’re engaged with it, but then they have to think about what the argument was and rearticulate it back. I feel it shows a deeper engagement than I’m getting when I give them an article to read.

The fact that it’s scholarship, but informally presented, really resonates with the students

Listen and subscribe to the latest SMT-Pod episodes
⇒ Explore the Department of Music

I saw there is another Roadrunner faculty member involved with SMT Podcast, Thomas Yee. What’s his role in this project?

JB: Thomas is one of our music theory and composition faulty. He is a great teacher too! One of his greatest passions is composition. For our podcast, he took over as composition chair and solicited theme music and bumper music, and we got 150 examples from around the world.

He handles the composition sound files, categorizes them by style and genre, and then recommends transitional music, called “bumper” music, to fit in between talking sections. It is a lot of sound files and data and is an integral part of our podcast success.

Lastly, what do you want people to take away from this podcast?

JB: I want them to see they can learn music theory. Some of their passions about music can be enhanced by listening to how experts in music theory talk about it. It gives them the vocabulary to explain their favorite moments in music. It is not about just liking that “beat” or “feel” of a piece- those are usually surface level observations that indicate that there is something else going on. Listening to SMT-Pod gives them the apparatus to explore music and relate it to diverse repertories.

Valerie Bustamante Johnson

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of The University of Texas at San Antonio.

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