Below are recent Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) projects completed by students studying Music at Pomona College.
Preserving History/Promoting an Art Form: the Black Spiritual and the Albert J. McNeil Jubilee Singers of Los Angeles
Jeremy Taylor ’18; Mentor: Donna Di Grazia
The purpose of this project is to bring attention to the efforts of Albert J. McNeil, an internationally-recognized choral conductor, to preserve and promote the Black spiritual in the later 20th and early 21st centuries as an historically important American art form. One of the most widely recognized bodies of American folk song, the Black spiritual is considered by McNeil as “the classic music of Black people” (McNeil, 1992), and an indispensable part of American history. McNeil has shared this art form with the world since 1968 with his professional ensemble, the Albert McNeil Jubilee Singers of Los Angeles, which is modeled after the famous 19th-century ensemble, the Fisk University Jubilee Singers (est. 1871). McNeil has presented African-American music-centered concert programs that consist of arrangements of the Black spiritual and the subsequent African-American genres that are vital to the sound of American music. In this phase of our project, which we expect will eventually lead to a co-authored article, we built an initial bibliography of books, articles and videos related to McNeil’s life and ensemble, as well as to the history of the Black spiritual in America since Emancipation; we located historical documents connected with McNeil’s ensemble, we developed interview questions that would allow us to examine the philosophical goals of McNeil’s founding of the AJM Jubilee Singers as a historical link to the Fisk Jubilee Singers; and we interviewed Dr. McNeil.
Funding Provided By: Cion Estate SURP Fund
Visual Development in Early European Ecclesiastical Musical Manuscripts
Peter Davis ’19; Mentor: Donna Di Grazia
For centuries, theologians and scholars alike have studied early manuscripts to understand certain aspects of early ecclesiastical music: its origins, liturgical usages, and its defining notational characteristics. My task was to build on this knowledge and look in a new direction. I examined 26 ecclesiastical music manuscripts produced in England, France, Germany and Spain between 850 and 1300 CE that have been preserved in the British Library. In these works, I paid particular attention to the visual interaction between text and musical notation. In London, I examined each manuscript physically, noting the salient visual characteristics that I could observe, including the horizontal spacing of text and music, details of decorations used in notated sections, and the varying sizes of texts that appeared and without notation. It became clear that many visual developments in these works were the result of the relationship between musical notation and the text that accompanied it. This relationship has deep roots, as the first forms of European musical notation were likely derived from French textual accents. Over the centuries, visual “negotiation” continued as scribes worked to combine text and music while maintaining the artistic precision that made these manuscripts so valuable. I found that formatting the textual and musical elements in the same space was often a matter of great difficulty, and efforts to do so led to lasting developments and fascinating anomalies.
Funding Provided By: Cion Estate SURP Fund
The Pomona College Choral Program: 130 Years of Music-Making
Matthew Cook ’20; Mentor: Donna Di Grazia
A strong choral program has always been a part of Pomona College. The institution is home to the first Glee Club west of the Mississippi (Di Grazia, 2013), the first choral ensemble from a Southern California educational institution to perform large-scale works (Swan, 1952), and the first women’s glee club on the West Coast (Brackett, 1944). Although the College went through many directors in its first 15 years in existence, Fred Bacon’s leadership (1903-17) offered stability. Ralph Lyman (1917-48) continued the bright history of music-making by cofounding what is now the Pacific Southwest Intercollegiate Choral Association and, in 1932, winning the national men’s glee club competition in St. Louis against NYU, Yale, Penn State, and others. Since the 1950s, William Russell (1951-82), Jon Bailey (1982-98) and Donna Di Grazia (1998-present) have continued the tradition of excellence in both the College Choir and Glee Club. The Glee Club has toured annually nearly every year since its founding in 1892. In more recent years, the purpose of touring has been both educational and as a form of community outreach, spreading the joy of music-making and broadening the singers’ and their audiences’ exposure to the choral art, in its concerts, school exchanges, and retirement community performances. Next summer I will look deeper into how the ensembles have changed over time, their repertoire, and their place in the overall history of the College, Claremont and Southern California.
Funding Provided By: Department Funding
Solo-Ensemble Agency and Temporal Referentiality as Form in the Nineteenth-Century Violin Concerto
Eron Smith ’16; Mentor: Joti Rockwell
This project proposes multiple modes of formal analysis, particularly as applied to solo-ensemble and temporal relationships in violin concerti spanning the greater part of the 19th century. I suggest a formal model in which solo and ensemble lie on a continuum rather than in mutually exclusive areas, and in which form is characterized by internal references in a piece’s timespace. Whereas some analyses have integrated solo-ritornello structures within the overall context of sonata form, I focus on agency and referentiality discretely. “Agency” refers to which part in a piece prevails in a given moment: here, the solo and orchestra parts. As a piece progresses, it moves along a continuum between the orchestra playing alone and the soloist playing alone, with some passages being ambiguous as to which part accompanies which. “Referentiality” is the extent to which a passage of music anticipates or recalls another. I conceive of form as how a piece moves through its timespace from future to past. Thus, a referential form diagram shows, for any part of a piece, the degree to which it references earlier material (past) or later material (future) and when the related section occurs. Considering agency and referentiality in analysis allows for a refined understanding and comparison of concertos, while ultimately arguing against a singular theory of 19th-century concerto form.
Funding Provided By: Cion Estate
Theorizing American Popular Music: Funk Foundations
Semassa Boko ’18; Mentor: Joti Rockwell
Funk is a genre of music that is only just beginning to receive serious scholarly attention. This project argues that rather than a sub-genre of 1970s rock, as some histories of American popular music suggest, funk is a genre of its own with rich musical and conceptual foundations. While it is nearly impossible to concisely define funk, James Brown described it in 2005 as “a rhythm-based extension of soul, a physically performed, roots-derived configuration of music that comes straight from the heart.” The musical genre both birthed and supported a new philosophy: the concept of “the funk.” Through a multi-disciplinary analysis of the minds and social conditions which came together to create funk, we gained a nuanced understanding of the power and import of the music. Our studies on funk also led us to study interrelated topics, such as black mythology and the continuity of the black musical tradition. The results of the summer project included a discography of albums central to funk and an annotated bibliography compiled via a literature review. I also began work on two independent projects: a magazine article on the relation between funk and contemporary social conditions in the United States, and an academic article on the philosophy of funk and the genre’s connections to other black musical traditions including hip hop.
Funding Provided By: Cion Estate
Conversations with Haydn: Exploring Rhetoric and Meaning in Two Keyboard Sonatas
Julia Austenfeld (2015); Mentor(s): Alfred Cramer
Abstract: Drawing on historical, cultural, and formal studies of 18th-century galant music and on scholarship that introduces applications of linguistic concepts (such as prosody and discourse analysis) to music, this study contributes to a theory of accent in 18th-century music. It is devoted to the analysis of movements from two of Joseph Haydn’s keyboard sonatas (Hob. XVI:40, 43) through the dual lenses of classical form and the analysis of discourse and rhetoric. Both pieces contain structural as well as surface-level features which suggest discourse—one dialogue takes place between the A and B sections of the movement, while the other engages the listener as participant in the musical rhetoric through a set of expectations which build up and are subsequently thwarted. The examples explored include the perplexing use of pianissimo at major cadences, an Urlinie which never arrives on scale degree 1, and the way dynamics affect the listener’s interpretation of the dialogue between sections in ternary form. These modes of discourse provide a concise point of entry for examining 18th century galant music in context, and Haydn’s musical rhetoric here is particularly compelling because it both constructs and destabilizes meaning without saying a single word.
Funding Provided by: Class of 1971 SURP Fund
Handwriting Analysis of Scores from the Society for Private Musical Performances
Scott Duffy (2013); Student Collaborator(s): Benjamin Graubart (2014); Paul Koenig (2014); Mentor(s): Alfred Cramer; Joti Rockwell
Abstract: The Society for Private Musical Performances (Vienna, 1918-1921) aimed to create clear, well prepared performances of modern music. Under the artistic direction of the important modernist composer Arnold Schoenberg, the Society set a standard for later performances of chamber and 20th century music. Many aspects of the Society have been studied, but we lack an understanding of the precise nature of their interpretations as well as the ways in which the rehearsal directors and performers in the organization arrived at them. Musical scores used in the Society’s performances contain much information about this question within many hand-written markings pertaining to aspects of musicality such as dynamics, phrasing, articulation, and tempo. We categorized handwriting in order to identify who contributed each musical marking. Through identification of the hand we may discern what aspects of music each member (and Schoenberg in particular) deemed essential to a clear, correct performance of new music.
Funding Provided by: Pomona College SURP; National Endowment for the Humanities; Avenir Foundation; Arnold Schoenberg Center
Form and Motive in the Symphonies of Johannes Brahms
Paul Koenig (2014); Mentor(s): Eric Lindholm
Abstract: Twenty-two years passed between Johannes Brahms's initial symphonic efforts and the completion of his first symphony. The length of this period speaks not only to this composer's deliberate nature, but also to the problem of creating a compelling Romantic statement in a genre which developed in accordance with Classical expectations. Brahms's symphonies are among the most successful attempts at reconciling traditional forms and techniques with the Romantic ethos; this research project endeavors to define the composer's unique symphonic style and determine the ways in which he adapts symphonic conventions to the aesthetic of his time. Formal and motivic analysis led to the identification of three characteristic devices: a sonata form with large omissions in the first group of the recapitulation, large and small-scale thirds relationships, and thematic transformation. Though they have historical precedents, Brahms's consistent, extraordinary synthesis of these elements imbued the symphony with true Romantic relevance.
Funding Provided by: Pomona College SURP
The Evolution of Style in the Old-Time Fiddle Recordings of Clark Kessinger
Benjamin Graubart (2014); Student Collaborator(s): Scott Duffy (2013); Mentor(s): Joti Rockwell; Alfred Cramer
Abstract: West Virginian old-time fiddler Clark Kessinger is an intriguing player, having recorded in two separate eras of American folk music. In the 1920s, he and his cousin, guitarist Luches Kessinger, played dances and radio shows as the “Kessinger Brothers” and released several successful recordings from sessions in 1929 and 1930. Following a professional hiatus that began with the Great Depression, Kessinger was “rediscovered” in 1964 during the height of the urban folk revival, and he participated in fiddle contests and released recordings until his death in 1975. Analysis of the development of Kessinger’s playing across these eras sheds light on how the differing environments and expectations of the '20s and '60s shaped the performance of American folk music. Through close listening and transcription, this project demonstrates in detail how Kessinger’s style evolved from performance suited to a dance hall context toward that of the fiddle contest stage.
Funding Provided by: Pomona College SURP