Below are recent Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) projects completed by students studying Music at Pomona College.


Exploring the History, Culture and Creation of House Music

Anabel Rose Awewonno Kubabom ’21; Advisor: Thomas Flaherty

My research sought out to discover the history, culture and creation process behind dance genre of house music. I used the methods of literary research, video interviews, visiting house music clubs and usage of digital audio workstations in order to conduct my research. I also signed up for an online music production tutorial from world-renowned house music DJ, Armin Van Buuren. House music was born in the 80s, in Chicago out of the death of disco and was very popular in the underground music scene there before spreading in popularity overseas to London, with many subgenres being created as the years went on and its influence grew. House music served as a genre that represented sexual and racial equality for its audience and producers. It is described as having a spiritual effect on listeners, evoking euphoria which is often enhanced with psychedelic drugs. The creation of the subgenre, progressive house, pushed house music into the mainstream with DJs that are constantly on the music charts. The underground music scene is however, still going strong. By creating house music pieces of my own I was able to understand the nuances between some of the many subgenres under this broad umbrella of house. I was also able to appreciate the importance of every single instrument and sound that goes into creating a full house music piece and performing these songs live in a set, in the age of technology and the rise of electronic music.

Moving With The Steel Guitar, Theorizing Musical Motion

Sebastian Naehu-Ramos ’21; Advisor: Joti Rockwell

Music theory has traditionally been limited by an elemental view that renders music as a composed succession of discrete elements. A chord progression, a pattern of rhythmic durations, and a sequence of melodic pitches as played on a piano or notated on a Western staff reflect this view, which fails to fully characterize how music moves. This project adopts a perspective based more on performance and ideas of continuity, and it reconceptualizes musical motion by considering and analyzing the sounds of what is perhaps music’s most quintessentially continuous polyphonic instrument: the steel guitar. Software-assisted analysis and transcription of recordings that feature steel guitarists draws attention to several concepts suggesting a theory of musical motion, including departure, approach, “floating,” and moving in place. Central to such a theory is the notion of haptic sensibility--a mode of interpretation whereby listeners and performers attend to and imagine aspects of musical feel according to how instruments produce sound.

The Art of Downward Modulation

Kate Bolonnikova ’21; Advisor: Thomas Flaherty

Modulation, change of key, or of tonal center are some of the many ways of describing tonal motion in music. Unlike loudness or texture, tonality is unique to music – hence its manipulation is a primary composition tool, with modulations spanning both related and distant keys. While it would be intuitive to think that any distant-key modulation could go in either direction with equal frequency, a brief observation shows that most pieces modulate up, rather than down. Since, unsurprisingly, related-key motion provides little “tonal tension” as defined by Lerdahl and Jackendoff, it is the distant-key modulations that will most likely affect one psychologically. In line with Lerdahl’s model, excerpts modulating down were often associated with notable reception by the community (e.g. Gershwin declaring he wished he had written the bridge of Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady”), or contextual connotations of an unexpected or anticlimactic resolution of events (e.g. portrayal of death in Shore’s “Lord of the Rings” score). Compositional techniques accompanying downward modulation differ between classical and pop, which provided food for compositional experimentation. Works such as Ravel’s Concerto in G and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no. 2 make use of orchestration techniques (textural layering, instrumentation, etc.) in smoothing out tonal transitions. However, transitions in pop, as in the case with “Good Vibrations”, are usually not musically cushioned at all.

Composing Philosophy in Truth: A Song Cycle in 7 Movements

Oliver Dubon ’20; Advisor: Thomas Flaherty

This project is a musical composition of approximately 25 minutes in length that sets to music several strains of philosophical thought on the topic of “truth.” As the history of truth is too long and extensive to cover in even numerous hours of music, this composition covers only the modern discussion of truth, touching on many topics which arose in the 20th century. The structure of this work is five movements which make up the main body of musical material bookended by a prologue and epilogue. The prologue is from Aristotle’s Metaphysics, and the epilogue is taken from two recent interviews of politicians regarding the Special Counsel Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 election. By setting these two texts as the opening and ending of this song cycle, I hope to call into question the manner in which objective truth and reality are discussed in 21st century media, and point towards the nuance of philosophers included in this project as a role model for critical thinking.

The final movement, (Post)Truth, was workshopped and premiered as a standalone piece on July 26th at the Atlantic Music Festival in Waterville Maine. The premiere of the full cycle will take place on October 25th in Lyman Hall of Music.


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