Program Spotlight: Music Theory


As Prof. Edward Klorman describes it, the Schulich School of Music’s music theory program is a place of innovation and exploration. Offering undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels of study, the program makes full use of the school’s world-class faculty and substantial facilities, and theory students explore musical language in both classroom and private settings while still participating in Schulich’s ensembles and refining their musicianship. To find out more about about the program’s ins-and-outs, we spoke to Prof. Klorman in a recent email exchange.

How would you say Schulich’s music theory program stands out?

Three things strike me most about our program. First, the remarkable range of topics students and faculty are working on, including Jimi Hendrix’s performances of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” the analysis of Spectralist music, computer applications in studying Renaissance counterpoint and new perspectives on form in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Sometimes we discover surprising synergies and counterpoints among these disparate areas.

Second, our program is remarkably productive. Six of our students and faculty are presenting at this year’s Society for Music Theory conference and we have an excellent track record for publications, awards and research grants. Finally, students and faculty in our program are extremely collegial. (I’ve found this is one stereotype of Canadians that rings true!) The ways students support one another and the ways faculty provide mentorship and encouragement make Schulich a wonderful place to work and learn.

What’s your area of specialization within the Music Theory area?

My research focuses on intersections between analysis and performance in tonal music. My most recent project was a book on Mozart’s chamber music, and I’m now beginning work toward a book on Bach’s Cello Suites. I also teach courses in Schenkerian analysis, which I feel is a particularly rewarding area, especially since the class is usually a wonderful mix of theorists, performers and composers.

How did you start studying theory? What drives you to continue?

I developed an interest in composition at a young age and it was recommended that I study music theory in school. I was hooked right away – I found music analysis helped me to appreciate more details, refine my musical instincts and to recognize composers’ stylistic fingerprints. I enjoy guiding undergraduate students through this same process of exploration. For graduate students in music theory, we begin to focus more on meta-theory: thinking about the assumptions that underlie various analytical approaches, ways we might refine them or develop new ones, or put disparate approaches in dialogue with one another. Those of us who are drawn to music analysis are often driven to develop new terms and concepts to define our own musical intuitions and listening habits.

What links have you found between your theoretical studies and your performance practice?

Many music theorists come from performance backgrounds and maintain active performance lives in tandem with their scholarly career. My analytical work often involves pieces I’ve played, and the process of practicing and rehearsing leads me to new observations that invite analytical scrutiny. I find that many of the ideas musicians discuss in rehearsal—for instance, where is the climax of a phrase or what the character of the music should be—are all issues that music theorists can (or should) consider as well. Ultimately, I feel what analysts do and what performers do are just two modes of interpreting the music, modes that often can intertwine fruitfully.

Who would you say is the ideal candidate for Schulich’s theory program?

I would say we’re looking for candidates who are curious, open-minded and independent. Many applicants have a particular musical repertoire or analytical method that they’re passionate about, which is great, but since graduate studies involve exploring the field widely, it’s important to demonstrate some interest in breadth. Strong critical-thinking and writing skills are important for any graduate program in the humanities, and we offer a lot of support for students to refine their writing skills.

Lastly, we’re especially interested in candidates who will be good citizens in our community of music theorists. I’m the advisor of a new student group called the McGill Association of Music Theorists (or more affectionately called “MAMuTh” for short). We meet more or less monthly to hear one another’s work in progress, to discuss issues in our field and to analyze pieces of music together. MAMuTh is also a setting for the faculty to offer professional career mentorship, with advice about getting your work published, enhancing your candidacy for job applications and things like that. The group thrives on the sense of community among McGill theory faculty and students.

More information on Schulich’s music theory program can be found here