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    EuroMAC Conference 2014

    edited September 2014 in Miscellaneous

    A number of people were fortunate to attend the EuroMAC conference held in Leuven this past week. Might those who attended share some of your thoughts on the conference? What were some of the important trends or particularly interesting sessions/papers? Were there scholarly areas or approaches featured at EuroMAC that you feel are not as well represented at SMT meetings and publications, but perhaps should be? 

    Poundie Burstein


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    • 9 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
    • EUROMAC was exciting! The program was stunningly diverse, with many opportunities for interactions between European and American scholars.  The program booklet was a work of art (although it took me a while to learn to navigate it!).  Pieter Bergé and the team of organizers deserve warm congratulations!

      In one of the morning guest

      lectures (by a European scholar), a historical

      sketch of music theory in the US and in Europe was presented.  The speaker implied that American

      music theory (unlike European theory) is mathematics-centered, and

      mentioned the "two limbs--Schenkerian theory and set theory" that

      dominated the early stages of the development of the discipline in the US.

      He briefly mentioned the recent "confrontation" (an unfortunate

      choice of words!) between American music theory and other disciplines and

      colleagueships, and the rise of a variety of interest groups--but because

      he did not at all emphasize this stage, I believe he left the audience with the

      impression that the mathematical orientation and the "two limbs" were

      still more dominant within the US than any of the recent interests. European theorists do not seem to be aware of recent developments in the field in the US, particularly of its diversity.  We may have to work harder to combat these misapprehensions.

      Harald Krebs



      I would have liked to have a discussion with Professor Schuijer immediately after his lecture, but the participants in the next session were knocking at the door, and I had to run to another session.  I'm sorry about my misquote; thank you, Michiel (if I may) for refreshing my memory on what you actually said.  (Was the version on the PowerPoint maybe slightly different?)

      American music theory's interactions with other fields indeed began to proliferate in the 1980s. Such interactions have further multiplied since then, and they have transformed American music theory; it is this transformation (beyond the initial "two-limb" stage) that I hope European music theorists recognize.  

      To pick up on Professor Meeùs's post, when I mentioned that European theorists might not be aware of recent developments in the field in the US, I meant the overall nature of the field--not that Europeans are unaware of North American publications. I was impressed throughout the conference by the familiarity of European theorists with recent publications. I think we North American theorists are slower to absorb European publications (especially in languages other than English); there was evidence of this during sessions that I attended. We should care about this, and should do better!

      I did not intend my comment as an attack on Michiel's lecture, which was excellent, and which I enjoyed.  A definition of a music theorist by David Kraehenbuehl that he read struck a chord with me: it included the statement that a music theorist is first a musician (I would appreciate a reminder of the exact wording!). This is still true of many of my music theory colleagues today, and it is one reason why I am comfortable in this field. I was happy to hear beautifully performed musical examples by both European and American colleagues at EUROMAC!

      As Professor Meeùs points out, it is a good sign that posts in this new SMT discussion forum are immediately being read and answered by European scholars. I hope there will be many more fruitful discussions here, and also at future conferences (on both sides of the Atlantic!).


    • Dear all,

      I suppose I am the European scholar to whom Harald Krebs refers in his message on the EuroMAC. My paper "Music theorists and societies" discussed the post-War development of music theory as a professional discipline from the perspective of the sociological literature on the rise of professionalism in society. I took my examples from the initial stages of that development in the United States and Europe, as well as from the histories of other disciplines. To be sure, my paper would have been a failure had it been meant as an appraisal of the current diversity of American music theory.

      I used the word 'confrontation' one time - without the word "recent" that prof. Krebs freely added to it - in this phrase: "the inevitable blurring and shaping of professional identity in confrontations and exchanges with related fields as well as with the colleagueship abroad (from the 1980s)". I leave this without further comment.

      I am disappointed by prof. Krebs' reaction. Of course it has made me think about the effect of the way in which I have presented my ideas. If it comes to a printed version of my paper, I will take more account of possible sensitivities on either side of the Atlantic Ocean.

      Kind regards,

      Michiel Schuijer, 

      Conservatorium van Amsterdam

    • Harald Krebs wrote "European theorists do not seem to be aware of recent developments in the field in the US, particularly of its diversity". My own impression had been exactly the reverse, that American theorists did not seem aware of recent developments in the field in Europe (and even more did not really mind).

      This, I presume, indicates some narcissism of both Harald and myself, both more preoccupied with what people apparently thought of us than with what we may have thought of them. I hope and I trust that we were both mistaken. I know that a number (not an enormous number, but...) of my colleagues are aware of recent American theory and analysis – only through publications, though, less through as yet unpublished activities. And I hope that many of you are more aware of recent European publications than I thought at first (or at Leuven).

      At any rate, this all shows the importance of multiplying occasions of such exchanges. The very fact that Michiel was the first to answer Harald on this SMT forum at least shows that we European try to keep track of what you Americans are doing.

      But I trust that EuroMAC 8 will have lasting effects on our intercontinental exchanges. At least, it did the best that it could to this effect, and the rest is up to us all.





    • I read a science fiction novel years ago that posited a world so overpopulated that people were restricted to a single day of living each week. The entire population was split into seven groups, and each group was assigned a single day. The other six days of the week, the groups that were not members of the current day were placed in suspended animation. Because some people found a way to lead two lives by reanimating themselves on a non-designated day, day skipping became a major criminal offense. Each group was blissfully unaware of the worlds and populations that existed outside their designated single day of life, and most of them were happy with situation.

      EuroMAC reminded me of this novel with its eight simultaneous sessions each day of the conference. It would have been very easy to assign myself a slot, stick to it, and to ignore the seven other sessions. To do so would be to miss the unique experience that was EuroMAC. Pieter Bergé gave a wonderful opening address that advocated for a common conference language to facilitate the exchange of ideas and foster communication between the various societies and countries, essentially urging participants not to get stuck in a slot. He also urged participants to not view the common language, which happened to be English, as any an attack or judgment of anyone’s native tongue. Frankly, it made me feel more of an obligation to expand my own linguistic boundaries, and his talk also made me feel more of an obligation to expand my analytical and theoretical horizons.

      I attended many sessions that both reinforced and challenged my own theoretical schemata and foundations. Did I find all of it useful? No. Did the bits I did not find useful change my approach? No. Did some talks and approaches lead me to new conceptual spaces and approaches to everything musical? Yes. Moreover, everything I attended helped me see what I do from a different perspective, made me think more deeply about my approach, and challenged me to not settle for the comfortable and familiar. Throughout the conference, I was reminded of David Lewin’s famous model of a perception: p = (EV, CXT, P-R-List, ST-List). The most significant part of this formalism is CXT because in Lewin’s words it is “a culturally conditioned theoretical component that makes us responsive to categories,” a post-modernist approach from a formalist. Theorists from different countries are bound to have approaches conditioned by their culture, and I think that is what I found most interesting about the presentations. I think what EuroMAC asked of us was to present our own culturally centric points of view on the one hand and to step outside of them on the other to appreciate a different perspective. I think the conference asked us to be day skippers, to break out of a singular experience and become aware and appreciate the worlds and populations that exist outside of our designated slot. That was my experience of EuroMAC.

    • I want to thank Ciro for his comment, as it sums up my experience beautifully. This was by far the most impressive of the three Euromacs I've had the pleasure to attend, a combination of format, breadth, and the high level of scholarship presented. Like Ciro, I chose to "session hop": to fill in gaps in my knowledge, scratch certain topical "itches," and gain an overview of the discipline as it currently stands. One of the many positive signs I noticed was an increased permeability of institutional and disciplinary boundaries, which encouraged new areas of study to arise and flourish without rendering their foundational practices moot (topic theory, analysis and the body, harmonic plasticity, formenlehre, etc.).

    • I wonder if the David Kraehenbuehl comment which Michiel quoted and Harald asks about was something which reflected DK's 'Forward' on the 1957, very first ever page of JMT which I'm quoting from in some of my current writing and which includes: 'Theoretical investigation will be encouraged by the presentation of original thought in the field of analytical and pedagogical technique, as well as in the realm of what is sometimes called “pure” theory…[and] will relate to broad areas of musical practice and should be of interest and value to historians and performers as well as theorists' [my emphasis]? Of course, 'should' can indicate either 'all being well' or in imperative... Anyway I recommend it as a fascinating page to read 57 years on, and I do think colleagues on reflection will feel that one pioneering vision of music theory remains in safe hands nowadays. Kraehenbuehl mentioned no cultural or geographical restrictions when introducing this mighty publication to the world, and the contents of JMT 1/1 were clearly not aiming to be generally Americo-centric


      Jonathan Dunsby

      Professor of Music Theory

      Eastman School of Music

    • I’m coming somewhat late to this discussion, but perhaps I could pick up one thread from Michiel Schuijer’s, Harald Krebs’, and Nicholas Meeùs’ posts. I think we all recognize that it’s difficult to keep up with developments on both sides of the Atlantic, especially since doing so often means reading widely in three or four different languages. One of the historic functions of the Dutch Journal for Music Theory—re-launched in conjunction with the recent EuroMAC as Music Theory and Analysis—has been to mediate between Continental and Anglo-American traditions. This is a function we are keen to continue, not least in our book reviews section. To that end, I would be very happy to hear from potential reviewers, especially those able to work comfortably across diverse linguistic traditions. Books for review can also be addressed to our editorial office at:


      Music Theory & Analysis

      Leuven University Press

      Minderbroedersstraat 4

      3000 Leuven

      email: mta@lup.be




      Nathan John Martin

    • Dear colleagues,

      This was really an international event. Many conclusions may be drawn about the desired professional level of teaching music theory in both Europe and the US. After having attended the astonishing lecture of Prof. Marcus Schwenkreis "In no art rules solely will turn you into doctors" where I had the opportunity to witness the art of several real maestri of partimenti, including the lecturer himself and Prof. Karst De Jong from Barcelona, I realized for one more time how detached the dry and limited teaching of music theory may be from the dissemination of praical knowledge in harmony and counterpoint. I have always stated that an authentic theorist is one who is also a music maker of some kind, and I have faced the negative reaction of some sensitive colleagues who are probably renowned armchair theorists with a lot of publications in prestigious journals. Still, I will keep stating that belief openly and with no fear, because I saw it realized in practice during this fenomenal lecture. Digging one's head in the sand and bulding a reputation upon the name of a prestigious school or journal is a behaviour to be regretted, if one is a practical master of nothing.