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    Seeking musical examples from composers of color

    Dear colleagues,

    For the past few years, I've been meaning to do a more-or-less "clean sweep" of the musical examples I use in my undergrad (tonal) core curriculum. For a number of reasons, this seems to be the right summer to take the time and actually do it.

    I'm wondering if, in the spirit of websites like musichtheoryexamplesbywomen.com, we might be able to crowdsource a similar listing in this thread of music theory examples by composers of color.  For me personally, I'd be most interested in examples that cover topics found in a typical "core" curriculum, though it wouldn't have to be limited to that.

    Anyone interested in sharing some examples that are good for the classroom (whether that classroom be online or face-to-face in the fall)?

    Thank you for any help or suggestions!




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    • 7 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
    • I've begun a similar initiative in my teaching, and have found some examples that are useful in my Form and Analysis class:

      Ignatius Sancho's Minuets <https://imslp.org/wiki/Minuets,_etc._(Sancho,_Ignatius)> and Country Dances <https://imslp.org/wiki/12_Country_Dances_(Sancho,_Ignatius)> are all great examples of Classical binary form.

      Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges composed some more good examples of Classical forms.  I use both movements of his Harpsichoard Quartet in G minor <https://imslp.org/wiki/Harpsichord_Quartet_in_G_minor_(Saint-Georges%2C_Joseph_Bologne)> (which also is one of his string quartets). The first movement is a sonata with abbreviated recap, and the second movement's Minore is a good example of Classical binary form.

      I'm eager to see what other people have to contribute as well!


      Robert T. Kelley

      Professor of Music, Lander University

      Web: http://www.robertkelleyphd.com/


    • A great deal of the rep of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor is great for chromatic harmony. Scores a plenty are available on IMSLP.

      Felicia Sandler

    • Hi, Zac. 

      Have you read the 2018 JMTP article by Cora Palfy and Eric Gilson? If so, I recommend it. Although it won't answer the particular question you're asking, it highlights the fact that the topics we cover in our theory classes highly predispose us to certain styles and composers, and as a result, predispose us to talking about musicians of a particular race and gender. How much time, for example, do you spend on sonata-allegro form as opposed to AABA form? How much time, for example, do you spend on teaching first-inversion viio chords or Neapolitan sixth chords as opposed to b7 chords or IV-over-5 chords? Or more broadly, how much time in a music theory class do you spend teaching aspects of pitch as compared to aspects of rhythm?

      If you are really invested in redoing your curriculum, I would encourage you to think about not just making superficial changes, like swapping out one composer for another, but rather about making deep structural changes, like considering the styles taught and consequently what concepts are relevant to those styles. (Why do we still need to cover the topics in a typical "core" curriculum?) You may feel constrained, of course, by the history of your department and the desires of other faculty members. But you're tenured now, right? Perhaps it's time to start leveraging that for the change you believe in.

      I realize my reply is not directly helpful to your question, and I don't mean to sound unsympathetic or flippant. But if diversity is truly your (our) goal, then you (we) need a radical and fundamental change in the music theory curriculum. The time for half measures, as we see with the ongoing protests in the wake of George Floyd's murder, is over. 


      Trevor dC

    • Hi Zac,

      Thanks so much for your post and for your work. In the spirit of both your post and Trevor's, I'd like to wholeheartedly amplify the call that we rethink our curriculum from the ground up. But, critically, this is not work that any of us have to do on our own (nor will we be successful if we're each trying to completely rethink our curricula in a vacuum) -- it is up to us to work together, as a discipline, to redevelop our curriculum collectively, and to develop textbooks, syllabi, handouts, assignments, and resources that we can share with colleagues who aren't prepared to do this work on their own (because they teach heavy loads, have little support, are contingent, are untenured, etc.).

      A lot of folks are having this conversation in a lot of forums -- on Twitter, on Facebook, here on SMT-Discuss, on Humanities Commons, and in many departments, workshops, and conferences. But it's clear that we need some centralized resources (like the kind of crowd-sourced list you're describing) so that we can collaborate more efficiently and effectively. 


    • Re: Robert Kelley's recommendation of Boulogne, I've spent some time with his Six Concertante Quartets, and, of the five of the six first movements that are either Type 2 (No. 4) or Type 3 (No. 1, 3, 5, 6) sonatas, the S zone in the recap is usually trimmed considerably (particularly the material early in the expo's S) and perhaps also reworked considerably, so much that to, say, teach these movements as representative of sonata rather than the ones we usually present in the classroom brings up some fascinating questions. These movements are not on imslp, but I have PDF scans of them if you want; just let me know (smurphy@ku.edu).

    • I was pleased to see Coleridge-Taylor's name mentioned in this discussion, along with Joseph Boulogne's. To those might be added Joseph (Jose) White (on IMSLP, the dance numbers for violin and piano use a pretty basic vocabulary, but the etudes are rather more adventurous). There is at least one violin concerto, not on IMSLP; good luck getting that now, but after things open up it should be possible. Also, R. Nathaniel Dett wrote some choral music worth singing--and therefore worth studying. And let's not overlook Joplin; the rags use chromatic harmony well, including augmented sixths.

      All best, and stay well,