Music Theory Pre Grad Intern Natalie Miller

Natalie MillerThroughout this semester, I worked closely with Catrin Watts, a PhD candidate studying Music Theory, in order to discover how Graduate School in the Music sector functions and if this avenue is one which I would like to pursue in the future. My original intention for this internship was to create an analytical research paper to use as a writing sample for future graduate school applications, but it has since evolved into much more than that. This internship has allowed me to better understand all aspects of life as a Graduate Student through an independent research project, teaching observations, interviews with current Graduate Students and Professors, and also by attending a Graduate School Colloquium on Music Theory.

My original intent to write a paper for Graduate School Applications quickly evolved into an independent research topic, in which I began to discover the overlap between my first major of Music, and my recently added major of Linguistics. Through this process, I exposed myself to multiple different avenues of research within the field of Music Theory, and even discovered an approach entire theoretical approach which combines music and Linguistics. This approach, entitled a generative theory of tonal music and created by music theorist Fred Lerdahl and linguist Ray Jackendoff, incorporates Noam Chomsky’s linguistic theories and applied them to the very pieces of music which I have been studying throughout my musical education. By embarking on this independent research project, I discovered a springboard from which I will most assuredly research further in future semesters, and hopefully incorporate into my own writings later on in my education.

A supplemental area of discovery occurred through observing Catrin teach introductory music theory throughout the semester. In Music Graduate School, many theorists teach introductory courses in written theory and also Aural Skills, and many of the open positions on the job market require teaching experience. For these reasons, we added teaching observations about a month into the semester. It was incredibly interesting to watch Catrin teach a course which I took less than two years ago, but to view it in a way which prompted questions of how I would cover the same material, what techniques I thought were the most effective, and which strategies for teaching were the most productive for the students. I was also fortunate enough to go over class planning with Catrin before the class itself, and also had the good fortune to sit in on a guest lecturer as well. These observations helped me to start contemplating how I want to develop as an educator, and made me begin to take note of which elements of my current education I find to be the most productive and then contemplate how I, as a professor, would utilize these approaches in my own teachings.

I also attended a Graduate Student Conference put on but the University of North Texas’ Graduate Associate of Musicologists and Theorists which exposed me to the types of presentations and conferences which Theorists are expected to put on and attend, and also exposed me to different approaches and topics within the realm of research in Music Theory. At the conference, there were ten papers presented on various topics by Graduate Students from across the country. The topics ranged from an analysis of Grindcore Music, to a new interpretation of the film Dracula dependent on its musical context, and even a presentation of an entirely new form of analysis. What really struck me, even more than the diversity of the topics of the paper, was the diversity in the style of the approaches in the papers themselves. Unlike the typical research papers which I believed would be presented, many of the Graduate students focused on the question “why” throughout their analysis, and then presented their own ideas and beliefs as to how to best answer that very question. I was also struck by the discussion which followed each paper; after each session, students and professors in the crowd would posit contradictory statements, or even ideas for improving the paper as well. This debate and workshopping technique enthralled me, and I loved being able to see the wheels turn in the heads of the crowd and the presenters as they discussed.

Overall, this internship has had a direct impact in my plans for future semesters, and has solidified my belief that Graduate School would be an absolutely amazing fit for me. The teaching observations, Conference, independent research project, and especially the interviews too have encouraged me to take more rigorous coursework in this area, do extracurricular research to truly find where my interdisciplinary passions lie, and research which institutions would allow me to best discover my own approaches and beliefs. I know that I just beginning to break the surface of what “Graduate School” as an entity entails, but I also know that if I just keep asking myself the question, “why,” I will keep heading in the right direction.