University of Pittsburgh

Graduate students Jonathan Shold and Hylton Smith present at the national AMS meeting

This November Pittsburgh played host to musicologists from across the country, convening for the annual national meeting of the American Musicological Society. Among the fascinating work presented over the course of the weekend was a panel featuring two University of Pittsburgh graduate students, Hylton Smith and Jonathan Shold. Both papers came out of seminar work prepared in Dr. Rachel Mundy's seminar.

Hylton Smith presented a paper entitled, "Depth Psychology and Genre in Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods." Drawing on writings of Jung and Bettelheim to probe the musical's "moral vector," Smith wove psychoanalytic theory with a sophisticated musical analysis of several key moments. As a mash-up of fairy tales, the musical challenges the line between 'human" and "animal" in ways that complicate audience identification. As Smith ultimately argues, "the primary act of penetrating and enlightening nature’s depths loses moral valence, rendering quaint our modern notions of personhood and its reign atop a scala natura of sentient beings."

Jonathan Shold's paper, "Why Listen to Animals? The Human-Animal Limit in Blended New Age Nature Recordings," considered the role of recorded nature sounds in commercial new age recordings. Birds, whales, and wolf howls are "blended" with human instrumental music in order to create recordings marketed for use during meditation or relaxation. Such sampling isn't limited to animal sounds, as Shold notes, but often extends to non-Western music traditions that might be seen as being "closer to nature," thereby problematically "mapping the concepts of nature and animal onto non-Western musical traditions."

Lively and productive discussion followed both presentations. Professor James Currie of the University at Buffalo (SUNY) served as chair of the session and particularly praised both speakers' professionalism as well as their impressive scholastic offerings.

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