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MP3: Music Theory Examples by Women


The “Music Theory Examples by Women” Working Group seeks to explore and extend the presence of female composers in music theory curricula and to support and engage other scholars and students working in this area around the world.

Open to New People

Active since: 2019

  • University of Rochester
  • Cornell University

Collaborative Goals

In collaboration with Fourscoreandmore, founded by Mark Gotham (formerly of Cornell University and now an external member), we seek to democratize access to music theory with free access to digital-age resources for teachers and students. Our goals are to continue developing work done in conjunction with Fourscoreandmore and to promote the scholarship and performance of music by women.

In coordination with Fourscoreandmore we support the international crowdsourcing of score encodings and host an analysis-a-thon each year. These events continue our work in two ways: (1) to expand on the existence and availability of scores by women in computer-readable formats that enable easy, efficient, and versatile inclusion into classroom activities; and (2) human analyses of those scores to the same ends. In previous work, Music by Women has acted as a focus for international attention to this matter, and Fourscoreandmore has begun the process of encoding and analyzing.

Each year, through events timed to coincide with Women’s History Month, we coordinate a particularly intense extension of this score encoding effort along with performance and study of works by women composers from our host institutions. Our group is growing, and now includes organizers from the Eastman School of Music (University of Rochester), Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and the Rochester Institute of Technology. In Spring 2024, we will (1) continue to expand our core collection through score encoding; (2) analysis-a-thon event will focus on form analysis of newly encoded string quartet scores by women composers; and (3) we will host a “Women in Music” conference at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

Group Organizers

Charity Lofthouse

Associate Professor of Music, Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Loretta Terrigno

Assistant Professor of Music Theory, Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester

Sarah Marlowe

Assistant Professor of Music Theory, University of Rochester

Yunn-Shan Ma

Assistant Professor of Performing Arts, Rochester Institute of Technology

Group Outcomes

Our database of encoded scores and analyses continues to grow annually, along with the breadth and depth of our network of members’ involvement. We also made significant improvements to the technical infrastructure this year. As noted in the award letter, we aimed “to support the technical needs of the Group's work and to vastly improve online usability and outcomes of the database of encoded scores and symbolic representations of music for the wider public.” We are pleased to report that this has indeed been emphatically realized. Particularly notable are: (1) technical improvements to the central repository, which hosts the data, in terms of clarity, removing bloat, and interoperability. A growing number of external projects make use of this data and code, which has also received first-round acceptance for publication in a technical journal TISMIR. Final confirmation is expected very soon, c.July 2023. And (2) The anthology now covers more topics, more robustly, and with more direct usability.

Our efforts were primarily geared toward fine-tuning and consolidation of the database this year. Along similar lines, we invited participants to explore the database offerings and provide feedback on format and usability for teaching and research. We felt this was of greater value over producing and/or checking encoded analyses to ensure that the project remains practically useful for educators moving forward. To achieve this, we scheduled a two-part event on March 16, 2023: Part 1 featured a colloquium talk, “Chromatic Harmony in Theory and Practice,” where Mark Gotham discussed issues related to theory terminology and definitions, specifically in English- vs. German-speaking curricula; and provided a walk-through of the meta-corpus of human-produced analyses in computer-readable format, which span over 1,000 works from c. 1600–1945. Part 2 of the event took the place of our usual “Analysis-a-Thon.” Instead of producing more analyses, we invited the participants to explore the database and provide feedback on its usability for teaching and research. As a result of these discussions, the Anthology now offers, in addition to lists and links to scores online, options for direct score download in multiple formats and extracted PDF score images for the excerpts in question (via yet another repository). In addition to our data collection and transmission of encoded scores and analyses, our group aims to promote the work of underrepresented composers.

Considering the great success of the Florence Price Symposium (March 2022), we decided to focus our attention on another underrepresented composer from a different part of the world: Stefania Turkewich, the first woman composer from Ukraine. We also experimented with the format: instead of a series of formal research presentations, we sought an “un-conference” format, wherein participants were able to familiarize themselves with Turkewich’s music together, through discussion, analysis, and communal listening. The “Un-Conference on Stefania Turkewich: Music as Politics and Global/Cultural Exchange,” was divided into three sessions over one afternoon (March 17, 2023). We began with a formal research presentation (on Zoom), “Composer as Archetype: Stefania Turkevych and Contemporary Ukrainian Music,” by Leah Batstone (University of Vienna). Second, we hosted a performance and analysis session that included performances of Turkewich’s art songs by our Eastman colleagues (Andrea McGaugh, soprano; and Alison d'Amato, piano) and guided analysis with the performers and Loretta Terrigno (Eastman School of Music, music theory).

Our final session incorporated a broader, interdisciplinary approach to studying underrepresented and under-researched individuals like Turkewich. This final discussion, “Listening in the Dark: A Roundtable on Representation, Scholarship, and Pedagogy Through the Lens of Russian and Ukrainian Women Writers and Composers,” was led by two faculty colleagues from Hobart and William Smith Colleges (Charity Lofthouse, music theory; and Kristen Welsh, Russian area studies). We received invaluable feedback from the doctoral students who attended this event. They enjoyed the tripartite focus on “historical context – analysis – pedagogy,” and benefitted from group analysis, especially with the performers’ input. One student remarked: “I think the mix of live performance, music scholars, and non-music scholars made for a diverse and engaging series of events.”

The makeup of our working group has changed this year as well. Tamara Acosta (Cornell University) remains interested in our working group’s goals, but was ultimately unable to participate this year due to increased professional roles and responsibilities. Betsy Marvin (Eastman School of Music), a founding member of the group, retired earlier than planned and formally left the group in December 2022. Sarah Marlowe and Loretta Terrigno (Eastman School of Music), and Charity Lofthouse (Hobart and William Smith Colleges), remain active as organizers and we welcome one new member, Yunn-Shan Ma (RIT) for our 2023–2024 activities.