Texas Tech University

Texas Tech University Music Theory Forum

Anna K.

April 7, 2023

Devin Guerrero and Brad Cawyer

TTU School of Music faculty and graduate students attend conferences and share research at various Music Theory events! Read more about the exciting things happening in the TTU Music Theory Forum.

The Texas Society for Music Theory holds an annual conference to share current research. This year was the 45th annual meeting of the Texas Society for Music Theory, held on the campus of Texas A&M Kingsville from March 3-4, 2023. As always, Texas Tech faculty and graduate students had a significant presence at the 2023 conference. Scholars from across the country came to share current research on a wide range of topics including classical music, film music, heavy metal, video game music, hymnody, and music theory pedagogy.

At the conference, there was a significant presence from Texas Tech University.

• Devin Guerrero and Brad Cawyer, doctoral students, presented research on the music of Elliot Smith: “Measuring the Uncanny: Chromatic Mediant Motion in Elliot Smith's XO”
• David Forrest, Associate Professor, TSMT President
• Matthew Santa, Professor, TSMT Program Committee
• Peter Martens, Associate Dean, TSMT Session Chair
• David Sears, Assistant Professor, TSMT Session Chair
• The program also featured several Texas Tech alumni: Jeremy Nowak presented research on Robert Schumann, Rachel Mann lead a pedagogy special session, Scott Strovas, and Hannah Percival served as session chairs.

More information on the Texas Society for Music Theory can be found here

Not only did we have a Texas Tech presence at the 2023 TSMT Conference, but also at the Music Theory Society of the Mid-Atlantic Conference. We interviewed music theory doctorate student, Devin Guerrero, about his experience at these conferences as an attendee and presenter!

Devin's first year of attending TMST was in 2022, where he did not present, “but learned a great deal about the expectations of research rigor and presentation style.” Although it was not his first year attending the Texas Society for Music Theory Conference, it was his first time attending the Music Theory Society of the Mid Atlantic Conference. “Presenting for a different region of theorists was very enlightening. First of all, we (my co-author, Brad Cawyer, and I) knew basically no one and no one knew of us. We definitely received different kinds of feedback from the mid-Atlantic folks than we did the Texas folks.”

In preparation for these conferences, Devin started his research as a seminar paper for a course he took in Dr. David Sears' course: Arts in the Contemporary Context (a required course for all TCVPA doctoral students). With at lot of advising with Dr. Sears and collaboration with his co-author, Brad Cawyer (DMA Conducting student), the paper ended up as a sizeable project. Many students and faculty from around the nation submit proposals to both conferences. Devin shares with us, “being selected to speak at both conferences is a distinction held in high esteem by students and faculty alike.”

Image of Devin Guererro and Brad CawyerPhoto Credit: Karina Dozal

Devin shares with us his and Brad's research:

“My paper's title is Measuring the Uncanny: Chromatic-Mediant Motion in Elliott Smith's, XO. In it, I used converging methodologies (close reading of text and harmony & distant reading of harmonic changes) to describe how Smith's album is more uncanny than other popular music whose chords are catalogued in extant corpora—that is, since there is a higher relative frequency of chromatic-mediant relationship between adjacent harmonies in Smith's album than in adjacent harmonies in the McGill Billboard and Rolling Stone-200 corpora, it is more uncanny. This notion of the uncanny is not my own. In fact, TTU's own (and my primary advisor), Dr. David Forrest wrote a fabulous paper published by Music Theory Online in 2017 that examines chromatic-mediant motion and its association with the Uncanny in popular song. The Uncanny phenomenon in harmonic motion has a twenty-year history of examination by music theorists. The shortest way I can explain it is that since chromatic mediant motion shares the exact same voice leading motion from chord to chord as a dominant seventh moving to tonic and, instead of resolving a tritone, occurs between two stable (major or minor) triads, it evokes a sense of the strangely familiar—a paradox which Freud called the Uncanny.”

“Working with Brad has been great. He is detailed oriented and sharp when it comes to most things, especially statistical description. Most of the work was divided up as it needed to be, but other parts were written or discovered together in the SoM's Performing Arts and Research Lab (PeARL). We did not present together at TSMT because of conflicts of schedule, but we did present together at MTSMA. Presenting together was comfortable because, like most people, I find safety in numbers, but it did require a slight reworking of the presentation. Along the way, we have continued to work on the project, refining the descriptions of the details, or including/excluding certain things. The next step is to create a manuscript that we can submit to music theory journals.”

Devin shares with us that attending the conferences were an “eye-opening” experience:

“This year's TSMT and MTSMA conferences were awesome experiences. Getting to learn about various methods and topics of research amongst our regional and extra-regional members and other graduate students across the nation is so humbling and inspiring. I often leave conferences with so many more research questions or ideas about my own research. Also, getting to network with some of the finest researchers in our discipline is so cool. Largely speaking, these folks, although they seem like untouchable heroes, are always so down to earth. After presenting my own research, I feel gratified. I/We received some difficult questions and some decent feedback from audience members. Overall, the research was well received, which reinvigorated my interest in this, somewhat older, topic of mine.”

Congratulations to Brad and Devin on their research and TTU School of Music students, alumni, and faculty on their contribution in Music Theory!

If you are curious on what is going on in Music Theory at TTU, the TTU Music Theory Forum would like to invite you all to their last event! “All are welcome to attend. No fees. No registration. Just good, honest, analytical fun!” Dr. David Forrest shares with us on what this event will feature:

“I want to personally invite you to our final Music Theory Forum for Spring 2023 which will feature a special guest speaker, Janice Dickensheets, Associate Professor of Music History at the University of Northern Colorado. Dr. Dickensheets' research includes the exploration of literary archetypes in nineteenth-century music using topic theory and narrative analysis, and the use of topic theory to uncover musical meaning in film. She will be discussing Howard Shore's scores to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies.”

Their final event for the Spring 2023 will be on Friday, April 14 from 1:30 – 2:30 PM in the School of Music, room M205. If you cannot attend in person, you may join on online through Zoom.