A New Learned Society for Music Theory

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A developing movement of several years came to fruition on November 19, 1977, at Evanston, Illinois, with establishment of the Society for Music Theory. The new organization was established by formal action of approximately 150 music theorists participating in the Second National Conference on Music Theory, held in conjunction with the annual convention of the College Music Society.

CMS, through actions of its Executive Board during the past year, provided critical support at all stages of planning for the Conference of music theorists held under its auspices and in that way played a constructive role in the movement which eventuated in formation of the new organization.

The First National Conference on Music Theory had been held at Boston in the Fall of 1975, under the aegis of the American Society of University Composers; out of that event, which included much discussion of the prospects for a formal professional organization, a steering committee, under the chairmanship of Richmond Browne (Professor of Music Theory, University of Michigan), was formed and charged with the task of planning continued national activity. Its work culminated in sessions held in November, 1976, in conjunction with the national conventions of CMS and the American Musicological Society, held at Washington, D.C.

At Washington, leading theorists (Allen Forte of Yale University, Carl Schachter of Queens, Vernon Kliewer of Indiana University, Peter Westergaard of Princeton, and Carlton Gamer of Colorado College), participating in a panel discussion under the moderation of Richmond Browne, discussed in formal papers the concerns, objectives, and methods of the discipline of music theory. On the following day, a meeting of music theorists, under the chairmanship of Wallace Berry (CMS Member-at-Large for Music Theory), had extensive further discussion of possibilities, problems, and potential advantages of formal organization. As a result of that meeting, Berry was asked to administer the formation of representative national committees to oversee the planning of a Second National Conference. The invitation of CMS to host that Conference was accepted with appreciation.

During the 1976-77 year, an Advisory Committee was formed as the result of extensive consultations with, and nominations from, various individuals and regional music theory organizations. Its members were: Elaine Barkin, University of California, Los Angeles; David Beach, Eastman School of Music; Bruce Benward, University of Wisconsin; J. Ovide DeLage, University of Montevallo; Allen Forte, Yale University; Carlton Gamer, Colorado College; James Harrison, Hunter College; Michael Horvit, University of Houston; Arthur Jannery, Radford College; Edward J. Largent, Youngstown State University; Leonard Meyer, University of Pennsylvania; Edward W. Murphy, University of Arizona; John Rahn, University of Washington; Lewis Rowell, University of Hawaii; Thomas S. Turner, University of Iowa; and Peter Westergaard, Princeton University. Concurrently, a Program Committee (Richmond Browne, University of Michigan; Donald Fisher, Northwestern University; Vernon Kliewer, Indiana University; and Gerald Warfield, University of Illinois, Chairman) was set up to plan a program for the Second Conference. The Program Committee received many proposals for papers and topics of panel discussion, and carried out its planning in consultation with members of the Advisory Committee. (Details of the program, published elsewhere, are not reiterated here.)

On the second day of the Evanston Conference (Friday, November 18), members of both committees met on two occasions to coordinate and bring into focus the thinking that had given rise to an increasing commitment to, and prospects for, formal organization of a music theory society. The committees' work of that day resulted in a set of formal motions presented for consideration of the business meeting of the conference, held on Saturday, November 19.

At the business meeting, chaired by Wallace Berry, Arthur Jannery, President of the Southeastern Composers' League, presented, in what he termed a "regional view," a call for a national organization that would be broadly representative. James Harrison, Chairman of the Department of Music at Hunter College, discussed certain problems of organization and presented to the conferees a set of prospective by-laws drafted by him at the request of the Advisory Committee for consideration at the Conference. Brief talks were given by James Haar, President of the American Musicological Society, who invited music theorists to meet jointly with AMS at Minneapolis in the fall of 1978, and who offered the assistance of his organization toward such a further national meeting of music theorists; Edwin London, Chairman of the National Council of ASCU, who offered the assistance of his organization in publishing the papers of the current Conference; and Robert Werner, President of CMS, who extended his organization's invitation to music theorists to organize themselves as a section of CMS, with the prospect of that organization's help in carrying out future conferences, and in publishing a discrete professional journal.

The remainder of the agenda for the business meeting was taken up with discussion of a series of formal motions offered by the 1976-77 Advisory Committee and Program Committee: that a society be established, with the present conferees constituting its founding membership; that the proposed by-laws be adopted, subject to review during the coming year; and that an Executive Board be elected to carry out further necessary planning. A ballot, consisting of nominations submitted by Advisory Committee members, had been drawn up for contingent use, to be augmented by nominations from the floor.

After considerable discussion, motions to establish the Society for Music Theory and to adopt the proposed by-laws were passed by very decisive majorities. Many nominations were offered to enhance the slate prepared in advance, with names to be voted on in a representative geographical distribution tentatively delineated to insure breadth of involvement. The election resulted in the following Executive Board for the new society: Elaine Barkin, University of California, Los Angeles; Wallace Berry, University of British Columbia; Richmond Browne, University of Michigan; Allen Forte, Yale University; Douglass Green, University of Texas; Arthur Jannery, Radford College; Leo Kraft, Queens College; Lewis Rowell, University of Hawaii; Mary Wennerstrom, Indiana University; and Peter Westergaard, Princeton University.

On Sunday, November 20, a quorum of six members of the Executive Board met to nominate a slate of officers, subject to balloting by the full Board, to set in motion the establishment of a program committee to plan meetings to be held jointly with AMS in 1978, and to lay out its own schedule of work. The Society for Music Theory is thus underway, its inception the result of deliberate planning over a number of years, its need keenly appreciated by music theorists and many of their professional colleagues in other disciplines, and its potential contributions unlimited, not only in fuller opportunities for professional discourse in music theory, but for sharpened identity and exposure in important, critical interactions with existing professional societies, with whom the new organization intends to have close and interdependent fraternal relations.

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Last modified on Monday, 12/11/2018

Wallace Berry, President of the Society for Music Theory during the period 1982-85, has taught at the Universities of Southern California, Michigan, and British Columbia. He is author of the books Form in Music and Structural Functions in Music, in addition to many theoretical papers published in major scholarly journals, and is currently at work on a book concerned with relations between musical structure and performance. Berry's music is published by Carl Fischer, Theodore Presser, and Southern Music Company, and recorded by CRI and Opus One. In 1978 he received an award from the American Academy-Institute of Arts and Letters in recognition of achievement in composition.

 
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