First, can you tell us about your musical background?
Though I sang in a good choir and dabbled in musical theater in high school, I didn't begin studying music formally until my first year at Bowdoin. Music Theory 101. I took extra ear training classes in my first year to try to catch up.
Can you describe the research you did for your PhD at Royal Holloway?
My dissertation, "Music and Minde: Knowledge Building in Early Seventeenth Century English Domestic Vocal Music" (2016), is an interdisciplinary investigation into the role of music in the development of metaphysical thought in late-Elizabethan and early-Stuart music. It considers contemporary understanding of the mechanics of sense perception and the way music presented questions about the relationships between the mind, body, passions, and soul, drawing out examples of multi-voiced domestic music that explicitly address topics of human consciousness.
Basically, I argue for how music can contribute to our understanding of the ways contemporary awareness was shaped and structured. Drawing insights from musicology, the history of ideas, the history of science, and literary theory, my research elucidates the relationship between the texts and practice of domestic music making, linking this repertoire to the developing changes in approach to knowledge that mark the seventeenth century as one of the most pivotal eras in Western intellectual history.
What was your capstone project at Bowdoin? Did this project carry forward into your PhD research?
As I was too busy planning the Bowdoin Chamber Choir tour to California, I did not pursue an honors project at Bowdoin. I did, however, write an Advanced Independent Study with Mary Hunter on Thomas Weelkes's madrigal "Thule, the period of cosmographie" (1601). Not only does this piece play a central role in my PhD dissertation, I'm also in the process of publishing an article on the madrigal that includes themes first observed in my undergraduate work.
What are the most challenging aspects of a career in Musicology?
The most challenging aspects of a career in musicology are similar to the challenges of any academic career, though particularly others in the humanities. The hardest aspect of being an early-career academic, for me, has been its impact on my personal life. Multiple short-term contracts can have you and your family moving all over the country, often places you may not choose to live. I’m lucky to have an understanding and supportive partner, but unfortunately the nature of his career means he can’t move with me each time I get a new post, so it has involved protracted periods of long-distance marriage. Other challenges include the lack of job security, balancing family and work life, and maintaining access to healthcare in the US.
How did you decide on a Social & Historical Context concentration?
Until senior year, I was an English and history double major with a music minor. Given I didn’t start studying music formally until college, I found it an extremely challenging course of study. But by my final year I accepted that even though it wasn’t easy, it was where my true academic interests resided. In the end, I double majored in Music and History and took English as a minor.
Who was one professor in the Music Department who really inspired you or had a big impact on your time here?
Interestingly, the person who had the most lasting impact on my academic career was a professor that was already Emeritus by time I started at Bowdoin, Elliott Schwartz. I never took any classes from him, but we premiered a series of his compositions in the Bowdoin Chamber Choir and I got to know him through that process. When I decided to apply for grad school, he went way out of his way to support me - he read my work and gave me feedback, wrote letters of recommendation, and listened patiently when I was having insecurities and needed an ear. Elliott was one of the most generous educators I’ve ever met.
Can you describe a highlight from your time in the Bowdoin Music Department?
My first year, I sang in the Bowdoin Chorus with Tony Antolini and we went on a once-in-a-lifetime choir tour to Siberia. Back in those days, the Bowdoin Chorus was essentially a community ensemble that involved a wide-range of people. In some of the places we sang in Siberia, it seemed the whole town took a day off work to come hear this little (but mighty!) chorus from Maine.
What other aspects of the Music Department or the Bowdoin music scene were you involved in?
Though I sang in the Bowdoin Chorus and Bowdoin Chamber Choir, 90% of my energy as an undergraduate went towards my a cappella group, Ursus Verses, which was started by singers in my year. I was business manager for about 2.5 years which involved raising money, planning visiting groups and tours, producing our first CD, Reverse the Urse, and many, many hours of vocal arranging hits from the early 00s (with occasionally dubious voice leading).
Were there other academic departments at Bowdoin that you participated in to further your research?
My current research strongly reflects my undergraduate study at Bowdoin as a music/history double major with an English minor. For example, I often turn to early modern fiction, such as the plays of Shakespeare or Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, to historicize contemporary English music in its cultural and intellectual framework. This type of work most certainly draws on my training in three departments at Bowdoin. I distinctly remember a professor in one of my PhD interviews commenting that my undergrad background was particularly apt for the project I proposed.
What advice would you give a student who is considering a Social & Historical Context concentration?
If you want to major in music, go for it. In my experience, the major does not restrict you to a career in music. Any of the liberal arts humanities subjects teach you critical thinking and effective communication, which are probably the most important and transferable skills learned in college. Though I’ve ended up in musicology, I’ve also been successfully hired for jobs at start-up companies, in events management, arts administration, teaching, and other fields. Moreover, I’ve found my extra-curricular achievements from undergrad, such as planning tours and leadership roles, more relevant to my ‘adult’ CV than I ever imagined at the time.