Discourses in Music: Volume 3 Number 3 (Spring 2002)

Student Conference at University of Toronto

The MGSA held its second annual student conference on Saturday 13 April, 2002. Organizers Benita Wolters-Fredlund and Leanne Fetterley put together five sessions; topics ranged from seventeenth-century opera to soundscape composition, while formats included papers, a lecture-recital, and a round-table discussion. The conference provided an excellent forum for students to present either polished papers or works-in-progress to a comfortably student-dominated audience. Every presentation offered something unique and worthwhile, providing insights not only into the topics at hand but into the students themselves. As a whole, the day displayed an appealing slice of the musical scholarship among the university's graduate students.

Tim Neufeldt opened the day with his "Corydon or Colinet: Competing theories of pastoral in early eighteenth-century England." He brought the audience smoothly into the world of Ambrose Philips' and Alexander Pope's pastorals, quoting both from their works and from contemporary writings on the genre. Projected text and graphics further focused the talk, making the relatively unfamiliar subject matter not only accessible but engaging. Altogether, the audience received an enticing glimpse of this promising research.

Transplanting the audience into Venice was Sandy Thorburn, presenting "What's new on the Rialto?: How publicity created and destroyed commercial opera in seventeenth-century Venice." He offered a clear view of publicity materials, from the press to the less familiar scenarios and avvisi. An extensive handout, including definitions of terms and photocopies of relevant illustrations and documents, supplemented the talk. Though he ably clarified everything that needed clarification, it might have been simpler to include all necessary points in the body of the paper. However, it was a well-researched and colourfully delivered presentation.

As a student in Drama, Alan Scheer brought a different perspective to his research into Peter Eotvos's operatic adaptation of Chekhov's The Three Sisters. As one audience member pointed out in the subsequent discussion, the talk would have been stronger had Alan not apologized for his perceived lack of knowledge about music. The opera, when compared directly with Chekhov's play, presents some puzzles that could either intrigue or confound its listeners - or perhaps both. Yet Alan presented a strong reading of Chekhov as a sound-conscious, even operatic playwright, and offered a valuable introduction to a little-studied composer.

The session after lunch opened with a panel discussion on "Canon busting in academia," beginning with contributions from Alex Carpenter, Jessica Agrell-Smith, and Margaret Walker. Though the panellists seemed self-conscious about the lack of time they had had to prepare, each clearly articulated a particular slant on the complex issues surrounding academic canons. The lively discussion that followed, moderated by Leanne Fetterley, attested to the many strong opinions on the issue. A broad topic, yes, but one that needs to be debated.

Drew Stephen presented the one lecture-recital of the day, and the one talk to transcend several historical periods. In his discussion of the hunting horn and its music, he demonstrated a fluid knowledge of the history of the hunt itself, of the hunting horn family and its repertoire, and of the traces of that music in compositions by Bach, Leopold Mozart, and Brahms. Both recorded and live musical examples, as well as a handout and projected graphics, enhanced the presentation.

David Ogborn brought us firmly into the twentieth-century urban environment with his discussion of Hildegard Westerkamp's soundscape composition A Walk Through the City. He presented a pastiche of quotations from several writers and thinkers, from Adorno to Cage to Rochberg; he also freely offered his own opinions about what worked - or didn't - in the piece. While playing the full recording of the piece, he projected fragments of text - different observations, reflections, or pertinent quotes - thus letting the audio and the visible text take the place of the spoken word.

Finally, Lowell Lybarger offered a dynamic musical world tour. His "World-beat implosion: The international Kaherva Tal tabla solo of Ustad Tari" showed the extent to which globalization has affected musical culture. Blending cultural contexts, insightful observations, and musical examples recorded at a live concert, Lowell brought his audience through Ustad Tari Khan's virtuosic tabla imitations of music from widely-spaced parts of the globe. It was a welcome energy boost at the end of a full day.

-Dana Astmann