The music theory and cognition program at Northwestern is unique among music-research institutions in the way in which it treats the study of musical structure as a fundamentally interdisciplinary pursuit.

Northwestern has long been a world leader in connecting music theory and cognition, and its internationally known faculty bring historical, cultural, anthropological, and psychological vantage points to bear on the study of musical structure in relation to listening, composition, performance, and analysis. It shares with the musicology program a humanistic view of music shaped by culture. The added resources of Northwestern's many distinguished programs in related disciplines create unique opportunities for research.

The graduate student support provided to PhD students includes year-round tuition and stipend and fully subsidized health insurance.

Music Theory and Cognition Faculty

Richard Ashley

Associate Professor, Music Theory and Cognition

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Mark J. Butler

Professor, Music Theory and Cognition

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Vasili Byros

Associate Professor, Music Theory and Cognition

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Danuta Mirka

Professor, Music Theory and Cognition

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Susan Piagentini

Senior Lecturer, Music Theory and Cognition

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Robert Reinhart

Lecturer, Music Theory and Cognition

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About the Music Theory and Cognition Program

At both the undergraduate and graduate levels, students receive first-class training and experience in the ever expanding and diversifying discipline of music theory.

Our faculty are leaders in evolving sub-disciplines such as systematic music theory, popular music studies, historical music theory, and situated cognition. Northwestern students have the further advantage of studying with renowned scholars in the interdisciplinary field of cognitive science, both within and outside the Bienen School of Music.

Undergraduate students develop facility in traditional areas such as counterpoint, harmony, ear-training, melody, rhythm, and form, while also studying music history and culture. The undergraduate programs of study address questions involving musical construction, listener response, the features of musical style, and the basis for common metaphors used in describing music. They offer excellent preparation for continued graduate study in music research—be it in theory, musicology, or cognition—or for careers in other sectors where a solid foundation in music will be useful.

Graduate students are encouraged to pursue research in areas among the faculty's expertise. These include topics such as the following:

  • Schema theory, categorization, and style

  • Music and memory

  • Tonality

  • Rhythm and meter

  • Eighteenth-century music

  • Popular music

  • Musical design in relation to gender and sexuality

  • Technologically mediated performance; expressive performance

  • Music and communication

  • Historically informed theory and cognition

Beyond these specializations, the faculty may supervise a broad range of topics, from traditional areas of music theory such as Formenlehre and the history of music theory to specialized topics in the cognitive sciences, including music and neuroscience.

Music Theory and Cognition PhD Students

4th year PhD

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Anjni Amin

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4th year PhD

anjniamin2014@u.northwestern.edu

Anjni Amin was born and raised in New York. She received her undergraduate degree in music education from The College of Saint Rose and master’s degree in music theory from Northwestern University. Prior to her doctoral study, Anjni taught K-12 general and instrumental music. Her primary research interests include expressive performance skill acquisition and development, music and emotion, and musical meaning. She has presented on such research at the International Conference on Analytical Approaches to World Music and the International Conference for Music Cognition and Perception. Her secondary interests lie in world music pedagogy and ethnomusicology; specifically, she is interested in bringing the folk music of North India to the Western music classroom. Her work in this area has been presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology and will be contributed to the forthcoming Routledge Companion to Music Theory Pedagogy.

1st year PhD

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Lena Console

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1st year PhD

LenaConsole2023@u.northwestern.edu

A native of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Lena Console holds two bachelor’s degrees from Indiana University Jacobs School of Music: a Bachelor of Music in Trumpet Performance and a Bachelor of Science in Music Theory & Philosophy. After a lifetime in the Midwest, Lena spent four years working and performing in Seattle, Washington. There she worked as a research coordinator for the University of Washington Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, researching impacts of group music-making on children’s empathy and pro-social behavior; and as a teaching artist for various organizations, including the Seattle Symphony where she piloted a community composition residency program with adults who are facing homelessness. As a trumpet performer, her experiences range from historical performance to modern jazz and rock covers. Lena’s current research interests focus on the intersections between aesthetic perception and mindfulness, exploring cognitive components such as attention, memory, and expectation. Also passionate about community engagement, Lena hopes to develop her academic research to create accessible programs for those outside of academia. 

3rd Year PhD

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Sean Curtice

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3rd Year PhD

seancurtice2016@u.northwestern.edu

Sean Curtice is from San Diego, California. He received his Bachelor of Arts in music and English at Wesleyan University, where his honors thesis included the composition of a piano concerto in the style of Mozart. He holds a Master of Arts in Composition and Music Theory from the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel, Switzerland, where he studied under Felix Diergarten and Johannes Menke. His master's thesis was a complete edition of the partimenti of Luigi Cherubini and a study of the Neapolitan-inspired teaching methods developed at the Paris Conservatory under Cherubini's directorship. He is also co-editor of a new German-English edition of Hans Peter Weber's Generalbass-Compendium, used for decades in ear-training classes at the Schola and other German-language conservatories. Sean's musical interests include period composition and historical music theory, particularly thoroughbass practice of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

4th year PhD

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Sarah Gates

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4th year PhD

sarahgates2015@u.northwestern.edu

Sarah Gates is from Kitchener-Waterloo, Canada. She holds an Honours Bachelor of Music in saxophone performance and contemporary composition from Wilfrid Laurier University (Gold Medal Recipient), as well as a Master of Music in saxophone performance from the University of Toronto. Most recently, she completed a Master of Arts in Music Theory at McGill University where she studied under Stephen McAdams and Robert Hasegawa. Her thesis project, which was awarded the Joseph Armand Bombardier Award (CGS-M) by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, investigated perceptual interactions of pitch and timbre by exploring the effect of timbre change on musicians’ ability to verbally identify melodic intervals. She has presented her work at several national and international conferences in both music theory and cognition, including the International Conference on Music and Emotion (2015), the International Conference for Music Cognition and Perception (2016, 2018), and the Society for Music Theory annual meeting (2017, 2018). Her primary research interests include auditory imagery, tonality, spatial cognition, and aural skills acquisition, as well as multimodal interaction in film and video game music. Her current doctoral studies at Northwestern University are supported by a doctoral fellowship awarded through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. 

Anjni Amin

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4th year PhD

anjniamin2014@u.northwestern.edu

Anjni Amin was born and raised in New York. She received her undergraduate degree in music education from The College of Saint Rose and master’s degree in music theory from Northwestern University. Prior to her doctoral study, Anjni taught K-12 general and instrumental music. Her primary research interests include expressive performance skill acquisition and development, music and emotion, and musical meaning. She has presented on such research at the International Conference on Analytical Approaches to World Music and the International Conference for Music Cognition and Perception. Her secondary interests lie in world music pedagogy and ethnomusicology; specifically, she is interested in bringing the folk music of North India to the Western music classroom. Her work in this area has been presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology and will be contributed to the forthcoming Routledge Companion to Music Theory Pedagogy.

Lena Console

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1st year PhD

LenaConsole2023@u.northwestern.edu

A native of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Lena Console holds two bachelor’s degrees from Indiana University Jacobs School of Music: a Bachelor of Music in Trumpet Performance and a Bachelor of Science in Music Theory & Philosophy. After a lifetime in the Midwest, Lena spent four years working and performing in Seattle, Washington. There she worked as a research coordinator for the University of Washington Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, researching impacts of group music-making on children’s empathy and pro-social behavior; and as a teaching artist for various organizations, including the Seattle Symphony where she piloted a community composition residency program with adults who are facing homelessness. As a trumpet performer, her experiences range from historical performance to modern jazz and rock covers. Lena’s current research interests focus on the intersections between aesthetic perception and mindfulness, exploring cognitive components such as attention, memory, and expectation. Also passionate about community engagement, Lena hopes to develop her academic research to create accessible programs for those outside of academia. 

Sean Curtice

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3rd Year PhD

seancurtice2016@u.northwestern.edu

Sean Curtice is from San Diego, California. He received his Bachelor of Arts in music and English at Wesleyan University, where his honors thesis included the composition of a piano concerto in the style of Mozart. He holds a Master of Arts in Composition and Music Theory from the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel, Switzerland, where he studied under Felix Diergarten and Johannes Menke. His master's thesis was a complete edition of the partimenti of Luigi Cherubini and a study of the Neapolitan-inspired teaching methods developed at the Paris Conservatory under Cherubini's directorship. He is also co-editor of a new German-English edition of Hans Peter Weber's Generalbass-Compendium, used for decades in ear-training classes at the Schola and other German-language conservatories. Sean's musical interests include period composition and historical music theory, particularly thoroughbass practice of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Sarah Gates

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4th year PhD

sarahgates2015@u.northwestern.edu

Sarah Gates is from Kitchener-Waterloo, Canada. She holds an Honours Bachelor of Music in saxophone performance and contemporary composition from Wilfrid Laurier University (Gold Medal Recipient), as well as a Master of Music in saxophone performance from the University of Toronto. Most recently, she completed a Master of Arts in Music Theory at McGill University where she studied under Stephen McAdams and Robert Hasegawa. Her thesis project, which was awarded the Joseph Armand Bombardier Award (CGS-M) by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, investigated perceptual interactions of pitch and timbre by exploring the effect of timbre change on musicians’ ability to verbally identify melodic intervals. She has presented her work at several national and international conferences in both music theory and cognition, including the International Conference on Music and Emotion (2015), the International Conference for Music Cognition and Perception (2016, 2018), and the Society for Music Theory annual meeting (2017, 2018). Her primary research interests include auditory imagery, tonality, spatial cognition, and aural skills acquisition, as well as multimodal interaction in film and video game music. Her current doctoral studies at Northwestern University are supported by a doctoral fellowship awarded through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. 

2nd year PhD

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Stefan Greenfield-Casas

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2nd year PhD

StefanGreenfield-Casas2022@u.northwestern.edu

Though technically born across the pond, Stefan Greenfield-Casas was raised in the Phlegethonian summers of Texas. He previously attended the University of Texas at San Antonio as a McKinney Scholar (BMus in horn performance summa cum laude and with the Highest Honors distinction from the Honors College), and The University of Texas at Austin as a South Texas and Kennan Fellow (MM in music theory). Stefan’s commitment to multi- and interdisciplinary research positions his work such that it lies at the intersection(s) of theoretical, analytical, historical, and cultural musicologies, with research interests that include ludomusicology, critical theory, and the relationship between music, myth, and (pop/mass/trans-)media epics. He has presented original research on a range of topics (from Ezra Pound’s use of Clément Janequin’s Le Chant des oiseaux in Canto LXXV, to the Pokémon franchise and the Transmediagesamtkunstwerk) at various conferences, including meetings of the Texas Society for Music Theory, Music and the Moving Image, and the North American Conference on Video Game Music. At Northwestern Stefan is involved with both the Critical Theory Cluster and the graduate Creative Writing Club.

3rd year PhD

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Fred Hosken

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3rd year PhD

fredhosken@u.northwestern.edu

Fred Hosken’s current research investigates what makes music groove and what gives particular performers their specific “feel.” His focus on the cognition of groove is coupled to theories of rhythm, meter, and the beat, as well as computational methods of performance analysis. He has published work on the subjective, human experience of groove in Psychology of Music, work that evolved out of his master’s thesis from Oxford University. Prior to moving 3,935 miles from his London home, Fred spent a few years teaching music in English schools and performing saxophone with swing and soul groups in venues as diverse as historic London dance halls, the Montreux Jazz Festival, and an Italian castle.

PhD Candidate

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Stephen Hudson

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PhD Candidate

stephenhudson2018@u.northwestern.edu

Stephen Hudson was born and raised in California, where he graduated with a double major in mathematics and cello performance from the University of California, Davis. Stephen’s main areas of study are heavy metal and 18th-century music, and he is an avid baroque cellist, performing exclusively on period-appropriate instruments. At Northwestern, in addition to his music studies he is a Graduate Writing Fellow, mentoring graduate students from across the sciences and humanities in all kinds of writing projects, exploring writing collaboratively through Interdisciplinary Writing Groups, and giving workshops across campus. Stephen’s research draws together concepts from performance studies and cognitive science to understand the roles our corporeal movements and embodied social roles play in producing musical knowledge. His dissertation is a new theory of metrical structure based in felt and overt motion rather than periodicity, importing “construction grammar” concepts from cognitive linguistics to analyze metering constructions, ways of fitting one’s own body to a heard rhythm that can be learned and culturally transferred. Other projects focus on the role of social positioning in genre classification and topical signification, and the intertwining of corporeal impact with metaphorical aspects in experiences of “heaviness” in heavy metal. In addition to presenting regularly at popular music and music theory conferences (including SMT and IASPM-US this past year, and AMS/SMT 2018 this November!) Visit Stephen's personal research blog.

3rd year PhD

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Aubrey Leaman

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3rd year PhD

aubreyleaman2021@u.northwestern.edu

Aubrey Leaman holds a Bachelor of Music degree in piano performance with honors distinction from the University of South Carolina. Her research focuses on the role of empathy in musical enjoyment and listening, with the goal of enabling classical (and especially contemporary classical) music to become more accessible and enjoyable for listeners who are not classically trained. She also seeks to connect listeners to a broader range of musical genres in general, while considering how this may contribute to "real-world" pro-social effects. In the past she has explored musical enjoyment through narrative research, including the creation of a narrative mapping strategy for in-time listening to classical music as well as a silent film based on the fairy tale "Little Red Riding Hood," which she coupled with a Haydn piano sonata and performed live at her senior piano recital. Her current research interests also include the role of personality in musical preference, creative multimedia programming, and the use of music in everyday life.

Stefan Greenfield-Casas

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2nd year PhD

StefanGreenfield-Casas2022@u.northwestern.edu

Though technically born across the pond, Stefan Greenfield-Casas was raised in the Phlegethonian summers of Texas. He previously attended the University of Texas at San Antonio as a McKinney Scholar (BMus in horn performance summa cum laude and with the Highest Honors distinction from the Honors College), and The University of Texas at Austin as a South Texas and Kennan Fellow (MM in music theory). Stefan’s commitment to multi- and interdisciplinary research positions his work such that it lies at the intersection(s) of theoretical, analytical, historical, and cultural musicologies, with research interests that include ludomusicology, critical theory, and the relationship between music, myth, and (pop/mass/trans-)media epics. He has presented original research on a range of topics (from Ezra Pound’s use of Clément Janequin’s Le Chant des oiseaux in Canto LXXV, to the Pokémon franchise and the Transmediagesamtkunstwerk) at various conferences, including meetings of the Texas Society for Music Theory, Music and the Moving Image, and the North American Conference on Video Game Music. At Northwestern Stefan is involved with both the Critical Theory Cluster and the graduate Creative Writing Club.

Fred Hosken

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3rd year PhD

fredhosken@u.northwestern.edu

Fred Hosken’s current research investigates what makes music groove and what gives particular performers their specific “feel.” His focus on the cognition of groove is coupled to theories of rhythm, meter, and the beat, as well as computational methods of performance analysis. He has published work on the subjective, human experience of groove in Psychology of Music, work that evolved out of his master’s thesis from Oxford University. Prior to moving 3,935 miles from his London home, Fred spent a few years teaching music in English schools and performing saxophone with swing and soul groups in venues as diverse as historic London dance halls, the Montreux Jazz Festival, and an Italian castle.

Stephen Hudson

Close

PhD Candidate

stephenhudson2018@u.northwestern.edu

Stephen Hudson was born and raised in California, where he graduated with a double major in mathematics and cello performance from the University of California, Davis. Stephen’s main areas of study are heavy metal and 18th-century music, and he is an avid baroque cellist, performing exclusively on period-appropriate instruments. At Northwestern, in addition to his music studies he is a Graduate Writing Fellow, mentoring graduate students from across the sciences and humanities in all kinds of writing projects, exploring writing collaboratively through Interdisciplinary Writing Groups, and giving workshops across campus. Stephen’s research draws together concepts from performance studies and cognitive science to understand the roles our corporeal movements and embodied social roles play in producing musical knowledge. His dissertation is a new theory of metrical structure based in felt and overt motion rather than periodicity, importing “construction grammar” concepts from cognitive linguistics to analyze metering constructions, ways of fitting one’s own body to a heard rhythm that can be learned and culturally transferred. Other projects focus on the role of social positioning in genre classification and topical signification, and the intertwining of corporeal impact with metaphorical aspects in experiences of “heaviness” in heavy metal. In addition to presenting regularly at popular music and music theory conferences (including SMT and IASPM-US this past year, and AMS/SMT 2018 this November!) Visit Stephen's personal research blog.

Aubrey Leaman

Close

3rd year PhD

aubreyleaman2021@u.northwestern.edu

Aubrey Leaman holds a Bachelor of Music degree in piano performance with honors distinction from the University of South Carolina. Her research focuses on the role of empathy in musical enjoyment and listening, with the goal of enabling classical (and especially contemporary classical) music to become more accessible and enjoyable for listeners who are not classically trained. She also seeks to connect listeners to a broader range of musical genres in general, while considering how this may contribute to "real-world" pro-social effects. In the past she has explored musical enjoyment through narrative research, including the creation of a narrative mapping strategy for in-time listening to classical music as well as a silent film based on the fairy tale "Little Red Riding Hood," which she coupled with a Haydn piano sonata and performed live at her senior piano recital. Her current research interests also include the role of personality in musical preference, creative multimedia programming, and the use of music in everyday life.

1st year PhD

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Morgan Patrick

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1st year PhD

MorganPatrick2023@u.northwestern.edu

Morgan Patrick is a first year Ph.D. student from Westport, Connecticut. At Brown University he created an undergraduate degree in music cognition, graduating with an interdisciplinary honors thesis shared between the Departments of Music and Cognitive, Linguistic, & Psychological Sciences. There, his research focused on parallels between Western tonality and the cognition of visual narrative structure. Related research interests include music and analogy, chromaticism in the music of high fantasy cinema, and interactions between musical form and attention. Morgan is passionate about making music theory and music cognition accessible to wider audiences.

PhD Candidate

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Miriam Piilonen

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PhD Candidate

miriampiilonen2018@u.northwestern.edu

Miriam Piilonen’s award-winning research and teaching engage a broad range of topics in Western music history and theory, from proverbial "classical" repertoires to contemporary Chicago music scenes. Her dissertation offers a critical perspective on the convergence of music studies and evolutionary theory, with emphasis on the music theories of Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer, and their 19th-century contemporaries. This project is recognized by multiple competitive grants and fellowships, including a Franke Humanities Fellowship. Previously she earned a bachelor’s degree in composition from the New England Conservatory and a master’s degree in human development from Virginia Tech, where she conducted empirical research on human perception with the Carilion Research Institute’s fMRI lab. She has presented papers at national and international conferences, including the annual meetings of the Society for Music Theory, American Musicological Society, and American Comparative Literature Association. She currently serves as a Graduate Teaching Fellow at Northwestern and as a student representative on the executive board of Music Theory Midwest. Beyond her academic life, she coaches rock climbing and plays tenor sax with the Chicago-based femme punk band Pledge Drive.

PhD Candidate

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Olga Sanchez-Kisielewska

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PhD Candidate

osanchez@u.northwestern.edu

Olga comes from Madrid and is working with Vasili Byros and Robert Gjerdingen on a dissertation entitled "The Hymn as a Musical Topic in the Age of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven." She holds bachelor's degrees in clarinet performance (Real Conservatorio Superior de Música de Madrid) and economic science (Universidad Complutense), and master's degrees in musicology (Universidad de la Rioja) and music theory (Northwestern University). Her research gravitates around meaning and expression in music, embracing a variety of perspectives such as topic theory, schema theory, cognitive metaphor, corpus analysis, embodiment, and intertextuality. Her papers have received awards at the meetings of the Music Theory Society of the Mid-Atlantic, the Music Theory Society of New York State, and the Society for Eighteenth-Century Music. She has contributed with a chapter to the forthcoming volumes The Heroic in Music and Singing in Signs: New Semiotic Explorations of Opera. In the fall of 2017, Olga joined the faculty at the University of Chicago as a lecturer in Music Theory.

3rd Year PhD

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Cella Westray

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3rd Year PhD

cellawestray2021@u.northwestern.edu

Cella Westray is from Minneapolis, Minnesota. She graduated from Grinnell College in 2015 with a double major in Music and Biology, after which she completed a Postbaccalaureate teaching and research fellowship with the Grinnell Music Department. Her research interests include historically-informed composition and music theory. She is also interested in the cognitive processes involved in learning of musical schemata and in compositional creativity.

Morgan Patrick

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1st year PhD

MorganPatrick2023@u.northwestern.edu

Morgan Patrick is a first year Ph.D. student from Westport, Connecticut. At Brown University he created an undergraduate degree in music cognition, graduating with an interdisciplinary honors thesis shared between the Departments of Music and Cognitive, Linguistic, & Psychological Sciences. There, his research focused on parallels between Western tonality and the cognition of visual narrative structure. Related research interests include music and analogy, chromaticism in the music of high fantasy cinema, and interactions between musical form and attention. Morgan is passionate about making music theory and music cognition accessible to wider audiences.

Miriam Piilonen

Close

PhD Candidate

miriampiilonen2018@u.northwestern.edu

Miriam Piilonen’s award-winning research and teaching engage a broad range of topics in Western music history and theory, from proverbial "classical" repertoires to contemporary Chicago music scenes. Her dissertation offers a critical perspective on the convergence of music studies and evolutionary theory, with emphasis on the music theories of Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer, and their 19th-century contemporaries. This project is recognized by multiple competitive grants and fellowships, including a Franke Humanities Fellowship. Previously she earned a bachelor’s degree in composition from the New England Conservatory and a master’s degree in human development from Virginia Tech, where she conducted empirical research on human perception with the Carilion Research Institute’s fMRI lab. She has presented papers at national and international conferences, including the annual meetings of the Society for Music Theory, American Musicological Society, and American Comparative Literature Association. She currently serves as a Graduate Teaching Fellow at Northwestern and as a student representative on the executive board of Music Theory Midwest. Beyond her academic life, she coaches rock climbing and plays tenor sax with the Chicago-based femme punk band Pledge Drive.

Olga Sanchez-Kisielewska

Close

PhD Candidate

osanchez@u.northwestern.edu

Olga comes from Madrid and is working with Vasili Byros and Robert Gjerdingen on a dissertation entitled "The Hymn as a Musical Topic in the Age of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven." She holds bachelor's degrees in clarinet performance (Real Conservatorio Superior de Música de Madrid) and economic science (Universidad Complutense), and master's degrees in musicology (Universidad de la Rioja) and music theory (Northwestern University). Her research gravitates around meaning and expression in music, embracing a variety of perspectives such as topic theory, schema theory, cognitive metaphor, corpus analysis, embodiment, and intertextuality. Her papers have received awards at the meetings of the Music Theory Society of the Mid-Atlantic, the Music Theory Society of New York State, and the Society for Eighteenth-Century Music. She has contributed with a chapter to the forthcoming volumes The Heroic in Music and Singing in Signs: New Semiotic Explorations of Opera. In the fall of 2017, Olga joined the faculty at the University of Chicago as a lecturer in Music Theory.

Cella Westray

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3rd Year PhD

cellawestray2021@u.northwestern.edu

Cella Westray is from Minneapolis, Minnesota. She graduated from Grinnell College in 2015 with a double major in Music and Biology, after which she completed a Postbaccalaureate teaching and research fellowship with the Grinnell Music Department. Her research interests include historically-informed composition and music theory. She is also interested in the cognitive processes involved in learning of musical schemata and in compositional creativity.

I know what music theory is, but what is music cognition?

Music cognition is the research field that studies the mental processes underlying musical activities such as listening and comprehending, performing, and composing. Researchers in the field include music theorists, experimental psychologists, and neuroscientists, as well as ethnomusicologists, music educators, music therapists, and physicians.

FAQs

What would I study and learn in the program?

The PhD program is rooted in the discipline of music theory. Students receive thorough training in the analysis of musical structure, systematic and historical aspects of music theory, and psychological aspects of musical structure. Areas of research in the program deal with style analysis in historically informed ways, the intersection of theory and culture, expressive performance in music, the psychological nature of musical styles and structure, and the psychophysiology of musical experience.

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Should I apply for the Master's or the PhD?

Students whose ultimate goal is to pursue a PhD in music theory should apply directly to the PhD program. It is possible to apply directly to the PhD with a bachelor's degree; a master's degree is not required. Our MM degree functions more as a one-year course of study than an entry point in the PhD. The MM program is more appropriate for students who wish to explore or strengthen their knowledge of music theory before embarking on further graduate study.

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Why focus on the PhD and not the Master's?

While a Master's degree is a beneficial step towards a career in academia, our streamlined 5-year PhD program allows students to acquire the equivalent of a Master's degree in the process of obtaining their PhD.  It is beneficial to the student because it provides full funding for the entire 5-year course of study. In addition, the end degree has a higher likelihood of job placement for our exiting students. We admit up to two PhD students per year.

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What will I do with a PhD when I'm done?

Students with a PhD in Music Theory and Cognition will be qualified for a career as a professor in a college or university music department. Our program is not intended for students seeking positions in psychology or neuroscience departments. Within the field of music theory, more and more job descriptions are listing cognition as a desired area of research emphasis, and our graduates will be strong contenders thereby.

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What should I do to prepare?

You should have as strong an undergraduate background in music theory, music history, and music performance as possible. Courses in form, atonal analysis, and advanced harmonic analysis are advisable. A semester of statistics is helpful, as well as an introductory course in experimental methods. Our accepted students usually have a broad background, and many have publications or conference presentations on their record before admission.

It would be helpful to read journals such as the Journal of Music Theory, Music Theory Spectrum, and Music Perception, and to attend conferences such as the annual meeting of the Society for Music Theory. There is also burgeoning literature in music cognition that you can read as you prepare. If your interests are cognitive you should also join the Society for Music Perception and Cognition.

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How do I apply?

Application requirements include two transcripts, letters of reference, the general GRE, TOEFL (for international students), and writing samples.

MM applicants apply through the Bienen School of Music. PhD applicants apply online via The Graduate School at Northwestern; start by reading the PhD Application Process.

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