Miriam Piilonen, a doctoral candidate in music theory and cognition in the Bienen School of Music, has won a Society for Music Theory SMT-40 Dissertation Fellowship award. 

The annual award is intended to recognize and foster excellent research in music theory by helping highly qualified PhD students complete their dissertations. It is considered the most prestigious dissertation award in the field of music theory. Two awards were given in 2019.

Ellie M. Hisama, chair of the Society for Music Theory-40 Dissertation Fellowship Committee described Piilonen’s dissertation as “remarkable” and “a major contribution to our field.”

Piilonen’s dissertation is titled "Resonating Subjects: Music and Emotion in Victorian Evolutionary Thought." It offers a critical perspective on the convergence of music studies and evolutionary theory, with an emphasis on the music theories of Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer, and their 19th-century contemporaries. The project has been recognized by multiple competitive grants and fellowships, including a Franke Humanities Fellowship. 

Piilonen’s research and teaching engage a broad range of topics in Western music history and theory, from proverbial "classical" repertoires to contemporary Chicago music scenes. 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. 

Mark J. Butler, professor of music theory and cognition, serves as Piilonen’s advisor.


  • music theory and cognition
  • Mark Butler
  • students