Peer Learning Program (PLP)

PLP Workshops

Peer Learning Program workshops are three-hour seminars led by prominent scholars. They provide the opportunity to learn—from the workshop leader as well as from peers—new perspectives on fundamental issues in music theory, and to apply that learning to research and teaching. The program is intended to encourage “thinking together,” in the spirit of the Mannes Institute founded by Wayne Alpern and organized by him during the years 2001–11. The topics range widely across music-theoretical research and teaching interests. Some reading and mental preparation are required, but not extensive written assignments, in consideration of the professional responsibilities of the participants. To encourage interaction, each workshop is limited to approximately 10–12 participants. Since its inception, a total of 44 participants have taken part in the PLP.

The 2015 workshops were offered on Thursday morning, October 29, prior to the start of the SMT annual meeting in St. Louis.


To apply for the 2016 workshop program, please complete the online application. Applications are due by 1 July 2016; selected participants will be notified shortly thereafter. Be aware that these workshops require many hours of preparation in advance, including both reading and writing assignments. You are not expected to be an expert in the subject matter of the workshop(s) for which you apply, but you should have a serious interest in it and a commitment to it. Please note that PLP workshops will take place the morning of Thursday November 3; by applying you are committing to arrive at the conference in time to participate in the workshop.


The workshops are open to all members of the Society who have completed a doctoral degree. Participants are not expected to be experts in the subject matter of the workshop, but should have a serious interest in and commitment to learning about it. They are selected by a random draw from the pool of eligible applicants. Prior PLP participants are permitted to apply, but preference will be given to first-time applicants.


There is no fee to participate in the program. Participants are responsible, however, for the cost of SMT membership and conference registration (but not at the time of application), as well as for other expenses of attendance, including transportation, housing, and meals.

2016 Workshops

Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis (University of Arkansas): Empirical Approaches to Musical Narrative

Listeners often experience music in terms of a narrative. A rich theoretical literature explores this tendency, yet until recently very little relevant empirical work existed. This workshop takes advantage of a large pool of data on narrative experiences of music that has been collected over the past two years. Workshop participants will read some of the most significant theoretical accounts, and then dive into this pool of data, which includes both quantitative and qualitative components. Pieces used in the studies, ranging from an orchestral work by Prokofiev to an instrumental by King Crimson, will serve as a locus for much of the conversation.

During the workshop, we’ll consider how theory shapes experimental design and how empirical results in turn might feed back into theories about musical narrative. Along the way, we’ll get a clearer picture of what narrative experiences of music are like and how they might arise. We’ll also have the opportunity to think about the relationship between theoretical and empirical approaches more generally. Workshop participants need not have any prior experience with empirical methodologies.

William Rothstein (The Graduate Center and Queens College, City University of New York): The Musical Language of Il trovatore

In a slap at twentieth-century elite opinion, both Igor Stravinsky (Poetics of Music) and Gabriele Baldini (The Story of Giuseppe Verdi) pronounced Il trovatore one of Verdi’s supreme achievements. The opera has also received a fair amount of analytical attention. In this workshop, we will discuss existing analyses of Il trovatore and attempt to advance understanding of its harmonic, rhythmic-metric, and formal language. Owing to the relative stability of Italian operatic practice from Waterloo to Italian unification, lessons learned from Il trovatore may be applied to many other operas of the period.

As scholars have noted, the opera’s harmonic shape depends on the partitioning of the twenty-four-key spectrum into discrete regions based on shared scalar content. Keys with three or more flats are associated with the Spanish aristocracy; neutral (C major/A minor) and one-sharp keys (G major/E minor) are associated with the gypsies; the title character, who belongs to both worlds, shuttles between them both physically and harmonically. Transformational harmonic perspectives, fixed-pitch references, and linear analysis will all be brought to bear. Greatest emphasis will be given to acts 1 and 4, but the opening number of act 2 and final number of act 3 will also be examined closely. Readings will be distributed in advance. We will use the Ricordi vocal score (available on IMSLP) because it divides the opera, as Verdi did, into fourteen numbers. David Lawton’s critical edition (University of Chicago Press) is also recommended.

Previous PLP Workshops

  • 2015: Analytical Tools and Approaches to Contemporary Tonal Music Leader:Daniel Harrison (Yale University); Problematics of World Music Analysis Leader: Michael Tenzer (University of British Columbia).
  • 2014: Writing about Hearing and Making Aggregate-Based Music Leader: Andrew Mead (Indiana University); Shostakovich's Twelfth String Quartet Leader: Patrick McCreless (Yale University).
  • 2013: Tonal Theory, Tonal Experience Leader: Steven Rings (University of Chicago)


For additional information, please contact Ian Quinn, Chair of the Committee on Workshop Programs, at The 2016 Committee on Workshop Programs also includes Zachary Bernstein (Eastman School of Music), Andrew Mead (Indiana University), and Marianne Wheeldon (University of Texas).

Workshop opportunities are also available for students.