John Barlow Roeder

Prospective Graduate Students / Postdocs

This faculty member is currently not looking for graduate students or Postdoctoral Fellows. Please do not contact the faculty member with any such requests.


Research Classification

Research Interests

rhythm and meter
transformation theory
analysis of post-tonal music
world music analysis

Relevant Degree Programs

Research Options

I am interested in and conduct interdisciplinary research.

Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Hearing timbre-harmony in spectral music (2019)

No abstract available.

Formation and Process in Repetitive Post-Tonal Music (2018)

No abstract available.

"The Times They Are A-Changin'": Flexible Meter and Text Expression in 1960s and 70s Singer-Songwriter Music (2016)

The 1960s and 70s saw the flowering of the singer-songwriter style, which featured acoustic performances by artists who were the composers and lyricists of their own music. Reflecting their culture, their songs carried messages of personal and political significance. But their music is of technical as well as of social interest. Like classical art song, it often highlights lyrical meaning with various sorts of metric irregularities. In this dissertation, I closely analyze twenty-seven songs by Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Joni Mitchell, and Cat Stevens, in order to characterize the metric style of their songwriting and demonstrate their use of meter as an expressive device. To describe meter in this music requires theories more flexible than those usually applied to groove-based music. The analyses in this dissertation draw not only from theories of meter as a hierarchy of beat streams, but also upon theories of metrical process and prosody, in order to create transcriptions, to describe precisely listeners' sensations of meter, and to propose expressive rationales for metric settings. As an introduction to the style and the theoretical issues, Chapter 1 considers the problems of conceiving of meter in the expressively timed context of Mitchell’s “The Fiddle and the Drum.” Chapter 2 examines the existing methods for analyzing meter in music and poetry, in order to find some productive ways to analyze this metrically fluctuant repertoire. Chapter 3 considers transcription as analysis, showing that one's conception of meter informs and constrains musical representation, and therefore interpretations of lyrical meaning. In Chapter 4, I position 1960s and 70s songwriting in its cultural and political environment, reviewing some stylistic precedents to understand their influence, and determine its original metrical techniques. In the remaining analytical chapters, I examine meter-text expression in songs by Simon, Sainte-Marie, and Stevens (Chapter 5), the expression of character and lyrical personae in the narratives of three solo-piano-accompanied songs by Mitchell (Chapter 6), and how Dylan adapted text-expressive metric techniques of earlier genres in a variety of original ways (Chapter 7).

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African and Western Aspects of Ballanta's Opera "Afiwa" (2016)

Nicholas George Julius Ballanta (1893-1962) was a Sierra Leonean composer, ethnomusicologist and scholar. Trained in Western art and church music both in his home country and in the United States, he also conducted many years’ research into tribal music in Africa, and indeed was a pioneer in the study of West African music. His most complete opera is “Afiwa,” which sets the story of a girl who stands up to her father, the king of the Anlo Ewe tribe in Ghana, for atrocities he had committed at her birth. This study identifies what is uniquely African yet also Western about Ballanta’s “Afiwa”. In chapter 1, an introduction to the work is presented, including Ballanta’s biography. In Chapter 2, I determine what Ballanta believed to be characteristic of the African music he studied by examining his writings about rhythm, melody, form, texture and harmony. In Chapter 3, I cite numerous passages from “Afiwa” where these characteristics are found. My conclusion is that Ballanta combined both African and Western musical aspects in this opera. Chapter 4 goes beyond the music to explain, referencing the 2010 Cottey College production, aspects of the libretto, plot and staging that will help any future producers to understand the opera better so as to provide as authentic a production as possible.

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Canadian Clarinet Music as Multicultural Action (2016)

Despite the wealth of Canadian clarinet repertoire, most of the existing studies focus only on pedagogy for student performers. Its significance and merit can better be understood, however, by considering its cultural context, especially through the perspective of Canadian identity. Canada’s social framework directly impacts its musical output and reflects Canada’s core values, especially multiculturalism, which became government policy in 1971. Using multiculturalism as a focal point for examining Canadian clarinet repertoire, this study explores the ways in which music performance is a multicultural action rather than simply stating the fact of social pluralism. From a list of Canadian clarinet works reflecting multiculturalism, selected works have been chosen for detailed study. Empty Sky by Elliot Weisgarber, Sitpatsimoyi by Robert Rosen, Anerca II by Milton Barnes, and Between the Shore and the Ships by Derek Charke are four Canadian works which use the clarinet as a solo instrument and reflect the ethnocultural groups the Canadian Multiculturalism Act accommodates: immigrants, First Nations, and French-speaking people. Selected works are examined from contextual and musical perspectives for representations of ethnocultural identity. Likewise, performance decisions are discussed revealing how performance is a multicultural gesture requiring musical, contextual, and social analysis. The evaluation of these factors are consolidated into performance which musically illustrates an understanding and sensitivity to ethnocultural accommodation and comments on social issues making each performance a multicultural action.

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Kurtag's Jatekok as lessons in musical expression (2016)

Teaching students to play the piano with more expression is one of the fundamental goals of piano pedagogy. The purpose of this study is to show how to help students develop careful and thoughtful articulation and interpretation, to gain experience performing contemporary piano works, as well as to improve their expression in the Classical and Romantic repertoire by having them learn selected pieces from Kurtág’s Játékok. Chapter 1 summarizes how musical “expression” has been defined by a number of philosophers, theorists, musicologists, and performers; it finds general agreement that four aspects of piano playing are especially important: tempo and flexible rhythm, dynamics, articulation, and sonority. Through analysis and discussion of many short pieces from Játékok Volume I – III, V – VII (Volumes IV and VIII are for piano duet and two pianos), Chapter 2 discusses how students can practice these aspects, learn a new music language through Kurtág’s notation, open their minds to accept new sound, and gain a complete knowledge of the music’s elaborate dynamic and expressive markings. The final chapter provides and discusses a progressive lesson plan, focusing on the major components that are demonstrated in Chapter 2. Kurtág’s Játékok is an excellent model for teaching, and it should be recognized and used as an important contribution to contemporary piano pedagogy.

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Referential Sets, Referential Tonics, and the Analysis of Contemporary Jazz (2012)

While jazz has become more integrated into academia, the repertoire that is commonly examined is out of date. Today's leading jazz scholars tend to focus on a handful of musicians who made their mark in the '50s and '60s. But jazz writing has continued to evolve in the last fifty years, particularly in regards to harmony. Though many rooted chords—including MM7, mm7, and Mm7—can be heard in succession, the relationships between adjacent chords are obscure, and rarely manifest the standard II–V–I progression found in classic jazz. Often, successive chords belong to different diatonic sets. Some composers have eliminated chord symbols from their lead sheets altogether, leaving harmonic interpretation and relationships even more open-ended.Since the inception of modal jazz in the late '50s, priority has been given to groups of notes and the ways that they can interact, as opposed to specific chords, keys, and function. This presents a challenge not only for harmonic analysis but also for improvising on these changes in performance. Nevertheless, pitch-class organization can often be heard to promote a hierarchical ranking amongst the chords, resulting in strong points of reference.This dissertation develops and applies a theory of referential sets, for analyzing and improvising over representative examples of chromatic chord successions found in some contemporary jazz. By treating pitch-classes outside the collection as alterations, this theory provides a way to hear successions of seemingly unrelated chords as derived from such collections, which are in turn supported by global referential tonics. This is analogous to traditional, hierarchical ways of hearing secondary dominants and other chromaticism, but with different restrictions on the types of alterations allowed. It therefore describes more variegated progressions, and also allows referential sets to be different and larger than diatonic sets, while still providing the traditional benefits of harmonic analysis, such as the identification of continuities, recurring patterns of root successions, cadences, and other formal processes and relations that remain paramount in much of today's jazz writing.

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Meter as Process in Groove-based Popular Music (2011)

The various genres of North American popular music developed since the 1950s are distinctive for their use of short repeating accompanimental patterns called grooves. Such groove-based popular music often includes many distinctive metrical features that cannot be reflected in standard hierarchical representations of metric structure, such as polyphonic textures, anacrusis, and syncopation. As a result, one crucial aspect of an important modern musical practice has been analytically underappreciated.The processual theory of meter developed by Christopher Hasty offers an alternative analytical framework that, by characterizing meter in terms of particular and constantly changing durations unfolding in time, has the potential to illuminate the important metric features of grooves in a range of popular music genres. By using and further developing such a comprehensive metrical model, popular music scholars can move beyond an existing vernacular that is often inadequate for in-depth musical discussion, and connect analytical observations to an in-time, felt experience, whether in dancing, listening, or performance contexts.In order to fully explore the benefits of this approach to meter in groove-based popular music, this dissertation analyzes a diverse sample of the repertoire from several perspectives. After a general introduction and establishment of the methodological approach, Chapters 3 and 4 detail metric aspects of specific genres of popular music (disco and Motown), while Chapter 5 focuses on a specific technique of groove composition, the buildup, that occurs in a wide range of musical genres. Chapter 6 incorporates the information gained in the preceding chapters into an analysis of a modern groove composition by Janelle Monáe. Throughout, particular metric features of the groove mentioned above are described and theorized in detail, as is the definition of the groove itself. Metric theory is also augmented with deeper consideration of the interplay of repetition and forward drive; listener shifts in attention among durations of different sizes (level shift); and the role of timbre and production techniques in metric interpretations.

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Replicative Network Structure: Theoretical Definitions and Analytical Applications (2008)

No abstract available.

Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Augmented sixth chords in Tchaikovsky's orchestral music (2021)

No abstract available.

Motivic-harmonic implications in musical theater songs (2021)

No abstract available.

Musical borrowing and formal organization in Renaissance polyphonic mass cycles (2017)

No abstract available.

Theoretical Perspectives on Clave in Salsa Music (2016)

Salsa music incorporates clave—a five-onset rhythmic gesture that exists in Afro-Cuban and Latin American music—as a primary rhythmic “skeleton,” meaning that the music must “fit” within clave’s rhythmic, metric, and rhetorical principles. However, several salsa genres, such as mambo, do not feature the clave explicitly. Instead, the clave is translated into other musical elements, such as melody and accompanying figures. This thesis investigates the operation of clave in mambo songs that do not explicitly present it. It first examines the rhythmic fabric and metrical structure of short introductory musical examples, and considers ways that they do and do not correspond to the clave’s rhythmic and metric processes. It then applies the theoretical apparatus to sections of “La Malanga” by Rudy Calzado and Eddie Palmieri and “Bilongo” by Guillermo Rodríguez Fiffé and Tito Rodríguez. The investigation reveals how each of a song’s elements reflects the clave pattern either strictly or loosely, and if there is any ambiguity. It shows how changes in the conformance with clave can give large-scale shape and direction to the sectional form.

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Expressive Microtimings and Groove in Scottish Gaelic Fiddle Music (2015)

No abstract available.

At the Crossroads: The Interaction Between Speech and Musical Rhythm in Spoken-Word Song (2013)

In this study I will analyze the spoken-word song, “Crossroads,” by singer-songwriter Tom Waits. “Crossroads” combines natural speech and metrical music, which highlights the rhythmic similarities and differences between speech and music. My analysis combines analytical tools developed in linguistics and music that can examine the rhythmic sensations created through spoken word. Christopher Hasty’s theory of metric projection represents the rhythmic structure of the musical accompaniment, and Bruce Hayes’s theory of metrical stress represents the rhythmic structure of Waits’s speech. The combination of the two theories explores how the presence of natural speech changes my sensation of the musical accompaniment, and vice versa. In my analysis of “Crossroads,” I propose that combination of speech and metrical music can generate a unique sensation of rhythm and structure akin to an optical illusion. This approach offers one possible way that the analysis of spoken word can prioritize its performance aspects to the same degree as the artists who use the form.

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Olivier Messiaen's permutations symetriques in theory and practice (2013)

This study begins by looking at the three compositional techniques that exemplify what Olivier Messiaen called the “charm of impossibility.” Messiaen sought this aesthetic desideratum by way of techniques that in some way impose a limit on the generation of new musical material, while also implying some kind of symmetric structure. In the first chapter, using precise, formal language, I describe each technique as the application of a particular function to the elements of a particular domain. This approach exposes the similarities (as well as certain differences) between these techniques. My explanation of the more well-known techniques—modes of limited transposition, and non-retrogradable rhythms—is somewhat atypical, in that I define them in terms of functions, objects, and cycles/orbits; but this approach is purposeful, because it fosters a clearer understanding of the often misunderstood permutations symétriques.The second chapter focuses exclusively on symmetric permutations (SPs), surveying some existing explanations of SPs before considering the ways that their applications manifest symmetry. Further, it goes into considerable mathematical detail in order to relate Messiaen’s SP orbits (consisting of m different orderings of n elements) to the larger context of the symmetric group Sn.The third and final chapter turns to real musical examples, starting with serial procedures that are precursors to the SP technique proper, and then examining ways in which Messiaen used SP to manipulate pitch-class and/or rhythmic series in his compositions between 1950 and 1992. Finally, the conclusion outlines what it is that a rigorous theoretical approach to Messiaen’s music might contribute to the existing Messiaen literature—namely, that successful analysis of this kind can better inform some of the more speculative, philosophical lines of inquiry into Messiaen’s music, which often allude to the mathematical nature of his techniques.

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Reinventing the time of the past: rhythmic voicing and metrical allusion in the music of George Benjamin and Thomas Ades (2010)

This study proposes a method for analyzing rhythm in relation to conventional meter. The concept of rhythmic voicing informs a basic analytical strategy that is flexible enough to represent different forms of rhythmic organization and to accommodate various theoretical perspectives. The theoretical perspective developed here employs cognitive schemata to construct a model of how listeners interpret rhythmic patterns in terms of conventional meter, even when the rhythms do not fully conform to the characteristics of this meter. Rhythms that invoke but deviate from meter are understood as metrical allusions according to the categories of simple allusion, disjunction, and distortion. Metaphorically applied image schemata further interpret the changes in metrical allusions during a piece, contributing to the comprehension of form and meaning. The method is applied in analyses of works by two contemporary British composers: Sudden Time and Three Inventions for Chamber Orchestra by George Benjamin, and Asyla and Piano Quintet by Thomas Adès.

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