Michael Tenzer


Relevant Degree Programs


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - Nov 2019)
A pianist’s perspective on the Brazilian tango (2020)

For over a century the tango has been associated with the widely known musical, dance, and poetic traditions of Argentina and Uruguay. The genre, however, is not exclusive to the Argentine-Uruguayan tradition. Brazilian composers began writing tangos in the 1870s, which is approximately when the Argentine tango first started to take shape. Yet, while the genre known as Brazilian tango (Tango brasileiro in Portuguese) prospered during the first decades of the twentieth century, it lost its prominence by the 1930s. Despite this, many Brazilian musicians perform and record Brazilian tangos to this day. It has grown somewhat in popularity internationally over the past few decades, but the Brazilian tango still remains foreign to many pianists and piano students and is relatively unknown to the general population outside of Brazil.This thesis aims to draw attention to Brazilian tangos as a body of work in their own right and to shed light on this lesser known genre while demonstrating their interpretative and aesthetic benefits. This is achieved through: 1) an historical overview of the Brazilian and Argentine tangos and the origins of the term tango; and 2) an analysis and discussion of select Brazilian tangos encompassing formal, harmonic, and rhythmic elements, as well as personal suggestions with respect to practice.Its concluding argument is that the Brazilian tango should be more widely performed, as it can be of interest to seasoned pianists who aim to broaden their repertoire, as well as to late intermediate students, who can benefit from this genre as a means for improving their technical and musical skills.

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Vodu is a human being to me: society, songs, and drums in the Torgbui Apetorku shrine of Dagbamete, Ghana (2019)

No abstract available.

Contemporary kunqu composition (2015)

Kunqu is an operatic singing style that developed in the town of Kunshan near Suzhou, China in the sixteenth century. Kunqu is currently experiencing a revival in China, but only five professional musicians are actively composing, continuing the tradition of creating kunqu melodies with qupai (preexisting tune structures) for the singing of literary lyrics. This dissertation investigates current practices of kunqu composition with an ethnographic approach that employs a variety of research techniques including: translations of historical and contemporary compositional treatises, participant-observation in composition lessons, formal and informal interviews, as well as analysis of musical scores, sound recordings, and live performances. I theorize kunqu composition as a process of composers’ translating personal and intellectual knowledge of historical Chinese and Western music as well as collective knowledge of the key branches of kunqu theory into performable and audible musical works (introduction). To explain the genre’s musical vocabulary, I describe traditional and contemporary features such as: relationships between linguistic and musical tones, musical modes, qupai, rhythm and meter schemes, and use of musical instruments. I then describe the process of composing an aria from qupai according to contemporary practice (chapter 2). To contextualize kunqu composition, I trace the history of the genre (chapter 3). Then I analyze how two contemporary kunqu composers engage in methods of kunqu composition in their own creative and theoretical ways (chapters 4 and 5). Finally, I explore a musical dialogue between Western and Chinese musical cultures through examining Tan Dun’s version of the kun opera The Peony Pavilion performed at the Metropolitan Museum in 2012 (chapter 6).

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Orkestra Rumpilezz: Musical Constructions of Afro-Bahian Identities (2014)

No abstract available.

Gamelan gong luang : ritual, time, place, music, and change in a Balinese sacred ensemble (2013)

Gamelan gong luang is a rare and sacred music ensemble performed in Bali, Indonesia. Its origins are only speculative, but it is believed to have existed before the arrival of migrants from Hindu Majahapahit Java in the 14th century. Today few Balinese have interest in learning to perform this music, which is intimately intertwined with ritual practices. My research involves the study of two interrelated aspects of this complex musical tradition. First, I focus on gamelan gong luang’s history, instrumentation, social organization, and function within Balinese society. And second, I focus on gamelan gong luang’s musical structure using analytical perspectives. Additionally, and in consideration of the results of my research, I reflect on gamelan gong luang’s future. I have two goals in writing this dissertation. First, I want to challenge younger generations of Balinese musicians that often fail to recognize the value of this musical tradition. Today, more diverse and rapidly developing modern musics, like the exciting world of gamelan gong kebyar, capture the attention of young musicians. To these young people gamelan gong luang is old-fashioned and unexciting. This research elucidates many of the unique characteristics of gamelan gong luang, and highlights new potentialities for its appreciation and thus continuance. I will also show that musical characteristics of gamelan gong luang live on in their transformation at the hands of many Balinese composers. My conclusion is that the loss of this ensemble would seriously damage the continuity of social and religious life in some places that rely heavily on its use in ritual, and for all of Bali and the world at large, a loss of cultural heritage. I also want to challenge misleading representations of Balinese music produced by non-Balinese scholars. In earlier publications, Western scholars (Small 1977, Kramer 1988) have stated that Balinese music is non-linear, with cyclic structures that repeat seemingly without end. Utilizing research methods acquired throughout my graduate studies in the Western scholarly world, and my lifelong training as a Balinese musician, I have created an in-depth analysis of gamelan gong luang music that shows that such interpretations are mistaken.

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Kendang arja : the transmission, diffusion, and transformation(s) of an improvised Balinese drumming style (2013)

This study combines classification and paradigmatic analysis of drum (kendang) stroke patterns, used in the Balinese dance-drama genre arja, with an examination of the musicians that play them. The heart of the work is an analysis of the interlocking kendang arja improvisations of various master drummers from different villages across Bali, each of whom draws influence from a style of playing that developed in the village of Singapadu in the early-to-mid 20th century. Patterns are evaluated and categorized in an effort both to understand the divergent paths that the Singapadu style took as it was diffused to various areas, and to create a grammar: a set of inherent rules that govern arja playing. These analyses are tempered by existing Balinese discourse on arja and other genres as well as by the ideas and opinions of various Balinese musicians.The study begins by tracing the historical development of arja and its musical features, with a focus on the role of the kendang within the genre. It then considers Balinese techniques of learning and teaching and surveys the extant Balinese discourse on kendang arja. Next, it introduces the original Singapadu style of arja, and discusses how this style came to be transmitted broadly across Bali where other equally famous styles did not, as well as presenting some of the reasons for and manifestations of regional variation in kendang patterns. The study proceeds with a deep analysis of patterns taught to me by various master drummers, including a discussion of how these may be seen as musical embodiments of the Balinese oral theory on arja. These patterns then become the basis for an examination of hundreds of improvised patterns from various recording sessions. The penultimate chapter delves more deeply into the distinctive experiences and ideologies of each of the drummers under examination, exploring the possible reasons behind their differing transformations of the Singapadu style with concepts adapted from linguistics as an investigative framework. The work concludes with a discussion of the place of music analysis within the field of ethnomusicology and its metatheory, and addresses the importance of cross-disciplinary collaboration in the field.

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Music of the Gnawa of Morocco : evolving spaces and times (2012)

The Gnawa are a sub-Saharan-Berber-Islamic society found throughout Morocco with origins in sub-Saharan Africa and slavery. Their music invokes supernatural entities during an all-night ritual for purposes such as healing. Despite being marginalized for their ritual beliefs and practices, Gnawa music has become popular and is increasingly performed in secular contexts alongside sacred rituals. The aims of my dissertation are threefold: to analyze the Gnawa ritual with regard to structure, process and function; to investigate how Gnawa music is context-sensitive; and building on the first two points, to assess the impact of global forces on Gnawa ritual and music, and on its practitioners. My research imparts a musical dimension to the study of the Gnawa sacred ritual and to its secularized form, and engages in comparative analysis of improvised musical practices which articulate a dialogue with an evolving tradition. The inquiry draws primarily from my affiliation with a hereditary Gnawa family. In the first part I examine the world of the Gnawa and their music. This elucidates the habitus that informs the perception of social situations and gives meaning to the musical expression of ritual musicians. The second part investigates patterns and behaviors embedded in sonic structures of varied performances and correlates subtle differences in musical variations to performative intent. By first investigating the interaction between music and dance in a sacred ritual, then analyzing contrasting performances, I demonstrate how the Gnawa musical system operates as a referent to context and to mental activity (cognitive processes). Drawing on discourse of the African diaspora, I challenge the notion that the shift from the practice of ritual music for the local community to the performance of ritual music in festivals worldwide supports a concurrent shift towards desecration. Instead, Gnawa ritual musicians establish distinct spheres of practice which delineate the sacred from the secular.

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Conversations with a loved one : poetry, melody and social change in Hani dialogue songs (2010)

The Hani reside in the Red River region located in China’s southwest province of Yunnan. This study centers on dialogue forms of their oldest extant song tradition—laba. These songs are orally transmitted and composed extemporaneously using melodic and textual formulae. The study begins with an introduction to existing scholarship on laba epics, which provides the basis for an overview of Hani history and religious beliefs. This is followed by a study of the interpretation and structuring of dialogue songs based on recordings made between 2002 and 2006. There are two main types of male-female dialogues: those performed between lovers and those performed between siblings. The varied historical and contemporary social contexts in which these songs are performed give rise to multiple interpretations of song texts and to variations in the structuring of a song’s thematic content. Laba dialogues constitute both a type of verbal art and a form of conversation in which asymmetrical kinship relationships are maintained. The approach to analyzing laba texts as dialogical sites of cultural production is influenced by theories in ethnomusicology, anthropology, folklore and literary studies.This study also examines the relationships between poetic and melodic structure. Since laba is sung in a speech-like manner, its melodic contours are closely tied to the phonological qualities of the text. This study examines how recurring formulae form the basis for variation in both poetry and melody. Parallelism forms the basis of poetic structure, while a recurring phrase contour is the basis of an indigenous concept of melody called teisa. The analysis of laba melody and discussions of an indigenous one-melody concept draws upon perspectives offered by Alan Thrasher and Antoinet Schimmelpenninck on similar regional musics. Finally, this study examines how new contexts of laba performance and reception represent a lens through which the social impact of urbanization and capitalism on Hani village communities can be understood.

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Conversations with Silence (2010)

Conversations with Silence is a collage theatre work of approximately 50 minutes in length. It is scored for mezzo-soprano, flute/piccolo/alto flute, clarinet/bass clarinet, cello, piano, percussion, and electroacoustics. The broad subject of the work is an exploration of female creativity and how gender plays a role in creating art. Although Conversations with Silence is an abstract examination of this topic, my inspiration began with four theoretical readings: Eva Rieger’s article "'I Recycle Sounds': Do Women Compose Differently?", Linda Catlin Smith’s essay “Composing Identity: What is a woman composer?”; Susan McClary’s book Feminine Endings; and Sally Macarthur’s book Feminist Aesthetics. In Conversations with Silence I emphasize many of the qualities of “feminist aesthetics” that were already present in my previous compositions in order to explore these musical ideas even further. The work consists of seventeen movements divided into five separate scenes. Each scene includes two to four movements and is centred around a different dramatic character. There is no linear narrative to connect the scenes and characters. In place of one story, Conversations with Silence offers an amalgamation of stories, characters, and ideas. Each scene has a different thematic focus, which relates to the central ideas of female creativity and feminist aesthetics.

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The Javanese Esthetic of Leopold Godowsky's "Phonoramas" for Piano (2008)

No abstract available.

Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
Graduate Recitals (2018)

No abstract available.

The pedagogy of Balinese vocal technique : developing total perception through embodied practice (2015)

This study examines elements of Balinese vocal pedagogy in order to understand the process of teaching and learning in my lessons with several master singers on the island, focusing on the teachings of Ni Nyoman Candri. Through ethnographic fieldwork, interviews, lessons, and analysis of their content, I will investigate the core concepts that were emphasized throughout my vocal practice. After reviewing the body of literature that has influenced this work, the study will begin by outlining some basic context for how the knowledge is approached: informal methods of mimicking and repetition as well as kinesthetic embodiment of expression. This will serve as the basis for discussing the initial processes of learning vocal technique: the practice of opening the voice (mengeluarkan suara) through improvised sound and movement, as well as how that technique expands into a layered approach to learning melodies. The Balinese concept of ngunda bayu (the process of distributing energy through the body) will also add to the discussion, setting a visual representation for the vertical axis in the body that outlines the physiological process of the breath cycle. By simplifying the process into three elements: energy, breath, and gesture, this study will evolve into a discussion of context, showing how the three work in alignment to manifest a single intention: a confluence of embodied vocal expression and total perception. The work concludes with a discussion of the larger, theoretical context of my previous western classical vocal training, posing some questions about the process and relating it to western scholar Christopher Small’s term musicking. By reviewing and reflecting on the identified elements in Balinese pedagogy, I will give consideration to how this study may be expanded and integrated into other pedagogies and discourses of vocal learning.

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Turing in gender Wayang: Voice, concepts, and analysis (2014)

No abstract available.


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