Megan Kaes Long Named ‘‘Emerging Scholar’’ by Society for Music Theory

November 24, 2020
Erich Burnett
Megan Kaes Long.
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones '97

Honor recognizes Oberlin music theory professor’s extensive study of late-16th-century music.

Megan Kaes Long, an associate professor of music theory at Oberlin Conservatory, has been named the winner of the 2020 Emerging Scholar Award, presented by the Society for Music Theory .

Long was recognized for her paper ‘‘Cadential Syntax and Tonal Expectation in Late Sixteenth-Century Homophony, ’’ which was published in the spring 2018 issue of Music Theory Spectrum.

She learned of the honor along with the rest of the world’s music theorists: It was revealed in early November at the society’s annual conference, which was presented on Zoom. ‘‘It’s just such a huge honor to receive this,’’ she says. ‘‘Early music is a niche area in music theory, and to be recognized in this way is really exciting for me.’’

Long’s paper explores the emergence of tonal languages in late-16th-century homophony by examining the ways in which phrase structure, meter, and cadential rhetoric produce “trajectories of expectation.” Her research centers on two homophonic, secular genres: the English ballett and the French air de cour, and she uses both to demonstrate how regulation of harmony and syntax transformed contrapuntal languages into tonal languages.

‘‘The article looks at 16th-century popular songs from England and France and talks about the ways those songs create expectations for the listener; they ask musical questions, then provide musical answers,’’ says Long, who is fascinated by the ways in which early musical styles give rise to those that follow.

‘‘It’s an important antecedent to how we understand most tonal music in the classical period. This is my attempt to identify a link in that chain of evolution.’’

In recent years, Long has benefited from opportunities to undertake grant-supported research of original source material—especially 16th-century music prints—in libraries across Germany, France, and Great Britain. Her devotion to poring over manuscripts in ‘‘depressing, windowless rooms’’—as she playfully refers to the experience—also informs her teaching back at Oberlin.

“That research has given me a lot of opportunities to bring 16th-century objects into the classroom,” she says. “We talk a lot about how the materiality of these objects shapes how we understand the music. My students really appreciate that.”

Long is the second member of Oberlin’s music theory faculty in the past three years to earn the title of Emerging Scholar; in 2018, Assistant Professor Bryan Parkhurst was honored by the Society for Music Theory for his article “Making a Virtue of Necessity: Schenker and Kantian Teleology ,” which appeared in the April 2017 edition of the Journal of Music Theory.

Earlier this year, Long published the monograph Hearing Homophony: Tonal Expectation at the Turn of the Seventeenth Century (Oxford University Press), which probes how the regular rhythms and text setting of 16th-century popular song encouraged a kind of listening that we now think of as tonal.

The article and book both grew out of Long’s doctoral research on the subject, which she completed at Yale University in 2014. “A lot of things came together all at once!” she says of her ongoing studies.

In February 2020, Long was awarded a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies that supports a research sabbatical for the current academic year. Her project, “Complicating the Modal Paradigm in the Music of William Byrd,” develops a historically grounded model of pitch structure in the music of the prolific Renaissance-era composer.

“I’m looking at how he thinks about deploying pitch materials across the course of a composition and throughout his entire output,” she says. “A lot of my work this year is just analyzing all of his music—which takes a ton of time, because he wrote hundreds of pieces. But it’s been fun getting familiar with it, figuring out what the interesting questions are, and beginning to tug on those threads.”

Through it all, Long remains ever grateful for the opportunities that have emerged during her time at Oberlin.

“I have been extremely fortunate to receive research backing,” she says, “and Oberlin has been incredibly generous and supportive.”

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