Student Project Profile

Dead Master’s Apprentice: Ways of Knowing in Classical Music

Project Title

Dead Master’s Apprentice: Ways of Knowing in Classical Music

Faculty Mentor(s)

Project Description

Walker plays an organ.

My project is about bringing more consciousness to the way we interact with music and musical traditions, in order to give musicians and music lovers more choice around what they want our music to be.

In my project, I studied improvisation and compositional techniques in classical western music using tools called Partimento and Solfeggio from Naples. Music used to be considered a craft, and musicians were artisans that needed practical skills to improvise and compose quickly for opera houses, courts and churches. Having entrenched myself in what remains of these traditions, I now see a path to true fluency in Classical music.

In Padua in the North of Italy, composer  Francescantonio Valloti wrote around 13,500 pages of music over the course of his professional life. 135 of these pages, the Bassi Del Francescantonio Valloti, contain key insights into how he and many other trained musicians of the era like him produced such a large quantity of high quality music. Over the course of my research project, I trained myself to improvise, compose, and perform using historical methods and ideas contained in Neapolitan Partimento and Solfeggio sources. As a result, I began to see many problems with the modern conservatory education, and how distanced it has become from the roots of what Western Art music used to be, but also from what real practical musicianship looks like, and the overgrown path towards developing those skills.

Why is your research important?

My project is about bringing more consciousness to the way we interact with music and musical traditions, in order to give musicians and music lovers more choice around what they want our music to be. I believe that these improvisatory skills have the power to free classical musicians from the written score, and use their creativity.

What does the process of doing your research look like?

When I show up to work, I pick whatever instrument I want to experiment with and I get to playing. I explore music by making variations and transposing passages into other keys, and then intermittently take short, sometimes long, naps.

What knowledge has your research contributed to your field?

Vallotti’s approach to counterpoint and harmony is different from the Neapolitans and from the other side of the alps. His music and rules are influenced by Fundamental Bass theory. The idea of ways of knowing and remembering can be useful in describing and broadly categorizing how we interact with music.

In what ways have you showcased your research thus far?

I have presented at the Oberlin Summer Research Symposium, and I have completed a 22 page paper. My research is also showcased in the skills I have when I create music extempore or compose.

How did you get involved in research? What drove you to seek out research experiences in college?

I had become fascinated by the idea of improvisation in classical music, which led me down a path exploring Partimento, Solfeggi, Renaissance techniques, German throughbass, and many other associated topics. When I heard about the opportunity to research, I realized that I had already read a great portion about a topic I wished to delve deep into.

What is your favorite aspect of the research process?

As a musician, there's nothing better than researching my sound. It's simply fantastic fun to get to dive into an aspect of music that is not a part of my ordinary education.

How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project? How has it impacted you as a researcher?

My mentor is somebody who has done a similar exploration with a similar impetus. After learning a bit for myself, I began to see that the way he knew music was different than most other classical musicians I had ever seen, and that was very inspiring.

How has the research you’ve conducted contributed to your professional or academic development?

Since doing this research, my professional career has become much easier, more creative, and a lot of fun. I made more music this summer than I ever have and I have made great progress in my skill. As an academic, I have felt so invested in a project and its comprehensibility; this pushed me to work on my writing and reading so as to clearly articulate my ideas and their repercussions.

What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?

If you find yourself “researching” something in your free time, and then making time to learn more about it during your busy life, it's likely a topic that could sustain you in the research process. Doing research is a rather lonely prospect, so try to find a topic that really speaks to you, and some friends that are happy to converse with you about it.