When students decide to study music on the collegiate level, whether as undergraduate or graduate students, their focus as they determine whether to attend a conservatory, college, or university is generally on the musical offerings at these institutions. Choosing a university, as many students have discovered here at Stony Brook, has unanticipated benefits. Students who attended Stony Brook University can be proud to have attended a world-class research institution, where students and faculty have the resources to participate in innovative interdisciplinary collaborations.
In 2001, Stony Brook was invited to join the Association of American Universities, in recognition of the university’s breadth and quality of its program of research and graduate education. The members of the AAU are regarded as the 62 most prestigious research institutions in North America. Membership is by invitation, and an invitation is only extended to a university when three quarters of the current members approve, after an extensive review of the nominated institution’s research and academic programs.
Making the most of Stony Brook’s breadth of research, students and faculty in the Department of Music have engaged in a variety of interdisciplinary collaborations. Some recent events have included conferences, colloquia, an outreach concert, and a promising app for therapeutic assistance with Parkinson’s disease.
Jay Loomis, who graduated with his BA this year and is beginning his MA in Fall 2015, teamed up with faculty from Music and Physical Therapy on a research project to examine how music can improve mobility for people with Parkinson’s disease. The project involves a process known as sonification, or turning music into specific sounds that give individuals with Parkinson’s the ability to use external cues to self-correct their gait patterns. “The end goal is to create an application for mobile devices so that whenever people with Parkinson’s go for a walk and listen to their music, if they experience abnormal walking patterns, the music that they’re listening to will become distorted, so they will notice something is awry,” said Loomis. “If we can create this app, people can use this on a daily basis,” he said. “The hope is that it will help them stay mobile longer and maintain a better quality of life.”*
Yerin Kim, a current DMA candidate in piano, hosted a concert created specifically for children on the autism spectrum and their families. Kim worked with gifted students with autism in prior studies at Indiana University. She drew on the expertise of faculty in the School of Social Welfare and the Department of Psychology to create a welcoming place for people on the autism spectrum.
To maximize both comfort and accessibility for the approximately 30 guests, the event took place in two adjacent rooms, one that featured a concert setting and another in which the attendees could interact with the musicians. “I understand that there are not many concerts at which autistic children are made to feel welcome, so I’m delighted that we are able to provide that opportunity,” Department Chair Perry Goldstein said, adding that the department intends to host several of these events next year.*
Stony Brook University has long boasted strong departments of music and philosophy, and these departments have a long standing friendly relationship. In Spring 2014, the departments jointly organized the international conference entitled “Sound and Affect: Voice, Music, World.” The organizers from music were Stephen Smith and Judy Lochhead. Graduate students assisted during the conference, and students and faculty from music were accepted as presenters from a field of highly competitive applicants.
Speakers hailed from throughout the Americas and Europe, and plenary sessions concluded both days. The conference was thoroughly interdisciplinary, involving scholars from at least ten departments. The conference aimed to foster dialogue among scholars from across the humanities, and this ongoing goal will be fostered by the upcoming publication of an edited collection of select essays from the conference.
Going from conference strength to strength, the next interdisciplinary event, “Periods and Waves: A Conference on Sound and History,” is being organized by Benjamin Tausig and Erika Supria Honisch. Tausig says, “This conference will serve as a major regional meeting here at Stony Brook for a diverse group of scholars focused on topics around sound and history. With renowned plenary speakers and a number of timely, interdisciplinary panels, the conference will tap into and further the substantial intellectual and publishing energy currently animating the study of sound, and will draw international attention to the Stony Brook Department of Music.”
Also slated for the 2015-16 academic year is a series funded by a Faculty in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences grant awarded to Honisch, along with faculty in History, and Hispanic Languages and Literatures. The series is on “The Book,” defined capaciously, and will feature talks by Adrian Johns, Kate Van Orden, and Jésus Velasco. Of the upcoming events, Honisch says, “For musicians and musicologists working in the Western classical tradition, our most tangible connections to what we play and study lie in the physical objects that transmit notated music. Where traditional disciplinary boundaries often relegate music books to the margins of scholarly discourse, this grant makes it possible for these links to our musical past to take center stage alongside the artifacts of other kinds of written practices, and for faculty and graduate students to model cross-disciplinary conversation at the research university.” As part of each talk, graduate students will have the opportunity to workshop works-in-progress and prepare questions for the speakers.
The ability to take classes in other departments has long attracted students who incline to interdisciplinary studies. For current composition PhD student Andrew Conklin (and winner of one of the department’s prestigious Ackerman Prizes), eclectic interests drew him to the institution. “As a prospective student perusing the websites of music departments across the country,” Conklin notes, “Stony Brook stood out…in part because of its commitment to interdisciplinary studies.” In some cases these interdisciplinary seminars grow into something more. With Conklin’s help, this is how the Language, Music, and Emotion Research Group (LaMERG), which aims to advance interdisciplinary research focused on the interfaces between musical cognition, human language, and emotion, was founded. Conklin adds, “My subsequent work with LaMERG has surpassed my admittedly high expectations for what this sort of interdepartmental collaboration could accomplish. As a forum for the exchange of ideas across traditionally isolated disciplines, I feel that LaMERG has truly enriched academic life at Stony Brook.”
Since 2012 LaMERG has established a permanent reading group to discuss cutting-edge research that bridges psychology, linguistics, and music. They have also hosted annual workshops, attended by students and faculty from nine different departments. Though Conklin is the only LaMERG organizer from Music, the group has invited many outstanding music scholars, including David Temperley (Eastman), Fred Lerdahl (Columbia), and Carol Lynne Krumhansl (Cornell) to speak as part of their workshops and distinguished speaker series alongside other top scholars in Linguistics, Psychology, and Cognitive Science.
*The stories on Jay Loomis and Yerin Kim originally appeared in an article by Glenn Jochum.