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  • Writer's pictureJackson Harmeyer

111. Musical Travels – Visiting Montréal and the American Musicological Society in Boston

Niagara Falls, NY

The past few weeks have been filled with adventures as I undertook an incredible road trip to Montréal and Boston and came to an important decision about my future career path. I went to Montréal to tour McGill University and inquire about their PhD program in musicology; I went to Boston to attend the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society. Although in both cases I liked much of what I saw, the two-day drive home gave me ample time to confirm my impression: I do not wish to pursue doctoral studies at this time or the path of a musicology professor. Instead I wish to attain a second master’s degree in library science and potentially become a music librarian. I believe this path will make me happier. It will let me continue to learn and do my research without the demands of a busy teaching schedule; it will also still let me make the community impact I wish to make through my day-to-day work opening up the collections of a library to the public and also outside endeavors like the Sugarmill Music Festival, ongoing program notes, and this blog. I might even have a chance to get back to composition! I knew this trip would push me in one direction or the other—PhD or MLS—so I am glad I embarked on it. I do not consider it or any of my doctoral visits wasted time, money, or energy. They have all been great adventures, and I have enjoyed seeing the sights and meeting people regardless of the outcome.

The Schulich School of Music at McGill University

My adventures began on Friday, October 25 when I drove to Cincinnati and overnighted with cousins. Saturday was the first long haul—a full nine-hour drive from Cincinnati to Rochester, NY where I caught up with my friend, Michael Jones, a classical guitarist who is pursuing a second master’s in arts leadership at the Eastman School of Music. It stormed throughout the day and would do so again on Sunday—another long driving day to Montréal—but I did have some good music to keep me alert. In preparation for the next unit of my Fifth Rotation, I decided that most of my driving music would preview the Baroque era. Friday I heard madrigals by Claudio Monteverdi and Carlo Gesualdo; Saturday included Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo and 1610 Vespers, the Symphoniae Sacrae III by Heinrich Schütz, and other Italian and German music from the seventeenth century; then Sunday, as I approached French-speaking Montréal, I turned to Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jean-Philippe Rameau, and other French composers. Between Montréal and Boston, I would listen to later Italians like Arcangelo Corelli and Antonio Vivaldi, and each of my last two driving days would be dedicated to Johann Sebastian Bach (St. John Passion, B-Minor Mass, etc.) and George Frideric Handel (Giulio Cesare, etc.), respectively. Michael gave me a tour of the Eastman School Sunday morning, and weekend stops also included Niagara Falls and the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, NY. I remember thinking to myself while walking around Niagara Park: last time I was in this place (July 2008), I was just getting into classical music, and I had no idea what musicology was; I would not have believed it then that eleven years later I would be back on my way to look at a PhD program in musicology and to attend the national musicology conference!

The trails at Mount Royal were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.

In Montréal I had the opportunity to meet with several McGill students and professors, including Bob Hasegawa whose articles on the compositions of spectralist Gérard Grisey I had read while writing my thesis. He and I had a lot to discuss, and, like Joël Bons, Eric Drott, and other established figures whom I have met in the past few years, he showed genuine interest in my research. I also had the opportunity on Monday to sit-in on a musicology seminar where, ironically, the topic was bluegrass and old-time music—as if I had never left Kentucky at all! McGill is located where downtown meets Mount Royal and, in my free time, I explored both of these contrasting locales. Downtown felt unlike so many downtowns I have encountered in the United States which are all businessmen and, consequently, abandoned after the workday is finished. Instead it reminded me of Leipzig—a true city center, full of life, with restaurants and outlet stores mixed-in with skyscrapers. I never felt unsafe walking, so that late Monday evening I explored Old Montréal. I had expected to find another French Quarter like in New Orleans; rather it was all gray without the bright contrasting colors, which I recalled were Caribbean in origin, or the ironwork, which was added during the Spanish era after the majority of the original French buildings burnt down. Still I enjoyed seeing the Basilica and the Sulpician Seminary, essential to the founding of Montréal. Tuesday afternoon I hiked Mount Royal where trails had been designed by Frederick Law Olmsted whose biography I have been reading recently. Overall I was thoroughly impressed by Montréal and hope I have an opportunity to return there someday. Although the spoken French and French street signs were at first forbidding, I did pretty well formulating rough translations of the signs and historic plaques; I have a feeling that, if I were to study in Montréal, I would gradually become fluent in French, something which would greatly assist me in continued research on French spectral music. Then again I seem to be taking a different path!

Northup Memorial in Hudson Falls, NY

My next destination was Saratoga Springs in Upstate New York. This became a destination when, over the summer, I read Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave, an account of his bondage in central Louisiana which began when he was abducted from Saratoga. A free-born African American, Northup was a trained violinist who would entertain at the grand hotels of Saratoga Springs, already a wealthy resort town by 1841 when Northup was kidnapped. In central Louisiana, he would spend several seasons working on a sugar plantation; he would also continue playing violin at dances and celebrations despite his slave status. Reading Northup’s account, I thought this could be the perfect subject matter for a scholarly presentation at the Sugarmill Music Festival, owing to the local connections as well as Northup’s musical activities, and I suggested it to the members of our festival committee. Last month we learned that our grant to the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities to fund what has become, “A Scholarly Presentation in Lecture and Music: Solomon Northup in the Central Louisiana Sugarhouse,” had been accepted. Once I knew I was on my way to New York, I got in contact with Melissa Howell who runs the Solomon Northup Legacy and is a descendant of his to ask about Northup sites. At her suggestion, I enjoyed seeing Baker Cemetery in Hudson Falls on Wednesday morning. Solomon’s father, Mintus, is buried here, and there is also a plaque in honor of Solomon whose body was never recovered after he was believed to have been murdered some years after he regained his freedom. I also stopped at the Fort House Museum in Fort Edward where Solomon and his wife, Anne, rented a room for several months shortly after their marriage. That afternoon I arrived in Saratoga Springs itself, and, although little remains of the town Solomon would have known, I enjoyed learning about its history as a retreat for the well-to-do of Manhattan—this told me Saratoga was no backwoods and Solomon’s kidnapping was a sophisticated operation. In the evening I drove through beautiful, mountainous Vermont and finally arrived in the suburbs of Boston where I would spend one night before heading downtown for the conference the next morning.

Boston Harbor with the Boston Tea Party in the foreground and skyscrapers behind

On stage at Boston Symphony Hall

At AMS I had the opportunity to attend numerous paper sessions and panels, see old friends and make new ones. Among the best papers I attended were those by William Robin: “‘There’s Money in New Music’: Bang on a Can and the Post-Górecki Record Industry in the 1990s,” a discussion of commercial prospects for new music after the unprecedented success of Polish composer Henryk Górecki’s Third Symphony’s release on Nonesuch; Peter Asimov: “Sounding National and Racial Identity in Albert Roussel’s Padmâvati,” a look at how India was considered pre-Western and not Eastern among turn of the twentieth century composers like Roussel; Steven Huebner: “Ravel’s Tzigane: Art Mask or Kitsch?” which considered how Maurice Ravel modeled Tzigane on Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies and other exoticist devices and what that says of the piece; and Naomi Graber: “Ghetto Pastoral: Street Scene and the Transformation of American Folklore” in which Kurt Weill’s portrayal of characters outside the then-prevailing stereotype of white America was discussed. I also enjoyed the keynote address of the Music and Dance Study Group session given by choreographers Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer, “Sacrificial Situations: Ritual and Ordeal in the Music, Dance, and Design of Three Stravinsky Productions,” in which they discussed their work reconstructing the original production of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring for the Joffrey Ballet. The panel, “Career Fluidity in Musicology,” organized by Matilda Ertz—wife to my former employer Matt Ertz at the Anderson Music Library and a respected scholar in her own right—was perhaps the most influential session I attended. Here Matilda and her panelists discussed their good experiences away from academia and how one might create a rewarding career for oneself without ever attaining one of the limited number of tenure-track professorships while still pursuing their musicological interests. It was exactly the counterbalance I needed while observing the conference—the epitome of a life in musicology—unfold before me at AMS. Among old friends, I had the chance to share meals with Caroline Ehman, my former thesis director who now teaches in Brandon, Manitoba, as well as visit with many colleagues from the South-Central Chapter of AMS. I also ran into Felipe Nuñez, an old friend from my days at the Louisiana Scholars’ College, who is finishing his doctorate in musicology at Harvard. Additionally I met and traded notes with Amy Bauer whose scholarship, like Hasegawa’s, I read for my thesis.

Koussevitzky at the gates of Tanglewood

My time in Boston was not limited to the conference however. Saturday morning I went with several of my fellow attendees to tour the Boston Symphony Orchestra concert hall and archives. I enjoyed peaking backstage and also hearing the stories of their archivist, Bridget Carr. Seeing the materials she gets to work with on a daily basis—among them, a coat belonging to Leonard Bernstein and his mentor Serge Koussevitzky before that—as well as the kind of work she does only reconfirmed for me my desire to pursue a master’s in library science. I also did more touristy things like see Boston Harbor, stop at the Boston Tea Party, walk the Freedom Trail, visit Faneuil Hall, and drop-in at Cheers “where everyone knows your name.” Leaving town Sunday evening, I also made a brief visit to Henry Thoreau’s famed Walden Pond. Although Monday and Tuesday were mostly driving days—this time through Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia—I still had the opportunity for a few last stops. Monday morning I completed my “BSO Tour” with a visit to Tanglewood, the summer home to the orchestra. Buried in rural western Massachusetts deep in the Berkshires, Tanglewood has been a center for American music since the establishment of the summer festival in 1937. Koussevitzky, its founder, is honored with a statue at the front gate; busts of Bernstein and Aaron Copland are also located on the campus. Groundskeepers, Bruce and Jody, were glad to give me a personalized, guided tour of the facilities, including inside looks at the Koussevitzky Music Shed and Seiji Ozawa Hall, modeled closely on the BSO Hall which I had toured two days earlier. Bruce also told me that film composer John Williams, who conducts the Boston Pops, was the one who commissioned the Koussevitzky and Bernstein busts. Afterwards I made a few less serious but also meaningful stops at Vivaldi’s Pizzeria in Great Barrington and the Housatonic at Stockbridge—the site which Charles Ives depicts in his Three Places in New England. (The Housatonic is a river which runs through the small town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts). The night drive through Pennsylvania where the interstate traces the mountainside and only the lights of tiny cities are visible in the valley below was a final highlight of this wonderful adventure.

Dusk at a tranquil Walden Pond

So, what’s next? This afternoon I journeyed to the Anderson Music Library to visit with my mentors there, inform them of my decision to pursue an MLS, and ask them for letters of recommendation. Director James Procell and Assistant Director Matt Ertz were happy to hear my choice and to write letters as was Musicology Professor Devin Burke who had been an advisor on my thesis committee and has since that time remained an insightful friend. James and Matt are both graduates of Indiana University in nearby Bloomington, and they recommended that I definitely apply there. I will be researching their program over the next few weeks and also plan to meet with Professor Keith Cochran, head of the IU music librarianship specialization. Then my application will be due by the first of the new year. These are exciting times for me, and I believe I will thoroughly enjoy my choice to pursue a master’s of library science. I am glad that this incredible trip to Montréal and Boston could confirm that for me!

JSH 19.11.15

About Jackson. Jackson Harmeyer graduated with his Master of Music in Music History and Literature from the University of Louisville in May 2019 following the completion of his thesis, “Liminal Aesthetics: Perspectives on Harmony and Timbre in the Music of Olivier Messiaen, Tristan Murail, and Kaija Saariaho.” He has shared this pioneering research at the American Musicological Society South-Central Chapter’s annual meetings in Asheville, NC and Sewanee, TN and at the University of Tennessee Contemporary Music Festival in Knoxville, TN; in March 2020, he will present at the Music by Women Festival in Columbus, MS. During Jackson’s studies in Louisville, he was the recipient of the Gerhard Herz Music History Scholarship and was employed at the Dwight Anderson Memorial Music Library where he did archival work for the unique Grawemeyer Collection which houses scores, recordings, and documentation for over five thousand entries by the world’s leading contemporary composers. Previously, Jackson graduated summa cum laude from the Louisiana Scholars’ College in Natchitoches, LA. Then, from 2014 to 2016, Jackson served as director of the successful chamber music series, Abendmusik Alexandria. He has remained a concert annotator and organizer, acting as Director of Scholarship of the annual Sugarmill Music Festival. A special project he is developing for the 2020 festival, “A Scholarly Presentation in Lecture and Music: Solomon Northup in the Central Louisiana Sugarhouse,” has recently been awarded a prestigious Rebirth Grant by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. Aside from his studies, he is a composer, choral singer, music blogger, avid reader, and award-winning nature photographer. Learn more about Jackson Harmeyer, his scholarship, and his compositions at

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