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  • Writer's pictureJackson Harmeyer

85. Reflections on My First Year of Graduate Studies at the University of Louisville

The St. James Court Fountain illuminated

This Tuesday, May 2, I completed my first year of graduate studies at the University of Louisville. This great adventure which began in August has now reached its first major milestone, the culmination of my first year of two as I pursue my master’s in musicology. I have made many new friends here and have also built important relationships with professors and the music librarians. Although the following post can recount only some of the highlights, each day has been its own adventure, and this is one year I will not soon forget!

My history studies this first year have taken several paths, some expected and others not. I have taken full advantage of the culture for new music here at the University of Louisville and have spent much of this spring studying spectral music through an exciting directed study that was offered to me by Professor Caroline Ehman. Spectral music, as you can read in a post from last March, began as a French movement in the 1970s. Among its first leaders were Gérard Grisey and Tristan Murail; the music of these two composers as well as that of post-spectralist Kaija Saariaho has been at the center of my directed study. This new attitude towards composition, one which foregrounds timbre and learns from the scientific and mathematical properties of sound, has been a great inspiration to me this semester, and I plan to make it the focus of my master’s thesis next year.

Seminars on different eras of music history have also let me explore such topics as non-Western influences in early music, musical rhetoric in the Age of Reason, and the exciting potential for incorporating multimedia into opera. I have also discovered an appreciation for Mexican music, feeling it was time I make an effort to better understand the music of our southern neighbors; in response, I have written papers on the galant masses of Ignacio Jerusalem and the Sinfonía India of Carlos Chávez. Check out my new page Student Research for more information on these and other topics. In recognition of my accomplishments this first year, I have also been awarded the Gerhard Herz Scholarship which will help me financially while also giving me the opportunity of assistantship responsibilities in my second year.

Although I am here studying music history, I have felt privileged to have been able to participate alongside the composition students on so many different occasions. From the very first week of the fall semester, I was welcomed into Composition Seminar and, in October, able to present on my compositions to the group. In November, I attended the University of Louisville New Music Festival and had the chance to visit with guest composer Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez, head of the composition department at the Eastman School. The spring semester brought its own adventures with the announcement of Andrew Norman as the 2017 recipient of the Grawemeyer Award in Music Composition. In January, I drove with two of my composer friends, James May and Cullyn Murphy, to Cincinnati to hear Norman’s Grawemeyer-winning work, Play, performed live. When Norman came to Louisville in April, he was excited to hear that the three of us had been there in Cincinnati for the concert. It was great meeting Norman, hearing him share his thoughts on music, and just talking with him casually. Although I was not able to share my compositions with him while he was in town, he invited me to email him a few of my works, an opportunity I did not let pass me by. One of the works I shared was my Étude Spectrale I, one of only a handful of new works this busy year has allowed me time to create. A week later, I learned that Étude Spectrale had been accepted for performance at New Music on the Bayou, a four-day festival to be held in north Louisiana this June. I am super excited—I can’t wait!

A trip to Cincinnati let us hear Andrew Norman’s Grawemeyer-winning work, “Play,” live at the MusicNow festival.

My studies here have also given me the opportunity to build my practical musicianship in several ways. My year in the University Chorus has been a great experience as we have sung Renaissance polyphony, Baroque counterpoint, and so much other exciting choral repertoire! Voice lessons too have proven to be a rewarding experience: they have allowed me to explore music in a different way while building my confidence and independence in performance. Then there have also been the piano lessons, and, for a few weeks, I even sang as part of the school’s Early Music Ensemble. I have already noticed how these performance experiences have aided me in my historical studies and as a composer.

It has, of course, been difficult being so far away from friends and family in Louisiana, but my experiences in Louisville have given me brand new opportunities and Louisville itself has become a new home for me. Evening walks down the beautiful St. James Court and throughout the Old Louisville neighborhood have enriched the music I listen to on these walks and have inspired many photos. On occasion, I have found my way outside of town, to a nearby park or forest for an afternoon hike. Even with the Kentucky Derby upon us this evening, I still cannot say I’m a horse racing fanatic, but it’s fun to sometimes engage in this wholly different culture that is Kentucky. KFC has been no substitute for freshly fried or boiled gulf shrimp, but the local restaurants will sometimes have their own renditions of familiar Cajun—actually Creole—dishes. I look forward to being back in Louisiana in a few weeks: mid-May to early June, if you’re around and would like to catch up!

JSH 17.05.06

About Jackson. Jackson Harmeyer is a music scholar, composer, and advocate of music. Jackson graduated summa cum laude from the Louisiana Scholars’ College located in Natchitoches, Louisiana in May 2013 after completing his undergraduate thesis “Learning from the Past: The Influence of Johann Sebastian Bach upon the Soviet Composers.” As series director of the successful Abendmusik Alexandria chamber music series from May 2014 to April 2016, Jackson played a vital role in the renewal of interest in chamber music across central Louisiana. This interest has encouraged the creation of the annual Sugarmill Music Festival and the new series Nachtmusik von BrainSurge, both of which Jackson remains active in as concert annotator and creative consultant. He also blogs at MusicCentral where he shares concert experiences, gives listening recommendations, posts interviews with contemporary composers, and offers insights into his own compositions. As a composer, Jackson has worked to integrate the vocabulary and grammar of modern music into pieces which are not only innovative but also engaging to the general listener. In fall 2016, Jackson began graduate studies in musicology at the University of Louisville where he has recently been awarded the Gerhard Herz Scholarship in recognition of his accomplishments. His current research interests include French spectral music and the compositions of Kaija Saariaho. He also sings with the University of Louisville Chorus and participates in the School of Music Composition Seminar. Learn more about Jackson Harmeyer, his scholarship, and his compositions at


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