Music Theory and Cognition Faculty

Richard Ashley, Associate Professor

Richard Ashley’s research and publications in music cognition focus on expressive performance, musical communication, and long-term memory for music. A founding member of the Society for Music Theory, he has also served as President of the Society for Music Perception and Cognition. Funding for his research has come from two Fulbright grants to the Netherlands, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Netherlands Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Education. He is a past recipient of the Bienen School of Music Exemplar in Teaching Award. He also teaches in Northwestern’s cognitive science program.

Mark J. Butler, Professor

Mark Butler was previously on the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania. He has received fellowships from the American Academy in Berlin and the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as the Wiley Housewright Dissertation Award from the Society for American Music. His research interests include popular music, rhythm and meter, music and sexuality, and technologically mediated performance. He integrates theoretical, historical, and anthropological approaches to music, with particular emphasis on the use of ethnographic methodology to address music-theoretical questions. He is the author of Unlocking the Groove (Indiana, 2006) and the editor of Electronica, Dance, and Club Music (Ashgate, 2012). Other publications appear in journals such as Theoria, Music Theory Online, Semiotica, twentieth-century music, and Popular Music. His most recently published book is Playing with Something That Runs: Technology, Improvisation, and Composition in DJ and Laptop Performance(Oxford, 2014). It is based on extensive fieldwork with internationally active DJs and laptop musicians based in Berlin. He is a classical pianist and frequent performer of new music. In 2015, he was elected president of the U.S. branch of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music.

Vasili Byros, Associate Professor

Coordinator, advanced music theory curriculum (undergraduate).

Vasili Byros researches the compositional and listening practices of the long 18th century as linguistic and cultural pursuits, drawing on frameworks in music theory, history, and cognitive and social psychology, in order to reconstruct “insider” perspectives on music of the period. He has published in Music Analysis, Music Theory Online, Eighteenth-Century Music, The Oxford Handbook of Topic Theory (ed. Danuta Mirka), Musica Humana, Theory and Practice, and in a co-authored volume titled What is a Cadence? (Leuven, ed. Markus Neuwirth and Pieter Bergé). Byros’ research has dealt with issues of key perception and tonality, interactions between local and large-scale musical grammars, intersections between syntax and semantics, and musical communication (musical wit and humor in Mozart, and spiritual abnegation in Beethoven). His work takes a holistic view of the musical languages of the long 18th century, combining viewpoints from schema theory, Formenlehre, topic theory, and historical pedagogies. Along these lines, Professor Byros is currently working on a book project that examines musical creativity in the long eighteenth century from theoretical, analytic, and artistic/practical vantage points. In recent years, Byros has been developing period (or historically informed) approaches to composition, with period compositions of his own, as extensions of his work in historically informed listening, while drawing parallels with historically informed performance. He has presented papers at numerous national, international, and regional conferences in North America and Europe, and has been invited to present research at various venues in the United States and Europe. He is also coordinator and course-designer of the advanced music theory curriculum at Northwestern, which is based on 18th-century period composition. Additional recent teaching includes upper-level and graduate courses on subjects ranging from classical form and advanced tonal analysis, to seminars on schema theory and historical informed musicking. He previously taught at Yale University (2005-09) and Indiana University, Bloomington (2009-10).


Danuta Mirka, Professor

Danuta Mirka studied music theory in Poland and earned a PhD in musicology at the University of Helsinki, Finland. She was a Senior Fulbright Fellow at Indiana University, Bloomington, and a Humboldt Fellow and Research Fellow of the DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) at the University of Freiburg, Germany. Before coming to Northwestern, she taught at the Szymanowski Academy of Music in Katowice, Poland, and the University of Southampton, UK. During her time in the UK she obtained the Research Fellowship of the Leverhulme Trust. Mirka’s main research interests include the theory and analysis of meter and rhythm and the study of musical communication in the late eighteenth century. She is particularly interested in integrating aspects of historical music theory with those of contemporary research in music theory and cognition. She is the co-editor, with Kofi Agawu, of Communication in Eighteenth-Century Music (2008) and the editor of The Oxford Handbook of Topic Theory (2014), which received the Citation of Special Merit from the Society for Music Theory in 2015. Her books include The Sonoristic Structuralism of Krzysztof Penderecki (1997) and Metric Manipulations in Haydn and Mozart: Chamber Music for Strings, 1787–1791 (2009), which won the 2011 Wallace Berry Award of the Society for Music Theory. Her articles have appeared in such scholarly journals as The Journal of Musicology, Journal of Music Theory, Music Theory Online, Eighteenth-Century Music, The American Journal of Semiotics, Semiotica, and The Musical Quarterly. Her article “The Mystery of the Cadential Six-Four,” published in the collection What Is the Cadence? (2015), received the 2017 Roland Jackson Award from the American Musicological Society. A former vice president of the Society for Music Analysis, Mirka has served on the editorial boards of Music Theory Spectrum, Eighteenth-Century Music, Journal of Music Theory and Music Theory and Analysis.

Susan Piagentini, Senior Lecturer

Coordinator, first-year theory and aural skills curriculum.

A Charles Deering McCormick University Distinguished Lecturer, Susan Piagentini’s research interests integrate pedagogy with an emphasis on technology.  A former recipient of the Searle Center for Teaching Excellence grants to develop web-based materials to supplement the undergraduate core curriculum, Piagentini participated in the Educational Technology Teaching Fellows Program (2016-17) at Northwestern, working alongside the NUIT to develop video assessment and mentoring templates within the Canvas course management system.  Along with Dr. Jennifer Snodgrass, Piagentini is the co-author of Fundamentals of Music: Rudiments, Musicianship and Composition, and is now preparing forthcoming 7thedition, released by Pearson. This textbook is coupled with an online assessment tool, Exposition Music. The design and development of Exposition is based on five years of research in music theory placement exams and provides a pedagogically sound environment for student testing in music. Piagentini has given workshops and papers at national and regional conferences, including the Society for Music Theory, Association for Technology in Music Instruction (ATMI), Technological Directions in Music Learning, Indiana University at IUPUI Music Technology Conference and the College Music Society (CMS).  She is past president of the Great Lakes Regional CMS chapter, and served on the CMS national Professional Development committee.

Robert Reinhart, Lecturer

Coordinator, second-year theory and aural skills curriculum.

Reinhart’s research and compositional interests include microtonal ear training, early music instrumentation, and extended performance techniques. His works have been performed in the United States, Canada, Brazil, Germany, Czech Republic, and Ukraine. He has received compositional awards and honors from the Union League Civic and Arts Foundation and ASCAP. His 2012 work Ossiriand for bass viola da gamba is currently being recorded by gambist/musicologist Andrew Arceci, and his work Zephyr for piano is currently being recorded by composer/pianist Joann Cho. In October 2016 his work Fit​ was premiered in San Francisco and Chicago by flutist Emma Hospelhorn and harpist Ben Melsky of Ensemble Dal Niente.  Reinhart remains active as a performer in the a.pe.ri.od.ic and Triple Reed Trio ensembles, appearing as a vocalist and bassoonist on a.pe.ri.od.ic’s album more or less, and participating in multiple performances of Tim Parkinson’s Time with People in Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Ohio in 2016-17.