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Music theorist, LGBTQ+ advocate working to make UD music curriculum more inclusive

By Dave Larsen

Music theorist and LGBTQ+ advocate Daniele Shlomit Sofer is bringing new ways of thinking to the ongoing revision of the University of Dayton’s music theory curriculum to make it more inclusive.

Sofer, who uses the pronoun they, is executive director and co-founder of the LGBTQ+ Music Study Group, whose mission includes supporting those who identify as LGBTQ+ and promoting academic inquiry into issues of gender and sexuality in the study of music. In July, MIT Press published Sofer’s first book, Sex Sounds: Vectors of Difference in Electronic Music.

Sofer, assistant professor of music theory and technology, is collaborating with fellow music faculty to expand the music theory curriculum’s focus beyond western art music and its rigid rules regarding the organization of notes, chords and scales that have been the curricular focus since the 19th century.

“Music can be intimidating to students who don’t know musical notation and those who haven’t studied music in school, on an instrument and such,” said Sofer, who is developing collaborations Universitywide to expose music majors to the wealth of opportunities available to students, and to make music technology less intimidating for non-music majors.

“Music technology is about being creative and it’s fun,” they said.

Sex Sounds: Vectors of Difference in Electronic Music draws connections between two contrasting styles — electroacoustic music, which is considered “academic” because it is often the product of university-led initiatives, and hip-hop and R&B, which are commercial music endeavors created by music industry professionals.

Sofer’s book explores sexual themes in both styles of music, focusing on the central characteristics of the feminized voice and “climax mechanism.” Its case studies range from the Erotica movement of Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry’s 1950-51 Symphony pour un homme seul to TLC’s 1999 hit I’m Good at Being Bad.

“What I find really exciting and mind-opening about Daniele’s research is the way they combine different ways of thinking, from the very technical aspects of music theory and music technology to cultural and historical questions about race, gender and sexuality,” said Julia Randel, associate professor and Department of Music chair. “We tend to think that technology is impersonal and detached from culture, but in fact it is created by humans and therefore shaped by culture. Daniele analyzes and explains that dynamic really well.”

Sofer said many universities with electronic music programs focus on electroacoustic music, which is abstract and concerned with calculating frequency, amplitude and other science-based properties. Originated in the late 1940s and early ’50s, the genre remains dominated by white, male composers.

“My students here at UD in the music tech classes are all men for the most part,” Sofer said. “That’s one of the things I’m trying to change.”

Sofer came to UD in 2021 as a visiting assistant professor and joined the tenure-track faculty in fall 2022. They hold a doctorate in musicology from the University of Music and Performing Arts Graz in Austria. They also hold a Master of Arts degree in music history and theory from Stony Brook University, and a Master of Music degree in piano performance from Binghamton University, both in New York.

“Dr. Sofer brings a new and refreshing element into the department in that they are willing to work with students of all musical backgrounds,” said Mason Juka, a senior music major from Medina, Ohio. “With digital audio workstations being so readily available to almost everyone, there is so much potential for music to grow and change in modern times. For people like myself who do not have a classically trained background in music, it can be daunting to pursue music in a scholastic sense. With the department changing its curriculum, it opens the door for so many people who have a passion for music, but who might not be the typical candidates for a music school, to blossom and grow as musicians.”

Toby Rush, associate professor of music theory, and Stefanie Acevedo, assistant professor of music theory at the University of Connecticut, started the revision of UD’s music theory curriculum in 2019. In November 2021, the duo received an honorable mention for the inaugural Society of Music Theory Award for Diversity Course Design. The pair created a collaborative wiki, linked from Rush’s website, about their new curricular approach to undergraduate music theory.

Rush also has been leading work on the music technology curriculum with adjunct faculty member Brady Harrison, making it possible for some students to major in music with electronic music as their primary instrument.

Rush said the addition of Sofer to the UD music faculty is a case of perfect timing.

“We’ve redesigned our music theory and music technology curricula to make them more equitable, accessible and relevant, removing some implicit and explicit barriers of entry for a lot of future music professionals, and we’re already seen as a model in the discipline for other schools with similar goals,” Rush said. “Daniele’s depth of expertise and experience, as well as their fearless willingness to challenge long-held assumptions, could not have come at a more perfect time for our goals as a department and as a field at large.”

Sofer said all music majors should have some knowledge of music technology to enhance their career prospects. For example, performance majors should know basic sound engineering skills, and how to set up a microphone, amplifier and speakers in a recording studio. Previously, such skills were learned through extracurricular activities, but now they are being integrated into the curriculum.

“I’m really excited to have Daniele here to develop our music technology curriculum,” Randel said. “We have more and more students interested in this area, and Daniele has great ideas for expanding opportunities available to them. Daniele is an interdisciplinary and collaborative thinker, and has already been making connections with colleagues in engineering, psychology and English. I can’t wait to see where Daniele and our students go with these collaborations.”

For more information, visit the Department of Music website.

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