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Michiel Schuijer

Music Theorists and Societies

What theory should music theorists teach and how? And what relation does music theory bear to other disciplines, such as performance, composition and musicology? These questions have been a source of much debate and agony within the music theory community. I have long thought that this lack of disciplinary unity was peculiar to music theory. My paper is inspired by my realization that it is not. Similar battles have been fought in other branches of professional life, such as in economics and nursing – two disciplines I will expand upon. And similarly, these battles find their origin in cultural and institutional differences between societies.

However, this is no reason to sit back and relax. There is a vast literature on the establishment of professional authority, and there are lessons to be learned from it. I will begin by noting some parallels between the development of music theory and economics in the United States, France, and Britain, respectively. Using the French institutional landscape of the 1990s as an example, I will distinguish between music theory as a profession and music theory as a field (which implies that there is music theory that music theorists do not profess). Subsequently I will point out the main elements of the sociological discourse on professionalization, and use these as a backdrop for a comparison of music theory and nursing. However unlikely that comparison may appear, it is instructive to see that both nurses and music theorists have claimed ownership of a field they originally shared with other groups, i.e., doctors, and performers, composers or musicologists, respectively.