As a scholar, I write in the silences between performances, using the power of words to explore music’s meanings and formal logic.

Many consider this exploration an activity of mind; but always present deep within me is the memory of my conducting hands as moving and transformative.   Giving my body a presence in the writing, this memory has fueled a dialogue between scholar and artist that has allowed me to reach beyond the boundaries of discipline discourses to open new pathways for understanding our sense of time, space, and place in musical experience.

Selected Publications

Compositional Crossroads, Eleanor Stubley, Editor

“Compositional Crossroads – timely and of tremendous importance to musicology – speaks in a voice that appears to have been prescribed by the material itself.”
– Allen Gordon Bell, University of Calgary

 

crossroads

The first in-depth study of a Canadian university as a centre of new music production, this edited collection explores the evolution of the Schulich School of Music.  Its architectural structure as a “crossroads” is elaborated through ideas inspired by my experience of music as a sounding place. In the selected example, provided here in both written and audio versions, I capture in words the “sound” of the conversations that inspire creativity and pedagogy as students, faculty, and other visitors meet, converse, and interact in its many institutional corridors.

Listen to an excerpt read by Eleanor Stubley

Excerpt from “Sounding the Pathways:  Composer-Work Studies” by Eleanor Stubley:

As at any crossroads, the languages spoken are multiple and …[t]he conversation changes depending on the route taken through the building, with … the openness of the Faculty’s institutional infrastructures encouraging chance meetings and casual exchanges that have their own inspirational value for the creative work of composers, conductors, and performers and for the theoretical model-making and hermeneutical analyses of musicologists and theorists. Yet, like other crossroads, such as an airport or a train station, the conversations have a certain sameness, ultimately revolving around what Edward Casey describes as the “preoccupations of travellers”:    Read more

where are you coming from and where are you going? The answers are as revealing of place as the languages spoken. To this end, the following composer-work studies may be read not only for the value of their scholarly insights but also for the ways in which the various themes, ideas, and compositions discussed by the difference authors recur, resonate, and interact as part of a larger ongoing conversation unfolding in both word and sound. While it would be impossible to convey the richness of that conversation, one thread might begin in the following way:

Bengt Hambraeus is remembered by students who had the opportunity to take his now legendary twentieth-century performance-practice seminar as a man forever in search of inter-relationships. His search often began with a fascination for words, not only for what they say but also for the surprises hidden deep within their histories. “Chime” as a noun, means the rim of a cask; an apparatus for striking a bell; the sound produced by a bell; an agreement or accord. To “chime in” means to interrupt the speech of others, usually with unsolicited opinion. The carillon – a stationary set of chromatically tuned bells in a tower, the first fully automatic or mechanical musical instrument – links technological advances in fourteenth-century watch design to developments in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century organ construction, nineteenth century musical boxes, and the early twentieth century “re-producing piano.” The word “carillon” stems from the latin quartern meaning “by fours.” …

alcides lanza’s interest in the tango, like Hambraeus’s fascination with the sound of bells, is the product of a childhood memory of a distant homeland that has left an indelible mark. For Hambraeus this memory remained silent of unconscious until he came to understand its musical influence later in life through his conception of “music as klang,” inspired by hearing his own compositions against the backdrop of Montreal’s world musical soundscape. For lanza, the memory has been an explicit one that demands musical exploration, the evolution of his musical language in the early years of his career having focused primarily on technological applications and the development of what he described to musicologist Pamela Jones as an “international” sound…

In Die klingende Zeit, Brian Cherney is concerned not so much with distinctions between old and new, past and present, as with the concept of time itself. Like many of his mature works, Die klingende Zeit is contemplative in character and is intricately bound with Cherney’s memories of sounds and their relationship to time.

“edited most carefully, … , the whole is clearly more than the sum of its parts. I find particularly accurate the editor’s description of the book as “a series of snapshots that, flashed one after the other in quick succession, capture the vibrant life of a prestigious North American music academy … standing on the threshold of a new beginning …”
– Osvaldo Budón

 

Louis Riel, The Story, Eleanor Stubley

“My people will sleep for 100 years and when they wake, it will be the artists who give them back their souls.”

louis-riel-cover

Excerpt (from Prologue):

Penned by Louis Riel in 1885, just days before he walked up the steps of the executioner’s block to meet his own death as a condemned traitor, the words take me back thirty years in time. A young teenager knowing absolutely nothing about the opera, I sit … in the bowels of the orchestra seats at Toronto’s O’Keefe Centre in that moment of charged silence that follows the dimming of the lights… From the seemingly impenetrable darkness… comes the haunting words of a lone folksinger… As I search for an image, a body behind the voice, I am acutely aware that I can put no face to this ruffian, he having merited nothing more than a passing footnote in my Grade 8 history textbook. The feeling lingers as the authoritative command of a leader proclaims ‘We are no rebels,’ …

Louis Riel 2005 was written for the Schulich School of Music’s award-winning revival of Harry Somers’ and Mavor Moore’s Opera. Among other unique perspectives explored, the study was the first to capture on paper how the interpretative process of a performer can influence the evolution of an opera across time.  In the excerpt below, my scholar’s hand also fills the empty spaces between the words through the play of image and poetic text to convey the silence of things left unsaid and the sense in which music puts and keeps ideas, characters, and feelings in motion.

“One of the most attractive and fascinating performance booklets I have ever read.”
— Richard Turp (Opera Canada, 2005)

Excerpt (from Finding the Voice):

Excerpt (from Telling the Story):

Read more

By the time the libretto is finished, Louis Riel has become both the Opera’s protaganist and its battleground, buffeted on one hand by the social injustices of a horse become Goliath, on the other, by the turmoil of his own inner struggle to determine what is right and just. For Somers, the challenges are manifold, the most significant of which is the irrevocable reality that from the outset Riel’s death is a foregone conclusion. He begins using Latin Church music, folksongs of various ethnic origins, and European dance music to sculpt the geographical landscape and deepen our understanding of the divisive cultural forces at play… Then, juxtaposing vocal styles and superimposing them on dense atonal orchestra textures and kafka-ish electronic sounds, he uses Riel’s inner turmoil to dramatically heighten and fill the silence of the gap between linguistic cultures carved out in the libretto. The strategy weaves Riel into the musical geography of the Canadian landscape, and in so doing, makes his story an essential component of our divided nature… And when it comes articulated by the flute, the Native Indian symbol of the spirit, it does so with the eloquence of a voice that sings in neither french nor English, but the purity of song itself.”

“Ear-Dreaming: A Study in Listeners,” In Weinzweig, Beckwith, J., & Cherney, B.

“Stubley’s vivid article draws on a wide range of sources and provides fascinating insights… it adds depth and colour to our understanding of his music and the world he occupied.”
– Benita Wolters-Fredlund

wein

In this article, I advocate writing as a way of evoking the multiplicity of listeners frequently ignored in the notion of the period ear.  To achieve this, the writing documents and makes palpable something of the multiplicity of temporal experiences that are potentially inherent in one’s sense of a present that evolves across a span of time.  It is a sense of time at the heart of my engagement with music as a conductor.

Excerpts:

… I began to envision the task of writing a reception history of Weinzweig’s music as a form of ear-dreaming.  Part of it was a sense that my efforts to conjure a ‘period ear’ would need to be tuned to Weinzweig’s own dreaming, since he had described his compositional process as a never-ending ‘quest to identify the tempo of the times.’ (p. 317)

3 January 1943
The clock approaches the top of the hour, six seconds, five seconds, … two seconds, one second to go, as radio listeners coast to coast await the familiar signature theme heralding the CBC’s weekly instalment of Our Canada. Joe, a soon-to-be-air-force cadet, answers it orchestral flourish with a whistled rendition of his own.  Seconds later the authoritative voice of the series’ narrator, Lorne Greene, announces: ‘Joe, our poets, our painters, and our composers are important,Read more

for in their work our country can see its soul take shape.’…’We are a nation tamed, Joe, not yet fully imagined,’ and when the work of our artists is complete we will discover that we have long been ‘strangers’ to ourselves.’ (p. 318). . . …..   The tale was told. …in the urgent tick-tock rhythms which Canadians had come to associate with war documentaries and breaking news stories from the front.  Heard today, the technique continues to create the palpable impression of an imminent future. . .. It also wrapped the arts in the tempo of a progressive now, qualitatively and conceptually different from the present steeped in the long European past which had shaped the colonial imaginations of earlier generations. (p. 320)

17 January 1963
The clock has begun to tick again, one, .. one, two,…one, two, three, .. .  I hear in it the shuffle of an old man’s feet, the Cagean silence from which all sounds rise and fall, and the tempo of a time in which the present is defined through the flux of its own instability.  It is a sense of the present born of a self-conscious awareness of modernity, not as a leading edge of an avant-garde that initiates a Kuhnian paradigm shift, but as the essence of an era… (p. 329)

11 March 1993
The clock continues to tick.  Only time has become ‘braided’:  a unity of intertwined strands, unique, singular, and individual, ‘ yet nonetheless partaking of a more generic and over-reaching time through which relations of earlier and later, shorter and longer, whole and fragmentary,’ make it possible to locate times and durations relative to each other.119 It is a time when the modern, in the face of its own longevity, has had to question the viability of progress as its raison d’etre… (p. 333)

As the conductor Bramwell Tovey recalls, it was as if the play of meanings engendered by the tempo of the times had finally allowed the listener to hear what had hitherto been heard only by the performers, ‘that which lay hidden in the silence.’156 (p. 337).

“Stubley’s reception history [is] groundbreaking in the extent to which [it] take[s] seriously the influence of Toronto’s Jewish community, and the secular left-wing branch of that community in particular, on Weinzweig’s career and music.”
– Benita Wolters-Fredlund

“Being in the Body, Being in the Sound,” Journal of Aesthetic Education

“The experiential field thus created is an open and ever expanding space…”
– Wayne  Bowman, Philosophical Perspectives on Music (Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 294)

philpers

This was my first major collaboration between scholar and performer. My “two” hands carve out a common space together through the philosophical language of phenomenology.

Excerpt:

It is dusk in the desert–that bewitching hour when the intensity of the day’s unrelenting heat suddenly lifts with the hint of a breeze and a promise of darkness. Worn and weary with dust trailing my every movement, I am inexorably drawn forward by the distant sounds of drums and com-munity. I am curious to see what lies ahead, but for one brief minute I look back from where I have come. A single window penetrates the gloom. It opens on a small room, cluttered with mementos celebrating a long history of great artistry. I feel the weight of this history, even at this distance; but what captures my attention is the music making in the only uncluttered corner of the room where four musicians are poring over a recently discovered score of a late Beethoven string quartet. While the music making appears to be motivated and bound by the score, it is as if the musicians are searching for something that lies beyond the score. Read more

At times, the searching seems to question the shape or presence of a particular note or melodic motive; at other times, it appears to be a quest for “the work,” the string quartet written by Beethoven. As I continue to eavesdrop, I am struck by the way in which the searching in both instances ultimately seems to evolve into a question of ensemble. It is as if the musicians are not only trying to discover the music implied by the score notations, but also trying to find themselves, trying to get a sense of who they are in relationship to this music. It is a phenomenon that I have encountered frequently in my travels, and I wonder, as the sounds in the distance reenter my consciousness, why of all the possibilities the window of my mind opened on this particular room.

My thoughts, however, quickly turn to the sounds drawing me forward, for they are quite unlike anything I have heard before. I am filled with awe by the rich variety of drum timbres and have a strong sense of order; yet, if asked to explain this sense, I am at a loss, for I can discern neither melody nor harmony, neither meter nor form. Indeed, my first impressions seem to focus almost entirely on the way in which the musicians are moving. It is as if they are joined to their drums and are making music with their whole bodies. I have experienced sound and movement as one many times in my travels; but here there is something more, for it is as if the movement motivates and sustains the music making, filling the musicians with energy and drive. In some instances, the musicians appear so immersed in their bodies that their movements seem to define their total sense of being or self-awareness. This strikes me as odd, for it seems as if many of the musicians are simply repeating the same patterns over and over again, and it is difficult for me to understand how such repetition can be so all-absorbing. As I continue to watch and listen, though, I begin to sense that the music lies not in the patterns, but in the play of patterns as they merge, coalesce, and are challenged by interjections from what appears to be the drum master. While the musicians may be repeating a pattern over and over again, they are not immersed in the body movements through which those patterns are articulated per se, but in the way in which those movements feel and define their sense of being as the play unfolds. With this realization, I catch a hint of Beethoven in the breeze and I am reminded of the searching at the heart of the string quartet’s music making. The memory, however, escapes me, for the scene before me suddenly shivers like a mirage and is gone.

“The phenomenological method’s openness to diversity, multiplicity, and complexity makes it extraordinarily well suited to dealing with a broad range of music’s ‘experiential’ facts” – (p. 296)