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Anjni Amin

PhD Candidate in Music Theory and Cognition

Anjni Amin

I might not be the stereotypical music theorist or cognitive scientist, but in implementing the tools and methods that each discipline affords, I find that I am able to speak to broader questions about the musical experience in a unique and novel way.”

Anjni Amin is a PhD candidate in the Music Theory and Cognition program in the Bienen School of Music. Her research lies at the intersection between music theory, cognition, and pedagogy. Her dissertation examines the development of expressive interpretation skills through interaction between performer-pedagogue and student in the collegiate performance studio. She is also interested in world music pedagogy and ethnomusicology, specifically the folk music of North India. Anjni serves as a graduate teaching mentor and a teaching consultant at Northwestern's Searle Center for Advancing Learning & Teaching

How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience? 

My research ultimately aims to better understand how we teach, learn, and develop musical skills. Specifically, my work examines the cognitive processes that classical performers undergo to construct their own unique performance of a composition and how they do so under the guidance of their performance teacher. I’m interested in the different ways that performers navigate a decision-making process to develop an expressive performance that is meaningful to themselves and their audience and is informed by the composer and composition itself. In my dissertation, I focus on how pedagogy guides and shapes this process by observing how the teacher passes along nonverbal, tacit knowledge, and how it is implemented by the student. Music’s ineffable ability to express is an important motivator for our continual interactions with it, and by better understanding how music expresses, we can begin to understand the magnitude of the human-music affective relationship. 

What is a mistake you have learned from in your career?

I was incredibly intimidated by my field early on and I didn’t openly share my work because I felt I didn’t fit into the ‘box’ I believed was expected of scholars in my discipline. Over time, I’ve realized that nurturing my hesitations was unnecessary. The boundaries of the disciplinary ‘box’ are more flexible than I once thought. I might not be the stereotypical music theorist or cognitive scientist, but in implementing the tools and methods that each discipline affords, I find that I am able to speak to broader questions about the musical experience in a unique and novel way.

What do you find both rewarding and challenging about your research and/or work?

I’m very passionate about music and I feel fortunate to have the means to dedicate time to the study of its structure and impact. Because I utilize qualitative methods in my research, I am able to study the aspects of musical experience that I think are valuable. I discuss music-making in the real world by speaking directly with musicians and by observing the interactions involved in the active creation of music. It’s rewarding but also challenging because the musical experience is very subjective; everyone has their own unique insights into music and generalizing them can be quite difficult. I don’t necessarily believe there is a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to feel about or interact with music. However, because music is a practice that is often situated in a specific cultural context and shared by individuals with similar cognitive capacities, I believe that generalized claims can still be mindfully constructed about human cognition and practice.

How do you unwind after a long day?

I am invested in creating and implementing a self-care routine that incorporates healthy outlets, and for me, self-care includes a yoga practice or bouldering session followed by plenty of time watching television or curling up with a good fantasy novel. I find it important to incorporate a daily meditation practice, and I recently began my RYT-200 yoga teacher training journey. The mindfulness practice as a whole has had such a positive impact on my mental, emotional, and physical health.

What books are on your bedside table?

These days, I have more time to read for pleasure. As such, I’m currently enthralled by Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth. I’ve been alternating between that and Swami Satchidananda’s translation of the Bhagavad Gita, The Living Gita, and I am always revisiting a book from the Harry Potter series, currently the Half-Blood Prince.

Tell us about a current achievement or something you're working on that excites you.

I’m excited about my recent contribution to The Routledge Companion to Music Theory Pedagogy, a volume that is both timely and relevant to anyone teaching music. A growing concern within my field is the diversification of the Western art music canon privileged in teaching and research. As someone with one foot in Indian culture and another in Western, this endeavor is very important to me. My contribution to the volume provides a tool to aid instructors in exploring different musical cultures in the classroom. Specifically, I focus on North Indian classical music and its importation into fundamental discussions of rhythm and meter.

Published: April 13, 2020

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