Students start club to broaden opportunities for study of music theory

When flute performance minor Anna Lee completed the music theory courses at NC State, she wanted more and she wasn’t alone. She and her classmates approached their professor Dr. Tom Koch to ask how they could continue to explore and learn more about the language of music outside of the classroom.

Koch was speechless when Lee asked if they could start a theory club and her classmates murmured their agreement. The music department and its faculty strive to open pathways to lifelong learning and music involvement for students, and Koch was thrilled to see that he had inspired his students to create a pathway of their own.

“Among the most exciting moments for me as a teacher are those when students show genuine excitement in the learning process through eager class participation or by exploring a subject more deeply outside of class,” said Koch.

He encouraged them to pursue the idea and became the group’s advisor when Lee established the Music Theory Club in the fall of 2018. She wants to give music students a community and resources with which to deepen their knowledge and toolkit for understanding, appreciating, performing and composing music.

“Music is something pretty much everybody likes and people feel like knowing the rules will put restrictions on it,” said Lee, a sophomore majoring in art and design. “But everybody also loves food and nobody thinks learning to cook will diminish your appreciation for food. Knowing more about music theory will enhance your life and I want more people to know that.”

Lee recognizes that music theory is a niche interest but to its members that’s part of the club’s appeal. “I’ve had people tell me they’re really happy that there are other people interested in this thing that they can chat about together,” said Lee. “There’s not many other places on campus where you can make jokes about cadences.”

The group meets once a week and Lee and fellow members seek out online resources and videos to share with the group. Sometimes they do sight singing and other theory exercises. Recently they invited former department head and composer J. Mark Scearce to speak with the students about composition. Lee hopes eventually the group will be able to perform experimental music for audiences on campus.

“Experimental pieces aren’t necessarily technically difficult but are interesting case studies; pieces that challenge the definition of music. That would be the focus of that kind of event, to challenge the audience to think about music differently,” said Lee.

The club is open to students at all levels of experience who have an interest in music theory. Lee stresses that everyone can find something new to learn during their meetings and using the resources that they share on their social media channels. “I always wanted it to be another resource for music students at State, so I hope people are aware of it and continue to come,” said Lee. In future semesters as the club grows, she hopes to add performance opportunities, trips to hear music performed as a group and attendance at music theory conferences to the group’s activities.

For Koch, it’s been personally encouraging to him to see that he was able to transfer his passion for theory to his students and that despite not having a music major there is genuine interest among NC State students to research and share advanced musical topics. “I hope that they apply what they learn in the club to other music classes, especially [performance-based courses like] applied lessons and ensembles,” said Koch. “I tell them that music theory doesn’t make you a better performer—practice does that—but it gives you the tools to make better decisions about your performance, which in the end makes you a better and more well-rounded musician.”

Interested students can request to join the club’s Facebook group for more info.

Pictured above: Music Theory Club members Ben Davis, Zach Schwartz and Zach Everson work on learning 7th chords during a club meeting in February. Photo by Anna Lee.