The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Miriam Piilonen

Assistant Professor, Music Theory

Miriam Piilonen is a music theorist specializing in histories and philosophies of music science. She holds a PhD in Music Theory and Cognition from Northwestern University, an MS in Human Development from Virginia Tech, and a BM in Composition from the New England Conservatory.

Miriam’s primary research examines ideas about music’s evolutionary origins. Rather than try to uncover the “truth” about musical origins, she takes the debate itself as her object of interest. This research has been supported by a Franke Humanities Fellowship and an “SMT-40” Dissertation Fellowship from the Society for Music Theory. She has presented at the annual meetings of the Society for Music Theory, American Musicological Society, International Association for the Study of Popular Music, and American Comparative Literature Association. Her most recent review essay is published in Critical Inquiry.

Miriam’s teaching is centered on helping musicians develop technical and interpretive skillsets through improvisation, score reading, dictation, and analysis. Before arriving at UMass, she taught music theory, aural skills, and music culture courses at Northwestern University and she won several teaching fellowships for her work as a mentor to graduate and postdoctoral instructors.

As the Sustainability Coordinator for the Society for Music Theory and elected chair of the SMT’s Scholars for Social Responsibility, Miriam is part of a network of scholars working to increase accessibility, sustainability, and equity in the profession. Anyone interested in joining these efforts is encouraged to get in touch.

Beyond her academic life, she coaches rock climbing and plays tenor sax in the Chicago punk band Pledge Drive. Photo credit: Ash Dye.