Miriam Piilonen is Assistant Professor of Music Theory at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the author of Theorizing Music Evolution: Darwin, Spencer, and the Limits of the Human (forthcoming with OUP), a critical examination of ideas about musical origins, with emphasis on nineteenth-century music-evolutionary texts by Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer.
Miriam grew up in Blacksburg, Virginia, where she learned Appalachian flatfooting, clarinet and saxophone, and composed for her middle and high school bands. She earned a Bachelor of Music in composition from the New England Conservatory, Master of Science in human development from Virginia Tech, and PhD in music theory and cognition from Northwestern University. Her dissertation, "Resonating Subjects: Music and Emotion in Victorian Evolutionary Thought" won the Society for Music Theory's most prestigious dissertation award, the SMT-40.
Miriam’s research interests span a range of topics in the history of music theory, composition and songwriting, electronic music and sound production, and new media studies. 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 work is published in peer-reviewed journals Critical Inquiry, Empirical Musicology Review, Women’s Studies Quarterly, and her chapter, “Music Theory and Social Media” is in The Oxford Handbook of Public Music Theory.
Miriam’s teaching is centered on helping musicians develop technical and interpretive skillsets through improvisation, composition, dictation, and analysis. Past courses have addressed a range of topics in music theory and ear training, such as “Analysis of Pop and Rock,” “Music Since 1945,” “Chicago Music Scenes,” and “Music Theory Pedagogy.”