The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Miriam Piilonen

Assistant Professor, Music Theory; Honors Program Director

Miriam Piilonen, Music Theorist

Personal website

356 Bromery Center for the Arts

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 multiple grants and fellowships, including a Franke Humanities Fellowship and an “SMT-40” Dissertation Fellowship from the Society for Music Theory. Additional areas of study and performance include: 20th-21st century popular music and dance, musical experimentalism, and social 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 research is published in Critical Inquiry, Empirical Musicology Review, and her chapter, “Music Theory and Social Media” is in The Oxford Handbook of Public Music Theory (2022).

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 Musical Form,” “Music Since 1945,” and “Chicago Music Scenes.” She is the recipient of several teaching fellowships for her work as a mentor to graduate and postdoctoral instructors.

Photo credit: Ash Dye