Wesleyan portrait of Jane  Alden

Jane Alden

Professor of Music

Music Studios, 310

Chair, Medieval Studies

Professor, Medieval Studies



Visit Professional Website

BMU Manchester University
MMU King's College
PHD University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Jane Alden

Jane Alden's research addresses musical notation and visual culture in the medieval and modern eras, experimental music, performance practices, and social networks. Her publications include the monograph Songs, Scribes, and Society: The History and Reception of the Loire Valley Chansonniers (Oxford University Press, 2010) and a various articles on medieval and contemporary topics. She is currently writing a book on the visual ancestry of Cornelius Cardew’s “Scratch Music.” With degrees from Manchester University, King’s College London, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Trinity College Dublin, she is active as a musicologist, director, performer, and conductor, seeing performance as the most effective way to reach out beyond academia to communicate with the wider public. In 2011, she formed the Vocal Constructivists, a London-based group of singers who specialize in performing graphic and text scores (www.vocalconstructivists.com  @constructivists @vocalconstructivists). The group has premiered over twenty-five new commissions and offered radical new interpretations of established works. Walking Still, a full-length album, is available on the Innova label (#898). Professor Alden maintains an active research, teaching, and performance career in the US and the UK.

At Manchester University (UK), where I did my undergrad, I couldn't decide if I wanted to write about music or perform. I feel very lucky that by the time I became a musicologist, the field of research had expanded to include practice-led scholarship, enabling me to continue with both activities. Doctoral work introduced me to medieval studies, codicology, new materiality, and cultural history. Using these interpretative frames, I explored the visual aspects of notation, chiefly in relation to 15th-century chansonniers--perhaps the first pocket-sized books to encapsulate the pleasure of owning music. I see the resurgence of interest in visual music that took place in the late 20th century as a reflection of shifting understandings of the roles of performers, influenced by vernacular musics and improvisatory practices. My research is a way for me to share how music is meaningful, inviting, inspiring, and provocative, existing outside of as well as moving through time. Interest in experimental vocalisation led me to form the Vocal Constructivists. With ages ranging from 19 to 81, the Vocal Constructivists draw on a variety of artistic influences—classical, global, avant-garde, eclectic, and dramatic. Experimentalism is a primary motivation, propelling the group away from an expected sound world. My group was the first ensemble to give a fully vocal performance of Cornelius Cardew’s 1967 Treatise. Other featured composers include Mark Applebaum, Wojtek Blecharz, Anthony Braxton, Neely Bruce, Jan Duszyński, Nye Ffarrabas, Paula Matthusen, Meredith Monk, Pauline Oliveros, Michael Parsons, Tom Phillips, Lauren Redhead, Bogusław Schäffer, and Christian Wolff. Vivid concert presentations result from extensive engagement with composers and with source materials. In 2013, the Vocal Constructivists visited Wesleyan for a conference I organized called “Time Stands Still: Notation in Musical Practice,” which witnessed the beginning of an artistic collaboration with Nir Bitton, a New York-based graphic designer. Wesleyan students have often participated in the group. Working online in 2020 and 2021, the group made a number of creative films, collaborated with a cyborg, hosted a live remote festival, participated in a 6-month recorded installation, and commissioned new works. Since returning to live performance in 2022, we have given several performances at Pentameters Theatre, London, adding a choreographic element to our presentations.

Academic Affiliations

Office Hours

M/W 11:00–12:00


Fall 2024
MUSC 248 - 01
Music in Outer Space

MUSC 300 - 01
Seminar for Music Majors