Wesleyan portrait of Jane  Alden

Jane Alden

Professor of Music

Music Studios, 310

Professor, Medieval Studies



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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 number of articles on medieval and contemporary topics. She is currently writing a book entitled Inscribed Experimentalism: The Music of the Scratch Orchestra, which examines the ancestry of "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 director, performer, musicologist 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. The group has premiered over twenty new commissions and offered radical new interpretations of older works. Their album Walking Still is available on the Innova label, see www.vocalconstructivists.com  @constructivists

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 paleography, codicology, material studies, and cultural history. Using these interpretative frames, I explored the visual aspect of notation first in Beneventan exultet rolls and later in 15th-century chansonniers--perhaps the earliest pocket-sized books to encapsulate the pleasure of owning music. I account for the resurgence of interest in visual music that took place in the late 20th century as the result of a shift in the roles of performers, showing the influence of vernacular musics and improvisation. 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 79, 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. They were 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, Zeynep Bulut, Jan Duszyński, Wojciech Kosma, 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 included scholarly presentations, workshops, roundtable discussions, and four concerts. This conference also witnessed the beginning of an artistic collaboration with Nir Bitton, a New York-based graphic designer, and the inclusion of Wesleyan students. Moving online in 2020, the group now includes participants in multiple countries and time zones, who join together remotely on a regular basis. 

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T/Th 11:00–12:00