William & Mary

Mark Katz '92 Accepts Position at UNC Chapel Hill

Mark KatzWith two books published and a research award from the National Science Foundation, musicologist and violinist Mark Katz is on a roll.

In 2006 he leaves his position as professor in the Musicology Department at the Peabody Conservatory of Music (Johns Hopkins University) to accept an appointment in the Department of Music at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

"Peabody has a conservatory's strong focus on the performance side. While I'm leaving with something of a heavy heart, I've always wanted to focus on the academic side, with both research and teaching. My interest is in cultivating the next generation of musicologists, along with pursuing my own research and music," Mark said. "UNC has a very good Ph.D. program in musicology."

Musicology is broadly defined as the academic study of music and encompasses the cultural, aesthetic, philosophical, and historical. Mark observes that the range is similar in some ways to that of an art historian - while also requiring that the musicologist be a strong performing artist. "We don't expect an art historian to paint or sculpt, but it is essential that a musical historian be able to read music and perform."

Mark graduated in 1992 with a major in Philosophy and, unusually, highest departmental honors in Music. "I didn't even minor in Music. I needed one more theory class and couldn't schedule it. But I spent my life in Ewell Hall, and really loved that combination of philosophy and music. It was a great thing about William and Mary, how the focus is on the student and not the structure that's in place. If someone's really motivated and wants to do something, they'll go for it."

In his honors thesis, "The Interaction of Violin Playing, Recording Technology and the Recording Industry, 1890-1940," Mark explored ideas that informed his Ph.D. dissertation (University of Michigan) and his eventual book Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music (University of California Press, 2004). The book is dedicated to his honors thesis advisor, Professor William DeFotis, who died tragically young at the age of 49 in 2003.

"I can remember the very day I started to think about this area. I was reading the Sunday New York Times, and there was a review of historical recordings of violinists. The writer observed that violinists in the early twentieth century played quite differently from current violinists, and wondered if that was related to the technology itself. It stopped me in my tracks. Since the article didn't answer the question it raised, I took that as a challenge and tried to figure it out.

"Delving into the answers led to my honors thesis. What an extraordinary experience! My advisor was Professor DeFotis, a composer and theorist, and we met every week to sit and listen to a recording and then talk about it. It was an ideal situation for me. Here was a brilliant professor taking me seriously, excited about what I was doing. Professors Preston (Music) and Harris (Philosophy) were also on my thesis committee and influenced me in very positive ways. William and Mary is the perfect environment for an undergraduate. I really treasure my time there."

Mark's second book, The Violin: A Research and Information Guide (Routledge, 2006) began as a collection of citations he kept as an undergraduate. Each entry in the published compilation is annotated. The most recent similar effort was undertaken in 1894. Another project now underway is creating a sourcebook for students and scholars studying music media.

In the fall of 2006, Mark will take a semester's leave to continue his research into hip-hop "turntablism." What began in the African-American and Latino communities in the Bronx, with DJs using turntables to scratch disks and create a new sound, is evolving into a more mainstream, multi-layered art phenomenon. Mark will use the NSF grant to acquire and experiment with his own turntable setup, and also to visit turntable scenes in New York, San Francisco, and possibly Tokyo. "The DJs compete in virtuosity, using a bunch of records to layer the sounds. It's fascinating how they've taken a machine designed to reproduce music and are using it to actually create music."

On his return, he hopes to encourage W&M musicology students to consider graduate study at Chapel Hill and to establish something of a pipeline between the two schools.