This is a guest post by Bailey Myers, master’s student in horn performance.
It’s finals week! As the end of the semester approaches and Peabody students are tucked away in every corner of Friedheim Music Library studying for exams, Mark Janello’s graduate music theory seminar class “Musical Puzzles, Games, and Machines” has lifted spirits and lightened the mood by hosting a fun competition of “musical enigmas,” or musical puzzles posted around the school for students to try and solve.
Dr. Janello’s class have been studying these sorts of historical musical oddities all semester. While riddles and puzzles have been popular since the Renaissance, musical puzzles in particular had a surge of popularity in the 18th century, when they were used by musicians as a teaching aid and to simply be clever. The class, “Musical Puzzles, Games, and Machines,” studied and recreated some games from that time period, as well as creating modern-day musical games in the same vein, such as writing motets based on Google auto-complete – for example, typing “what does it mean when…” and letting Google suggest the rest of the line.
This particular contest was a collection of musical enigmas – small musical puzzles written by members of the class with clues to accompany them. For example, the clue “two brothers holding hands over a river” could mean that two parts of a duet start on the same note but then move up or down respectively in mirror image of one another. Or “two vendors passing in the street” could mean that a melody is played forwards and backwards simultaneously to create a duet.
The enigmas were posted around Peabody and students were able to submit their answers. “FABULOUS PRIZES” were advertised by Dr. Janello in an email to the student body, including “a set of Music Theory Rudiments Quiz Generator Dice, personally made by me (Dr. Janello); and 2) the JS Bach Action Figure you’ve been coveting forever.” Winners were drawn from submissions on the last day of the “Musical Puzzles” class.
Sam Torres, a first-year master’s student from New York studying computer music and composition, won the JS Bach action figure – “I’ve been interested in Bach and musical puzzles since I was a little kid, so it’s exciting to be able to combine the two interests!”
Matt Stiens, a second-year master’s student in percussion performance from St. Louis won the set of Music Theory Rudiments Quiz Generator Dice and shared: “This challenge was exciting to me because I enjoy music theory, counterpoint, and puzzles. The fact that this project included all three made it too good to pass up! I wanted to solve more, but the craziness of the end of the semester got to me. These dice will certainly be useful in creating perplexing chord progressions, a necessity in studying for DMA entrance exams!”