Faculty & Staff Profiles

Somangshu Mukherji

Assistant Professor of Music Theory

Sam Mukherji‘s work lies at the interface of traditional Western tonal theory, the theory and practice of popular and non-Western idioms, and the cognitive science of music. Within this framework, the main focus of his research has been on the prolongational, grammatical aspects of Western tonality and their connection to the tonal structures of Indian music and the blues-based traditions within rock and metal. This emphasis makes his work similar to that of a linguist who explores relationships between the world’s languages – and, therefore, Mukherji’s research has been influenced in particular by ideas from linguistic theory, especially the Minimalist Program in contemporary generative linguistics. For this reason, he has investigated connections not only between different musical idioms but also between music and language – and musical and linguistic theory – more generally. Much of his work explores overlaps between Minimalist linguistics, and related, generative approaches within music theory (such as those found in the writings of Heinrich Schenker), and he has also written extensively about what such “musicolinguistic” connections imply for the wider study of human musical behavior, cognition, and evolution.

His work has been published or is forthcoming in many of the leading academic journals in music theory and music cognition, and he has presented his work at the regional and national conferences of the Society for Music Theory, the Society for Music Perception and Cognition, and the Society for Ethnomusicology, and also at meetings of the International Congress on Musical Signification, the American Brahms Society, and Analytical Approaches to World Music. He is currently working on two book manuscripts, the first on structure and meaning in North Indian classical music, and the second on the parallel development of generative linguistic and music theory in the American academy since the early 1960s.

In addition to teaching the foundational undergraduate courses for both majors and non-majors in Western music theory and analysis, Mukherji regularly teaches advanced undergraduate and graduate seminars on music-language relationships and cognitive music theory, and on the music of India. He remains fairly active as a performer as well, primarily as a rock guitarist, but also occasionally as a classical violinist, in which he trained for many years in both the Western and North Indian traditions.

Prior to coming to the University of Michigan, Mukherji completed his doctoral work in music theory at Princeton University, where he wrote a PhD thesis titled “Generative Musical Grammar: A Minimalist Approach,” which was supported by a dissertation fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, and by a Charlotte Elizabeth Procter honorific fellowship from Princeton. He completed his undergraduate studies in philosophy at the University of Delhi, and then received a second bachelor’s degree from the University of Oxford (psychology, philosophy, and physiology) where he was also a Rhodes Scholar.

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