Editor’s Message

Dear readers,

[1] Welcome to the last issue of Music Theory Online Volume 28! The Associate Editors and I are proud to bring you 8 new articles on music from the 16th–21st centuries. To make space for some other thoughts, I won’t give my usual precis of the articles, but please do read the Table of Contents. These articles range from awesome to sublime.

[2] This issue also marks the end of the terms of many of our volunteers. Brad Osborn is completing his 3-year term as Associate Editor. He’s been an even keel and a pleasure to work with. In his place we welcome two new Associate Editors, Drew Nobile and Zachary Bernstein. Both have written for the journal before. (We’re even fortunate enough to have a rare article from Drew not on popular music!) Both have joined the journal because Brent Auerbach is also vacating an Associate Editor position, in order to become Editor in Chief starting in the next issue. We also welcome Nancy Murphy, a previous review author, as Reviews Editor, replacing Bryan Parkhurst. The journal is extremely fortunate that these four said “yes.”

[3] With each annual meeting, we turn over a third of our editorial board. Ending their terms this year are Matthew Boyle, Deborah Burton, Sarah Ellis, Drew Nobile, Steven Reale, Nicholas Reyland, and Jim Sobaskie. Each brought a wealth of expertise to bear on their many reviews of submissions, and scores of scholars benefitted from their commentaries. Our new cohort of board members includes Zachary Cairns, Matt Chiu, Leah Frederick, Julianne Grasso, Tamyka Jordon-Conlin, Robert Komaniecki, and Su Yin Mak. Together they represent the full sweep of the discipline and ensure that authors writing on any topic can have their work reviewed at MTO.

[4] As this is my last Editor’s Message, I also would like to share some thoughts about why I volunteer with this publication. I’ve been associated with Music Theory Online, more or less continuously, since 2007. I started cropping images and replacing typographical marks with HTML codes as a graduate student. I later submitted my work here, served as a reviewer, joined the editorial board, became Associate Editor, and then took on the Editor position, following in the steps, most recently, of editors René Rusch, Jeffrey Perry, David Neumeyer, Nicole Biamonte, Yonatan Malin, and Matthew Shaftel.

[5] I did this work to advance my career in the vague ways that one does in academia, hoping that future hiring or tenure committees would “credit” my service in their discussions. But I also did it for the reasons I imagine so many of our volunteers do: to sustain the discipline, to gain editorial skills, to stay up-to-date with the field, and, most especially, to repay the generosity previously extended to me.

[6] But I didn’t do it for compensation, and in some corners of academic publishing there’s quite a bit of money to be had. In its inaugural year of 1979, another Society for Music Theory publication, Music Theory Spectrum, cost an inflation-adjusted $73 per year for its ~10 articles a year. These prices have risen sharply, both through institutional subscription packages and individual sales of articles. Now, as then, these articles are written, reviewed, and edited by academic volunteers. And with the increasing professionalization of the field and the ever-tightening job market, much of writing, reviewing, and even editing in the humanities is taken on by contingent faculty and graduate students, doing work others in the publishing industry are paid to do.

[7] This is a sorry state of affairs, and it has run parallel with corporate consolidation and rising income inequality elsewhere in the US economy. The growing distinction between those who do the work of scholarship and those whose salaries are paid by it has bothered me more over the course of the pandemic, a time when many employees, within and without the academy, have asked themselves why they work so hard for so little. When these thoughts intrude, I am comforted by repeating what has become a mantra: Music Theory Online is free-to-submit, free-to-publish, and free-to-read by anyone in the world. Our authors own the copyright to their work. Our modest annual expenses ($11,000 in 2023) come from a not-for-profit academic society. While it has always been this way, I don’t think the founders of this journal could have imagined how rare this arrangement would be for a journal of such stature in our discipline or any discipline.

[8] I share the concerns of so many others: that the infrastructure of humanities scholarship is shaky, that the historic reliance on the goodwill of faculty is faltering, and that academic professional societies face their own set of challenges. But if humanities scholarship is to last through 2029 or 2079, it will be because more outside our little field come to take notice of what we do on this site: produce first-rate scholarship, largely through a gift economy of intellectuals with little holding them together besides a dedication to the continued vitality of their discipline.

[9] It’s been a great honor having a turn at the helm, and I wish Brent Auerbach and his many successors all the best.


Mitch Ohriner, Editor-in-Chief
University of Denver