Hello, and welcome to my website. Here you’ll be able to learn about me and my career. You’ll also find links to some of my publications and performances. Should you wish to contact me, don’t hesitate to do so via the contact tab of this website. You can also follow me on Twitter at @philewell.
I am an associate professor of music theory at Hunter College of the City University of New York, where I am the Director of Graduate Studies in the Music Department. I am also on the faculty at the CUNY Graduate Center, which is one of the top music theory programs in the country and where I have advised six doctoral dissertations through completion. One of the most rewarding facets of my job is student advising—I am always excited to hear of our students’ successes. In addition to my teaching duties, I am the Institutional Assessment Coordinator for our department, which allows me to interact with other departments at Hunter College and learn about innovative new pedagogical strategies. I was honored to recently receive the 2019–2020 “Presidential Award for Excellence in Creative Work” at Hunter, an annual award given to individual faculty in a select few categories. This award was based on my recent publications in music theory and in critical-race studies. Finally, I was thrilled to learn that my project examining music theory from a critical-race perspective was recently awarded a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies for the 2020–2021 academic year.
I began playing cello at the age of nine in my hometown of DeKalb, Illinois. I started an undergraduate degree in physics, but soon switched to my true love, music. My BA in Music is from Stanford University, where I studied cello with Stephen Harrison and music theory and composition with David Rakowski, Ross Bauer, and Leonard Ratner. I then got an MM in cello performance at Queens College (CUNY), where I studied cello with Barbara Mallow and music theory with Carl Schachter. I also have a certificate in cello performance from the St. Petersburg (Russia) Conservatory and a PhD in music theory from Yale University, where I wrote a dissertation on Alexander Scriabin under Allen Forte. Finally, I studied music theory, as a visiting student, with Yuri Kholopov at the Moscow Conservatory.
My research specialties include Russian music and music theory, modal theory, critical-race studies, and hiphop and popular music. I have writings published in many top journals—see the research tab of this website for links to some of these articles. I was the founding editor of Gamut, the journal of the Music Theory Society of the Mid-Atlantic, I served as the chair of the Committee on Diversity of the Society for Music Theory from 2007 to 2010, and I currently serve as Vice President of the Music Theory Society of New York State.
My recent research focuses on Russian concepts of harmony and mode, and how they apply to the music of Rimsky-Korsakov. Specifically, I work extensively on the modal theories of Sergei Protopopov and Boleslav Yavorsky, whose ideas are widespread in Russia and can be applied to many different types of late-romantic and post-tonal tertian music. I’ve also generally worked with the voluminous writings of brother and sister Yuri Kholopov and Valentina Kholopova, and I’ve presented their concepts at conferences and in English translation. My most recent work entails a critical-race examination of music theory. I was honored to be part of the 2019 plenary panel of the Society for Music Theory annual conference, at which I presented a well-received paper, “Music Theory’s White Racial Frame,” which you can view here. Finally, I was recently interviewed by the BBC for their Sunday Feature, entitled “A Racist Music,” on white-supremacist American composer and pianist John Powell. You can listen to this significant piece, which unpacks how the white supremacy of a figure like Powell affects us all, here.
As cellist, I perform both classical and contemporary music, playing either my acoustic cellos or my five-string electric cello. I’ve played concerts in North America, Europe, and Asia, under the batons of conductors such as Gustav Meier and Pierre Boulez, in master classes for musicians such as Janos Starker and Glenn Dicterow, and in backup bands for artists such as Johnny Mathis and Stan Getz. My primary cello teachers were Stephen Harrison, Frederick Zlotkin, Barbara Mallow, and Anatoly Nikitine—see the performance tab of this website for links to some of my performances.