Apply to work with me at the Atlantic Center for the Arts as an Associate Artist, May 15 to June 4, 2022. Applications are due December 5, 2021.

Photo by Pascal Perich

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. Feel free to follow me on Twitter if you wish, at @philewell. (Note: I will be on ACLS research leave for the 2020–2021 academic year.)

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 of the CUNY Graduate Center, one of the top doctoral-granting music institutions in the country. In August 2020 I received the “Graduate Center Award for Excellence in Mentoring,” based on the many doctoral dissertations I’ve advised. This award recognized my “ongoing, long-term, commitment to students at all stages of graduate research.” One of the most rewarding facets of my job is student advising—I am always excited to hear of student successes. In addition to my teaching duties at Hunter College, I am the Institutional Assessment Coordinator for our department, which allows me to interact with other departments at Hunter and learn about innovative new pedagogical strategies. I recently received the 2019–2020 “Presidential Award for Excellence in Creative Work” at Hunter, an annual award given to individual faculty in a select few categories. I was named the “Susan McClary and Robert Walser Fellow” of the American Council of Learned Societies for 2020–2021 in light of my recent work in critical-race studies in music. As a result of this ACLS grant, I am working on a monograph that examines race, gender, and other identities in American music theory; this monograph is under contract at the University of Michigan Press’s Music and Social Justice series, which is edited by William Cheng and Andrew Dell’Antonio. I am serving as “Virtual Scholar in Residence” at the University of Pacific’s Conservatory of Music for 2020–2021, also based on this race scholarship in the music academy. Finally, I am under contract at W.W. Norton with coauthors Rosa Abrahams, Aaron Grant, and Cora Palfy to write a new music theory textbook, “The Practicing Music Theorist,” which will be a modernized, reframed, and inclusive textbook based on recent developments in music theory pedagogy.

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 critical-race studies, Russian music and music theory, Russian opera, modal theory, 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. As a Russianist I focus on Russian concepts of harmony and mode, the music of Rimsky-Korsakov, and the history of Russian music theory. Specifically, I work 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 part of the 2019 plenary panel of the Society for Music Theory annual conference, at which I presented a paper, “Music Theory’s White Racial Frame,” which highlighted the white structures of the field and how these structures can have a negative impact on the racial makeup of music theory. I based this paper on a long article, “Music Theory and the White Racial Frame,” which appeared in June 2020 in Music Theory Online. My six-part blog, “Confronting Racism and Sexism in American Music Theory,” delves further into issues surrounding race and gender, issues that have become so very important in contemporary music studies. This work has led to many feature stories about me and my work, stories that you can access on the media tab of this website.

As cellist, I perform both classical and contemporary music, playing either my acoustic cellos or my five-string electric cello. I’ve concertized in North America, Europe, and Asia, and played under the batons of conductors such as Pierre Boulez, Jorge Mester, and Alexander Polishchuk, and in backup bands for artists such as Stan Getz, Johnny Mathis, and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. 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.