Date of Degree
Music Performance | Music Theory | Other Social and Behavioral Sciences
The music of composer Andrew McKenna Lee spans multiple genres and styles, and does so in a way that draws parallels to the New York City downtown new music scene as well as the progressive and experimental rock scenes. These connections are especially apparent when looking at his 2013 song cycle The Knells, written for Lee’s ensemble, also called The Knells, which he assembled expressly for the purpose of performing this work. The band consists of three female singers singing without vibrato, backed by a rock group, plus percussion and string quartet. Lee deploys these forces to create a sound world that spans the enormous gulf between his varied musical interests.
This paper explores and classifies Lee’s music, taking into account his background as a classical and rock guitarist, his knowledge of the classical repertoire, a great love of popular music, including progressive rock, and his lifelong struggle with depression. The Knells as a whole will be analyzed through the lens of Disability Studies, and this paper will show how Lee has composed his depression into the music, drawing upon the influences of minimalism, today’s current new music scene, Renaissance and Baroque vocal writing techniques, and the progressive rock traditions of the concept album and fusing classical archetypes with rock music.
First, this dissertation offers a biography of the composer, detailing important childhood moments and family life, as well as his educational background and important career achievements. Second, I analyze The Knells and point out connections to popular music genres such as progressive rock, experimental rock, and jazz, and I demonstrate that his music may be classified equally well as both progressive rock and new music. I also draw parallels between Lee’s cycle and the classical music that he loves, and contextualize Lee’s group within today’s classical and popular music scenes. Last, I offer a detailed analysis of the ways in which listeners and players may track Lee’s depression through The Knells, ranging from Lee’s reliance on straight-tone singing to the harmonies he employs and musical motifs that bind the song cycle. Through examining the composer and his music, I demonstrate that Lee’s depression has opened up a creative and productive space for him, and that he has and continues to make important contributions to both classical and popular music.
Berman, Nina, "Splendid Disarray: The Music of Andrew McKenna Lee" (2018). CUNY Academic Works.