Graduate musicology student Sara Ballance wins prestigious Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship

The American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) recently announced Sara Ballance, a UCSB graduate student in musicology, as a recipient of the 2016 Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion fellowship for her topic, "Learning to Listen: Musical Hearing and the Construction of Musicality in the Nineteenth Century". Ms. Ballance was selected as one of only sixty-six fellows nationwide, and will receive a $30,000 stipend, along with up to $8,000 in research funds and university fees, to facilitate the completion of her dissertation over the next year. The 2016 fellows were selected from a pool of nearly 1,000 applicants through a highly competitive, multi-stage peer review process.

Ms. Ballance describes her research below:

“My dissertation project grew out of two seminar papers that I wrote early on in my graduate studies. One explored the history of musical dictation as a pedagogical tool; the other looked at a little-known instrument from the nineteenth century called the Virgil Practice Clavier—a piano that made only clicking sounds and promised to teach perfect keyboard technique. For all their differences, these two methods came of age at almost exactly the same time in the late-nineteenth century, and both became incredibly popular. They seemed to have such opposing ways of negotiating issues of sound, listening, and the mechanics of performance, eliminating musical sound altogether in the case of the Virgil Clavier, and setting aside performance in favor of intense listening in the case of dictation. I wanted to know what values could be driving the sudden popularity of both methods, and what they could tell us about how nineteenth-century musicians understood their own listening and performance. With guidance from my advisor, Dave Paul, I’ve begun to answer those questions by looking closely at the methods themselves, but also by studying more broadly the context of aesthetic values and scientific beliefs about listening and performance that shaped nineteenth-century practices.”

To read the abstract for Ms. Ballance’s dissertation, please visit her profile on the ACLS website.

Sara Ballance is a PhD candidate in Musicology at UCSB, where she was the 2015 recipient of the Stanley Krebs Memorial Prize in Musicology. She holds undergraduate degrees in Violin Performance, Music Theory, and Brain & Cognitive Sciences from the Eastman School of Music and the University of Rochester, and a master's degree in Pedagogy of Music Theory from Eastman. At UCSB, Sara served as a Graduate Affiliates Program Scholar within the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center for their 2015-16 series, "The Humanities and the Brain," and she previously worked as a research assistant in the Eastman Music Cognition Lab. She has presented research at the annual meeting of the Society for American Music, and will present at the American Musicological Society's national conference this fall. Her dissertation work has been supported by a Humanities and Social Sciences Research Grant from UCSB and a graduate fellowship from the Siff Family Educational Foundation; during the 2016-17 academic year, she will be supported by a Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship.

The Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion fellowship program is made possible by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


Courtesy photo.
A Virgil Practice Clavier advertisement from 1896.
A dictation exercise from Frédéric Louis Ritter's "Musical Dictation: A Practical Guide for Musical Students (1887)".