On Campus: Student News


Shelley Dormont ’11

Megan McCarty discovers song cycle by composer Franz Liszt.

Twenty-Something Makes Major Musical Discovery

Megan McCarty ’09 was taking a music seminar on song cycles during her junior year when Professor of Music Michael Cooper told his students they had to write about something not covered in class for their final paper. Unsure what to do, McCarty asked Cooper for an idea.

“He suggested I look into Franz Liszt,” McCarty recalls. “I was confused at first because, to my knowledge at the time, Liszt had not written any song cycles—only individual songs.”

Nevertheless, McCarty set to work. The results of her research surprised even Cooper, who is one of the world’s foremost music scholars.

McCarty discovered that Liszt did, in fact, write a song cycle based on four poems—all based on love—by Victor Hugo, a prolific French writer who lived from 1802-1885. Song cycles are collections of songs written about a single theme or subject, often telling a story or tracing some sort of narrative. In addition to studying the texts of the four songs, she studied their musical composition to determine a common thread among them.

“What Megan did is really extraordinary,” Cooper says. “I have never seen this level of work in an undergraduate thesis. This is advanced doctoral work in all but name.”

Cooper believes McCarty may be the first twenty-something to discover a previously unrecognized song cycle by a major composer. “Most people who do this are in their 40s, 50s or 60s,” he says. “But most scholars go their entire career without discovering anything this important.”

Cooper says he suggested the project to McCarty because Liszt is among the least researched of the major composers. “There is a huge portion of his life we don’t know much about from a scholarly viewpoint,” he says.

Liszt, who lived from 1811-1886, was a world-famous piano player before he became a composer. Cooper says that even though Liszt set 80 poems to music, most scholarship has focused on his piano works, for which he is best known. Cooper and McCarty believe Liszt may have reconstituted the four songs into a song cycle in an effort to become taken more seriously as a composer.

“Since Liszt wrote cycles in every other genre in which he worked—including symphonic poems and piano pieces—it was logical to assume he would have written a song cycle, but no one had ever looked for this,” Cooper says. “I knew Megan had the combination of curiosity and perseverance to find something if it was there.”

McCarty expanded her original paper for the seminar into a 40-page honors thesis, which she successfully defended in April. McCarty graduated cum laude in May with a degree in music literature. She plans to spend the next year reworking her Liszt paper, as well as several other papers she has written. She hopes to submit them to the Journal of Musicological Research, and present them at regional meetings of the American Musicological Society and the College Music Society. She would like to enter a Ph.D. program in musicology in the fall of 2010.

In the coming year, McCarty will also continue her work as Cooper’s research assistant and will be his co-author on the Historical Dictionary of Romantic Music, which will be part of a series to be published by Scarecrow Press in 2013. She is also helping Cooper on his book, Secular Religion in Music from Mozart to Schoenberg, to be published in 2012.

Shelley Dormont ’11

Fulbright Scholars Erin Osterhaus (left) and Carolyn Acker (right) say “Auf Wiedersehen” to Associate Professor of German Erika Berroth.

Two Seniors Headed to Bavaria on Fulbrights

Carolyn Acker ’09 and Erin Osterhaus ’09, were awarded Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships in Germany and will be be teaching at schools in Bavaria for the 2009-10 academic year.

Acker graduated with a double major in German and anthropology and Osterhaus graduated with a degree in Spanish and French, and a minor in German.

The Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program is one of several academic exchange programs administered by the U.S. Department of State. “Fulbright Teaching Assistantship awards are very competitive and very prestigious,” says Erika Berroth, associate professor of German.

Acker and Osterhaus are following in the footsteps of 2008 graduates Amy Tanguay and Chelsea Edge, who also received Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships in Germany.

After her year in Germany, Osterhaus plans to attend graduate school for international affairs or Latin American studies. Acker plans to attend graduate school for social work or public health.

Students Design the Phone Infrastructure for a New Country in Four Days

A team of Southwestern students received a prestigious award as the result of their participation in an international mathematical modeling competition held earlier this year.

The competition was the 25th annual Mathematical Contest in Modeling sponsored by the Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications. Students participated in the competition via computer in February. During a four-day period, they had to research, model and submit a solution to one of two modeling problems. More than 1,675 teams from 14 countries participated in the contest.

The Southwestern team, consisting of Stephen Foster ’09, Bobby Potter ’09 and junior Tommy Rogers, was one of nine teams named “Outstanding Winner” for their work modeling “Problem B,” in which students were asked to design the phone infrastructure for a new country.

Foster, Potter and Rogers also won the prestigious SIAM Award in the Mathematical Contest in Modeling for their solution to “Problem B.” The SIAM Award is given by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.

Paideia® Professors David Gaines and Michael Kamen join Carlos Barron and Derek Sample ’09 in preserving Georgetown history. Also pictured right: Kimberly Garrett, City of Georgetown.

Preserving Local History

Thanks to the efforts of a group of students in Southwestern’s Paideia® Program, a piece of Georgetown history has been documented and preserved.

Three years ago, students in Michael Kamen’s Paideia cohort were looking for a community service project. They met with Kimberly Garrett, parks and recreation director for the City of Georgetown, who suggested they research the history of a house that used to be located in Rivery Park, along the San Gabriel River hike and bike trail.

The house was built in the mid-1800s by the Shell family, who used the surrounding land as a ranch. The family sold the 263-acre property in 1972 and it traded hands several times before Georgetown acquired it for parkland in the mid-1990s. Today, all that remains of the house is part of the foundation and steps, as well as a cistern.

Students visited the property, went to the Georgetown Library and the Williamson County Museum to get information on the house and talked to several descendants of the Shell family before using $1,500 from a 3M grant to Southwestern to develop a sign that gives the history of the house. Carlos Barron, a senior art major, was hired to create a drawing of the house, which was “like reconstructing a suspect in a crime scene,” says Kamen, associate professor of education.