Lisa Margulis’s book, On Repetition, won the Wallace Berry Award. This award is the highest honor given in music theory, and is for a distinguished book by an author of any age or career stage. Other books that have garnered this prize are among the most important and influential in the Music Theory field. This is a tremendous and well-deserved accomplishment.
The Society for Music Theory has awarded its highest honor, the Wallace Berry Award, to Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis for her book, On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind. Margulis is director of the University of Arkansas Music Cognition Lab and a professor in the Department of Music. In On Repeat, she explored the psychology of repetition in music, across time, style and cultures. Hers is the first in-depth study of repetitiveness in music.
In the award citation, the society called Margulis’ book “a foundational study of the phenomenon of musical repetition” and “a volume of overwhelming significance, originality, and rigor.” They noted her “profound and subtle arguments to help us understand the nature of how repetition is perceived.”
Named for one of the founders of the society, the Wallace Berry Award is granted annually for a book making a significant contribution to music theory, analysis or history of theory. It is widely considered the highest award for scholarship in the field of music theory.
The initial impetus for On Repeat came in 2009 from an invitation to present a Distinguished Lecture on the Science and Technology of Music at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music, Media, and Technology at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.
In subsequent research, Margulis drew on a range of disciplines, including music theory, psycholinguistics, neuroscience and cognitive psychology, to examine how listeners perceive and respond to repetition. She worked with ethnomusicologists to understand the place of music and its repetitive features in cultures around the world.
Margulis’ research was supported by the music and psychology departments at the University of Arkansas. In 2011-2012, the Fulbright College made it possible for her to spend a year at Wolfson College and the Centre for Music and Science at the University of Cambridge. During the summer of 2011, she was a Fellow at the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute on Ethnomusicology and Global Culture at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
On Repeat was released by Oxford University Press in 2013. Since that time, Margulis has been featured in media outlets such as The Atlantic and Psychology Today; “All Things Considered” and “Science Friday” on NPR; and BBC World Service “The Forum” and BBC Radio “Today.” Her Ted Ed presentation is titled “Why We Love Repetition in Music.” Her work was featured in the fall/winter 2013 issue of Research Frontiers. Her website links to articles and audio files of interviews about the book.