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Salsa music’s soneos are improvisatory spaces in which lead singers (soneros) perform impressive feats of vocal pyrotechnics in cyclic alteration with a choral refrain. This paper develops a set of tools for interpreting soneos, inviting analysts to examine the sung stories of salsa music as a multivalent tapestry woven of sound, language, and gesture. Centering venerated soneros like Benny More, Celia Cruz, and Ismael River, Dr. Mitchell explores standard ways of manipulating vocal styles, melodic shapes, rhythmic gestures, and ensemble relationships on the fly during a soneo improvisation. These techniques combine with the cyclic repetition schemes and linear intensification processes scripted by the arrangement, giving rise to unique energetic shapes, which an analyst may then bring into expressive dialogue with the song’s gestural and linguistic media.
Dr. Nathaniel Mitchell is Lecturer of Music Theory at the UNC Greensboro School of Music. He comes to the School of Music from Temple University where he was Adjunct Professor of Music Theory. He has also held professional appointments at the University of Delaware and Princeton University in the area of Music Theory.
Mitchell’s research focuses on the cognitive foundations of musical creativity in a variety of genres, including opera, bluegrass, and video games. His research has appeared in Music Theory Spectrum (“The Volta: A Galant Gesture of Culmination”), the Oxford Handbook of Public Music Theory (“/r/musictheory: Making Music Theory on Reddit.com”), and SMT-Pod (“Moderating Musical Discussions on Reddit: An Interdisciplinary Conversation”), and a video essay on the Animal Crossing video game series is forthcoming in SMT-V.
Mitchell received his PhD in Music from Princeton University, where his dissertation on musical form in eighteenth-century opera was awarded the Holmes/ D’Accone Dissertation Fellowship from the American Musicological Society. He also holds an MM in Music Theory from Indiana University as well as a BM in Piano Performance and Music Theory from Furman University.