Ian Quinn

Ian Quinn is Professor and Chair of the Department of Music at Yale University. He works at the intersection of music, computation, philology, and ritual studies. His research is driven by questions about how the everyday musical mind works and how humans have learned to use it to access mindful and devotional states of consciousness. He is particularly interested in repertories of sung music intended for the transmission of sacred texts. Such repertories typically travel through time and culture alongside theories of the musical mind that make claims about the structure of pitch (tonality) and time (rhythm). These theories in turn serve as technologies to regulate and reduce the information complexity of both the music and the texts borne by the melodies. Quinn’s work involves working with computers to construct, compare, and interpret information-theoretic models of sacred song repertories. These techniques, which were developed for natural-language processing, elucidate the relationship between music and language, not only at the level of song and repertory, but also at the level of mind.

Outside of academia, Ian is a leading educator in the international community of amateur shape-note singers, who preserve and negotiate a set of musical, ritual, and notational practices with roots in the Second Great Awakening, which brought black, white, and indigenous Christians together in sustained and worshipful musical contact during the nineteenth century. He has taught singing schools for communities throughout Appalachia and the Northeastern states, England, and Ireland.