Walking down the halls of the Moores School of Music (MSM), one is struck by the sounds coming from various practice rooms — an opera singer warming up in one, a pianist playing furiously in another. While first-time visitors may expect to hear such sounds in a music school, what may surprise them is that music schools also have entire programs dedicated to research.
The MSM’s musicology division, which is dedicated to the cultural and historical study of Western classical music as well as popular and world music, is led by award-winning scholar and biographer Howard Pollack. This spring, the University of Houston recognized Pollack for his substantial contributions to the field with a 2017 - 18 Award for Excellence in Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity.
“I’m honored by this award,” he says, reflecting on the three decades he’s spent at the University of Houston. “It’s not only validating to my own work but to my discipline. Musicology’s a relatively small field, but one that has made important contributions to human knowledge, including many practical applications regarding the performance of music. ”
Pollack is the author of seven books that explore the life and works of 20th-century American composers, writers, dancers and other artists. His subjects range from beloved household names — including George Gershwin and Aaron Copland — to more obscure artists — such as Broadway lyricist John Latouche, who was the subject of his most recent book.
“In choosing a subject for my major projects, I’ve gravitated toward figures whose work really speaks to me,” explains Pollack. “Given the investment of time needed to complete a book, it’s important for me to connect in some profound way with my subjects, whether they’re famous or lesser-known.”
Ultimately, Pollack’s goal is to bring greater attention to and understanding of the music and people he studies. “Most of my published work concerns American music and culture of the 20th century, and is intended for both scholars and more general readers. I like to think that I’ve helped promote a greater appreciation for some of the notable art and artists the U.S. and other countries have produced.”