Students Pursue Topics Including Ring Theory and Jazz Improvisation through Spring Term Independent Projects

Each term, the Abbot Independent Scholars Program gives Uppers and Seniors the opportunity to work with an instructor on their own original independent projects in a topic of their choosing, given that they’ve exhausted the available coursework in that area at Andover. This Spring Term, there are six ongoing independent projects, four done individually and two in groups. The groups of Samuel Rosenfield ’21 and Jack Penney ’21, as well as Jesse Cote ’21 and Niara Urquhart ’21 did not reply.


Cathy Cho ’22

The course’s name is called “Applied Aural Techniques.” Essentially, what I’m researching is musical elements that are hardest to distinguish and why they are harder to distinguish than others, and I am exploring ways to address those difficulties. Once I do that research, I’m implementing it by creating a music theory, ear training website.

I was having a little trouble with coding the actual ear training website, because I just didn’t know how to load all the M.I.D.I. files onto the website… I just emailed the founder of Tone Savvy, which is the ear training website we use in Spring Term [of Music-550], the one that was kind of flawed. I was like this is a long shot, but let me just ask him how he coded all of this, right? He might help. So I cold emailed, and I was like, “Can you Zoom with me?” and he replied a day later. He helped me a lot with all the coding, loading the M.I.D.I. files, and debugging. We had three Zooms together, each an hour long. He gave me a lot of tips and  different ways to organize my code. It was a really cool experience getting outside contact as well.

I like taking all my classes, but this is self-led. It’s self propelled. It’s just so nice doing the homework for research… I definitely enjoyed all my meetings with [Derek Jacoby, Instructor in Music.] He is so helpful, so supportive. Yeah, his encouragement is, “Yeah, go for it,”—that mentality. It’s really nice to have someone to mentor and support you.


Christina Li ’21

My project is in the topic of mathematics, and it’s called “Ring Theory.” What I’m essentially doing is—with my [Independent Project] mentor who’s [Michael McHugh, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science]—I’m reading through this undergraduate textbook on ring theory. Ring theory is a subset of abstract algebra, which is one of the big topics that undergraduates will learn in college. If you’ve heard of group theory before, that’s another very related field. Essentially, it’s a way that you can study symmetry in mathematics. 

For this project, it’s not as exciting as doing original research, but the thing is, in the field of mathematics, you have to be very well-read because all mathematics research occurs on the frontiers of what is known. Right now, I’m just trying to learn the background for if I did want to do research. So all that I am really trying to accomplish is to get a good enough background in ring theory that would be comparable to if I took this course in college. 

My favorite part is definitely my meeting times with my mentor. Because Mr. McHugh is a great teacher, I felt really fortunate to be able to have this one-on-one time with him. So I meet with him two times a week for about an hour, and it’s just great having him be able to give individual advice and also give me individualized feedback, which is something that’s not as common in a normal Andover class where you and 14 other students need to share the time of the teacher. 


Leo Deng ’21

The name of my independent project is “Music, Philosophy, and Political Consciousness” and it’s a course that I created with my philosophy teacher from Lower year. He was actually the one who inspired me and helped me fall in love with the field of philosophy that kind of manifested into theory. I’ve always been an artist, did a lot of music, and a lot of visual art, and for this avenue, I really wanted to explore music combined with theory. So basically, our goal in this project is to see how different genres, and movements, especially in music and subculture in music, affects and impacts political consciousness and listeners and how that spreads throughout. 

The progress has been amazing. I’ve actually learned a lot more than any class at Andover. I personally thrive on tutorial style learning, or one-on-ones, or just very small groups. And especially in philosophy, when you’re talking about meaning making, what affects your ideology, what affects how you live your life, and what affects what political stances you take, for me, being on a one-one-one every class and having an intimate conversation is so effective. And definitely, out of all five of my classes that I’m taking this spring, this I.P. has been the most work and the most progress in how much knowledge I’m attaining. I’m learning so much about the historical context that affects the aesthetics of music and the culture of these genres and movements, and just how interesting and unique they are in rebelling or countering a certain mainstream way of thinking or a moment of history that that movement is in, and how they try to create commentary on the movement or how to combat the mainstream problems. 


Jeremy Zhou ’21

My project is called “Jazz Improvisation,” and it’s essentially about me learning how to improvise jazz. The idea that I listen to a backing track and then I play some notes over it. My homework between every class period is just to practice improvisation, and then I perform it in front of my instructor. He just tells me what he thinks, and then we do the next piece. It’s pretty straightforward.

I just wanted to gain a better sense of music theory and interesting musical constructions, because normally it just doesn’t like classical music, right, which is very standard, like chords. I was like, jazz is cool, gotta figure out what to do there. And figure out how jazz works.

Usually in an I.P. they want some kind of final presentable product right, because they don’t want people to just learn stuff as an I.P., it’s more to create something at the end. So that’s why I’m playing improvisation instead of just learning theory. The goal in the end is to be able to improvise pretty well, to the extent that I can within a term.

My favorite part is that the meetings are much more like conversations. Usually, you don’t get that one-on-one interaction with teachers that much. But it’s just when I’m doing this I.P., I can feel free to just express my concerns directly to him during the actual meeting. I’m playing the improvisation, and I finish it, and then I think about what I could have done better. We discuss it one-on-one, and it’s a much more productive process. 


Editor’s Note: Cathy Cho ’22 is a Video Editor for The Phillipian.