Micah Walter double-majored in music and linguistics during his time at Haverford and completed two theses, one for each of his courses of study. His music thesis, Vespers, was an original composition of sacred choral music that was performed by six professional musicians. His linguistics thesis, “Morphosyntax and Semantic Type of Noun Phrases in Turkish,” proposed a solution to a puzzling problem with the Turkish language and extended a hypothesis about nouns across languages that, he says, “might well be worth pursuing.”
Walter was busy during his time on campus, not just with his academic work (in addition to his two majors, he also minored in computer science), but also with several different musical groups. He was an active member of the Haverford Folk Club and played fiddle for the College’s community contra dance. He plans to further pursue his composition goals in graduate school and hopes to make a career of music composition.
What inspired your thesis work?
My interest in sacred choral music had developed over the entire period of my time at Haverford. During my junior year, I led a seminar on the topic “Music and the Sacred,” sponsored by the Hurford Center for the Arts and Humanities. Part of what attracts me to writing sacred music is the idea that it is written for a potentially wider audience than classical music generally—one doesn’t need to be part of the world of classical music in order to experience and appreciate sacred music. My influences were varied, including early music (such as chant) and contemporary liturgical settings. My linguistics thesis… stemmed [from] my final paper in “Introduction to Semantics,” the first linguistics course I took at Haverford.
How did your thesis advisors help you develop your topic, conduct your research, and/or interpret your results?
[Professor of Music] Ingrid Arauco advised my senior project in music. She did a fantastic job of keeping me on track logistically, gently giving me topics to think about, and helping me find and explore my creative voice—besides having me think about where this project fit into my overall musical life. Composition is an intensely personal activity, and I was glad to have an advisor who took that into account and helped me along my personal journey. [Associate Professor of Chinese and Linguistics] Shizhe Huang advised my senior thesis in linguistics. My thesis drew from topics we had discussed in class, [including] her own research. In advising me, she asked questions that would help focus my attention on the questions that needed answering.
What is your biggest takeaway from these projects?
I had the opportunity to have my project in music performed, so that I, and many others, could hear it take an actual musical form. Hearing the audience’s reactions to the work was rewarding. It also brought home to me that what I was doing was concrete and could actually affect other people. And, crucially, having a recording of the work is an important step in my future path in music. Working on my linguistics thesis involved some of the hardest thought I’ve had to put into any piece of writing. The problem was a difficult one, and I learned that in order to make advances in any field, a lot of hard work must go into it—even for a seemingly insignificant (or potentially incorrect) result.
“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of members of the Class of 2014.