Rebecca (Becky) Perry poses for a portrait in front of Main Hall.
Portrait on Main Hall Green: Rebecca (Becky) Perry (Photo by Danny Damiani)

About the series: On Main Hall Green With … is an opportunity to connect with faculty on things in and out of the classroom. We’re featuring a different Lawrence faculty member each time — same questions, different answers.


Rebecca (Becky) Perry, a member of the Lawrence faculty since 2017, plays a lead role in the study of music theory in the Conservatory of Music. She works with students to better understand music—building analytical skills and decoding the language and systems of music while exploring a range of musical styles and genres.

Perry, an assistant professor of music theory, was granted tenure earlier this year and will be promoted to associate professor at the start of the 2023-24 academic year. Her research centers on early 20th-century adaptations of sonata form, particularly in Russia and France. Most recently, she has been looking at ambiguities of song structure in late 1960s experimental/art rock.

Hone your analytical skills and decode the language and systems of music by exploring a wide variety of musical styles and genres. 

In 2021, she received Lawrence’s Award for Excellent Teaching by an Early Career Faculty Member, one of the university’s highest faculty honors.

Perry came to Lawrence after receiving her Doctor of Philosophy, Master of Arts, and Master of Philosophy degrees in music history from Yale University. She did her undergraduate study in both piano performance and political science at Brigham Young University.

We caught up with Perry to talk about interests in and out of the classroom.

In the classroom

Inside info: What’s one thing you want every student coming into your classes to know about you?

Yes, that was me on the motorcycle just now.

Also, my door is always open. Come talk about augmented sixth chords, or Buddhism, or tacos. I am a safe place. 

Getting energized: What work have you done or will you be doing at Lawrence that gets you the most excited?

I feel most excited when I am demonstrating the relevance and real-world usefulness of music theory. I want students to see that theory isn't just about voice-leading conventions but about understanding what you're hearing in the background of the Switch game you just bought or in the Beyoncé song at the grocery store. Or about being able to sit down and plunk out, and understand the function of, the chord loop you just fell in love with from In the Heights. So, in my aural skills classes, I always include segments like Pop Harmony or Melody/Asymmetrical Meter from the Real World so I can systematically help students learn to pick apart these soundscapes they encounter every day. It's exciting because students seem to find it helpful, and it feels like a living, breathing thing because I'm always running into new examples to share as I wander through the world.

Going places: Is there an example of somewhere your career has taken you (either a physical space or something more intellectual, emotional, or spiritual) that took you by surprise?

I ended up presenting a poster about VeggieTales at an academic conference last spring. If that's not the dream, I don't know what is. It was a collaboration with a student (Elizabeth Hermann '23) that grew out of her senior experience project on phrase structure in children's music. I may or may not have demonstrated some Larry the Cucumber dance moves at our poster session.   

Out of the classroom

This or that: If you weren’t teaching for a living, what would you be doing?  

Oh, I feel so unmarketable outside the classroom. Maybe I would try to get better at Mandarin and do something with translation. Or something with radio. Oh, oh, baseball announcer—that’s it. Color commentator for the Milwaukee Brewers. 

Right at home: Whether for work, relaxation, or reflection, what’s your favorite spot on campus?

The giant windows in Warch overlooking the river. Or the couch in my office. It's this sort of vintage, scratchy brown tweed sofa that, in my mind, is the perfect "professor couch." When I moved to Appleton in 2017, I found it on Craigslist and went to Manitowoc to pick it up for $40. When I told the owner I had come from Appleton, she said, "You drove an hour for this?" If she only knew the wonderful conversations (and power naps) it would facilitate over the years.

One book, one recording, one film: Name one of each that speaks to your soul? Or you would recommend to a friend? Or both?

I was riveted by a book I recently read called, The Girl with Seven Names: Escape from North Korea. Gripping and heart-wrenching and important.

Billie Holiday, Lover Man (Decca, 1944), oh, or Big Mama Thornton singing Hound Dog (1952) four years before, and much better than, Elvis.

I love a Danish film from 1987 called Babette's Feast about the redemptive, healing power of good food.