Steven Rings’s research focuses on transformational theory, phenomenology, popular music, and voice. His book Tonality and Transformation (Oxford, 2011) — recipient of the Society for Music Theory’s 2012 Emerging Scholar Award — develops a transformational model of tonal hearing, employing it in interpretive essays on music from Bach to Mahler. His current book project explores Bob Dylan’s fifty-year performing career. Rings’s article “A Foreign Sound to Your Ear: Bob Dylan Performs ‘It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),’ 1964–2009” (Music Theory Online, 2013) won the 2014 Outstanding Publication Award from the Society for Music Theory’s Popular Music Interest Group. In other recent research Rings has explored the popular singing voice and the music of Gabriel Fauré. He is also co-editing The Oxford Handbook of Critical Concepts in Music Theory with Alexander Rehding, for which he contributed the chapter on “tonic.”
Rings is currently embarked on a Mellon-funded collaboration with composer and percussionist Glenn Kotche—best known as the drummer for the band Wilco—under the auspices of the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry. As part of their collaboration, Kotche and Rings taught a course during Winter Term 2017 that sought to rethink the three musical categories of voice, groove, and song, considering them at once as a fused, holistic group, and as parameters amenable to strategic separation and recombination in contemporary composition. In previous years, Rings’s graduate seminars have explored the concept of melody; the relationship between song, track, and performance in diverse vernacular music traditions; the music of Bob Dylan; Lewinian transformational theory; and musical presence. Rings teaches tonal and post-tonal theory at the undergraduate and graduate levels, a class on musical interpretation and criticism in the College Core (Music 10400), and a graduate proseminar on current trends in music analysis.
Rings has served on the faculty of the Mannes Institute for Advanced Study in Music Theory and he is the series editor of Oxford Studies in Music Theory. He has also served as Chair of the University of Chicago Society of Fellows and is Resident Dean at Campus North Residential Commons. Rings also co-founded City Elementary, a therapeutic elementary school in Hyde Park. Before becoming a music theorist, Rings was active as a classical guitarist, performing in the U.S. and in Portugal, where he was Professor of Guitar at the Conservatório Regional de Angra do Heroísmo.