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Naomi Cumming Remembered
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Naomi Cumming Remembered


Mark DeBellis

With sadness we report that Naomi Cumming died unexpectedly of a stroke on January 6, 1999, in Brisbane, Australia. She had just begun a new position as Senior Lecturer in Music at the University of Queensland.

Dr. Cummings contributions to musical aesthetics were original and profound, philosohically sharp and musically sensitive, incorporating ideas from a wide range of philosophical and critical traditions. Much of her work dealt with issues of musical signification, and in recent years she developed a specialization in the semiotic theory of Peirce. She was also entirely at home in contemporary philosophy of mind and psychology. Those of us who were at Columbia when Naomi visited as a Fulbright Fellow recall well the intellectual life she breathed into the music department, in many hours of wonderful, stimulating conversation; and her warmth, humor, and joy in all things musical and philosophical.

In December 1998, Dr. Cumming received the Society for Music Theorys Outstanding Publication Award for her article “The Subjectivities of Erbarme Dich,” which appeared in Music Analysis (1997). This study of the aria from Bachs St. Matthew Passion was praised as “one of the most comprehensive accounts of how we interpret and, at times, identify with implied subjectivities in both vocal and instrumental music.” Dr. Cumming also published widely on such topics as musical metaphor, the theories of Leonard Meyer, the music of Steve Reich, and bodily aspects of personal identity in musical performance; she wrote also on grief, and was interested in music therapy. She participated in numerous conferences, including a session on postmodernism and absolutist aesthetics at the ASA meeting in Bloomington in November 1998. Shortly before her death she completed her first book, The Sonic Self, which is scheduled for publication in 2000 by Indiana University Press.

Dr. Cumming was born in London in 1960. She trained as a violinist and received her Ph.D. in music theory at the University of Melbourne in 1987. She continued on to post-doctoral work at the University of Adelaide, was awarded a Rothmans Foundation Post-Doctoral Fellowship in 1990-92, and held a Fulbright Fellowship at Columbia University in 1992-93. In 1994 she took up a Queen Elizabeth II Research Fellowship in the Faculty of Music at the University of Melbourne, and transferred to the Department of Philosophy in November 1996. She had arrived in Brisbane only a few days earlier, accompanied by her husband Anthony, to begin her new position when she suffered a sudden stroke. She died at the age of thirty-eight. A Requiem Mass was held on January 15 in Dandenong, near Melbourne.

To all who knew Naomi, her luminous intelligence and generosity were an inspiration. We are impoverished by her untimely passing. She set an example for us all, and will be sadly missed.

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