Music is the focus of Dr. Shenton’s work although he is also interested in the visual, performing, and language arts. His initial professional training was at London University (B.Mus), and the Royal College of Music in London, where he majored in conducting, piano and organ. Dr. Shenton came to the US to study at the Institute of Sacred Music at Yale, where he received an MM in organ performance from the School of Music. At Yale, and later at Harvard (AM, PhD), he worked on interdisciplinary studies in music and the arts. This is reflected in his master’s thesis, which concerns the cultural status of sacred art in Britain after the Second World War; and his doctoral dissertation, which is a musico-linguistic study of the twentieth-century French mystic composer Olivier Messiaen.
Dr. Shenton currently serves on the faculty of Boston University where he has a broad portfolio of responsibilities, including direction of the Sacred Music Program. As an artist-scholar he holds appointments in the School of Music (a division of the College of Fine Arts), the School of Theology, and the College of Arts and Sciences. His interdisciplinary work is evidenced by his multiple appointments at BU and is also born out in his work.
Dr. Shenton’s scholarship is best subsumed under the heading of ‘music and transcendence,’ since his principal concern is how music mediates people’s relationship with their God, or how it brings them to an encounter with the numinous. This is demonstrated, for example, by his recent and ongoing work in popular music, which includes an essay that analyses the acoustic ecology of rave music as a way of negotiating an ecstatic experience (Fordham, 2015), and lectures and writing on how hip-hop has become a complex soundscape that signals religious identity. A subsidiary to this work is his interest in that part of sound studies that deals with issues of cognition, and the physical and mental elements of transformation and transcendence. Since issues of religion and spirituality affect every one of us, Dr. Shenton is able to make connections across many borders and describe music as an essential human endeavor.
Dr. Shenton’s career is focused on selecting interdisciplinary research topics that advance the field. In 2005 he founded the Boston University Messiaen Project [BUMP], a multi-year teaching, research and performance project on Olivier Messiaen. BUMP has sponsored and organized several international conferences and subsequent publications that have had a direct influence on the resurgence of scholarly interest in Messiaen. Dr. Shenton is writing two essays for the upcoming collection Messiaen in Context (CUP, forthcoming, 2020), one on recordings of the organ works, and one on Messiaen’s work as organist of Sainte-Trinité in Paris.
Arvo Pärt has, like Messiaen, received surprisingly little interest from the academic community, so Dr. Shenton has also been active in promoting critical engagement with this enormously popular composer, both inside and outside the academy. He has organized conferences in Boston and London; contributed to, and edited The Cambridge Companion to Arvo Pärt (CUP, 2012); and chaired a session on Pärt at the AMS/SEM/SMT meeting in New Orleans. Dr. Shenton recently finished a monograph that examines Pärt’s choral and organ music from the perspectives of both the performer and listener. All Dr. Shenton’s work is responsive to the demands of the discipline in the twenty-first century. So, for example, the Pärt Companion has chapters that cover Pärt’s biography and technique, but also essays that deal with his role in the market place, his role as a composer of spiritual music, and the phenomenological effect of Pärt’s music on his listeners. Dr. Shenton is also engaged in a special research project in which he is developing a radical new technique for the analysis of Pärt’s new compositional methods. This analysis is based on the effective use of dissonance and utilizes the open source computer music program “Music21.”
Dr. Shenton maintains an active performance career as an organist, conductor and clinician because he believes it is important that any scholarly engagement with the arts is not divorced from its creation and performance. He is passionately interested in contemporary music and in creative ways to bring it to the public’s attention. He has commissioned and premiered more than sixty pieces, by composers such as John Tavener, Geoffrey Burgon, Joe Utterback, Judith Weir and Stephen Feigenbaum.
The academic landscape has dramatically changed in the last decade. Dr. Shenton’s own work has kept pace with the changing demands of both pedagogy and technology because he believes that learning is a lifelong process and that the future health of universities lies in their ability to break from the traditional constraints of campus courses. To that end he has developed and taught courses in BU’s extensive online program and is currently engaged in expanding course offerings as part of both continuing education and blended education experiences. He is extremely interested in creating courses for students of all ages and all levels that are powerful and evocative, and that demonstrate the best of advanced pedagogical methods.