Skip to Content

School of Music

Faculty and Staff

John  Z. McKay

Title: Assistant Professor of Music Theory
School of Music
Phone: 803-777-8857
Fax: 803-777-6508

School of Music Building, Room 313



Dr. McKay is an Assistant Professor of Music Theory. He was awarded a Ph.D. in Music Theory (2012) from Harvard University, with a dissertation on Athanasius Kircher and seventeenth-century music theory. He also received a Master of Arts degree from Harvard, as well as two Bachelor of Science degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in the fields of music and chemical engineering.


Dr. McKays research is centered on the history of music theory, particularly interactions between music theory and larger intellectual currents around the time of the scientific revolution. A primary focus of his research is the work of the polymath Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680), the author of some forty treatises on a wide variety of topics, including Musurgia universalis (1650), one of the largest and most widely disseminated theoretical treatises of the seventeenth century.

Aside from his work on music theory in the seventeenth century, Dr. McKay has published on a variety of other topics in the history of music theory, from ancient Greek music theory to the modal organization of Ambrosian chant. Recently, he has also begun work on projects involving the types of models used to analyze music of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


Dr. McKay teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in music theory and music history. He has recently taught 16th-century and 18th-century counterpoint, and he will offer a music history seminar on medieval and early renaissance music, entitled Early Music: From the Medieval World to Modern Revival.

Recent Publications

 “The Problem of Improbability in Musical Analysis,” in Mondher Ayari, Jean-Michel Bardez, and Xavier Hascher, eds., L'analyze musicale aujourd'hui (Delatour France, forthcoming)

“The Structure of Plato's Dialogues and Greek Music Theory: A Response to J. B. Kennedy” with Alexander Rehding, in Apeiron 44/4 (October 2011), pp. 359–75

Review of Tiziana Pangrazi, La Musurgia Universalis di Athanasius Kircher (2009), in Renaissance Quarterly 63/4 (Winter 2010), pp. 1367–69

“Responsory Verse Formulas in the Ambrosian Winter Repertory,” in Thomas Forrest Kelly and Matthew Mugmon, eds., Ambrosiana at Harvard: New Sources of Milanese Chant (Houghton Library, 2010), pp. 153–72