Allison Jerzak is currently a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley. Her primary academic research interests center on how technology is affecting the production and consumption of classical music in contemporary American culture. In particular, she is interested in the role machine learning algorithms are playing as cultural intermediaries in our digital spaces.
Allison originally studied piano performance, but ultimately felt that performance study tended to forefront technical aspects of music performance at the expense of historical context. Key ideas addressing why/how the standard repertoire and current approach to historical performance practices evolved tended to be glossed over, if they were discussed at all. She believes it is vital to recognize that people — especially those possessing cultural capital (i.e. power) — construct our history and our culture. Furthermore, acknowledging the inextricable link between classical music’s development and the more capricious aspect of shifting power dynamics opens new possibilities for considering musical works.
Along the way, a detour into the technology sector — first at Epic Systems (the Amazon of healthcare IT), implementing electronic medical record systems in hospitals around the country, and then at the Willy Street Co-op, a large grocery co-op based in Madison, WI, working in data analytics and IT — led her to reconsider those power dynamics in the context of contemporary culture. While some old power structures have held, Big Tech has emerged as the newest power broker, privileging some artists at the expense of others. In the coming years, Allison hopes to explore the relationships between developers, software, musicians, and audiences.
Allison maintains an interest in piano performance as a secondary area of focus. Over the past few years, she has become particularly interested in J.S. Bach’s keyboard music. Using the extra time during the pandemic to learn the Goldberg Variations, a smattering of French Suites, and half of the Well-Tempered Clavier (Book 2 — the better book), she has currently found herself arguing that Bach was an remarkably innovative composer, not merely an exceptional synthesizer of older ideas. This interest has manifested in the aptly named “Bach Project,” which can be found here.