Important Notice for Prospective PhD Students in Ethnomusicology (updated spring 2016)
The Columbia Ethnomusicology PhD program admits cohorts in two consecutive years out of each three year period. We will admit cohorts for matriculation in 2016 and 2017 (with applications due Dec. 2015 and Dec. 2016, respectively). We are very likely NOT to admit for 2018 matriculation.
Please contact the Area Chair, Prof. Kevin Fellezs by email ( email@example.com ) with questions about this schedule.
Reading this page will help you decide if Columbia is the right graduate program in Ethnomusicology for you, and whether you would be a competitive applicant for our program. Please read this page closely before contacting the Program "Area Chair" (for 2016-17: Prof. Kevin Fellezs, at firstname.lastname@example.org ), with further inquiries. Most initial questions we receive about the program are addressed in detail below.
The comments on this page reflect our experience with the questions most often asked in initial inquiries about our program by prospective applicants. This page is very detailed, but you should read it in its entirety if you are serious about applying to Columbia's graduate program in ethnomusicology. In addition to specific questions answered here, if you want a detailed description of the curriculum read the "About the Ph D Program" section. For department-wide requirements, view the Music Department's official "Handbook for Graduate Students in Musicology" (including Ethnomusicology and Music Theory).
At the bottom of this page, you will find our official program policies, the complete professional placement record for our alumni over the last 15 years, and a comprehensive set of dissertation abstracts from our program. Prospective applicants should study these items carefully. The dissertation abstracts will give you a good sense of the intellectual and activist commitments of our program.
After (and only after!) you have read this page carefully, feel free to contact Prof. Fellezs by email (email@example.com) with further questions about the program.
Question: What is the relationship between the MA and the PhD components of your program? Do you offer an MA-only option?
Answer: Columbia does NOT offer an MA-only track in any area of the Musicology graduate program. All students who apply are presumed to be seeking the PhD degree, and you should be SURE not to check the "MA" box on the online application forms.
Our students earn an MA degree, typically after three semesters of coursework capped by the completion of an ethnographic thesis, produced under close faculty supervision during our two-semester "field methods" course sequence taken during the first year. We require students to undertake an ethnographic project for the thesis, based somewhere in the New York area (for obvious reasons of accessibility and time management) as training for the process of designing and realizing a major dissertation project.
We do, on occasion, decide that a student is not best served by continuing past the MA stage of our program, and in such cases a student may end up leaving our program with what is called a "terminal” MA degree. Since the MA degree here requires, in addition to the thesis, the passing of 18 credits of coursework, and the passing of an exam in at least one language (typically, demonstrating reading ability in a European language relevant to research in Ethnomusicology, though there are other possibilities given particular research specializations), it is possible that all requirements for the MA degree will not be met until the end of the second year.
If you are not sure you want to pursue a PhD, it is probably inadvisable to apply to our program.
Question: What background in Western music history and theory is expected of applicants to your program?
Answer: According to the official Departmental requirements listed in the GSAS bulletin, we expect applicants to have a "strong background" in the history and theory of "Western music." However, in recent years our students have not always come to us from such a background. It is the opinion and experience of the Ethnomusicology faculty that a strong background in social thought, language study, area studies, and cross-cultural experience (acquired through travel, prior research, residence abroad, etc.) is also of significant (and equal) value for students anticipating careers as researchers and teachers in academic Ethnomusicology. We do not require applicants to have an undergraduate degree in music. Nor do we favor or disfavor students with undergraduate music degrees or performance backgrounds when we evaluate applicants to the Ethnomusicology PhD program.
We do generally expect (but again, do not require) our applicants to be musically experienced, whether in Western classical music or any other tradition, and it is generally quite helpful (and ultimately usually necessary) to be able to read music with some fluency, and to know the broad outlines of Western art music history and the major theoretical concepts characteristic of of that history. These skills come in handy at various points in a graduate career at Columbia, and serve students well throughout the course of a career in Ethnomusicology. They are, however, skills that can be acquired with an extra-curricular effort if they are not fully developed at the point a student applies to our program.
Historically, and currently, almost all of our students have been experienced (and often highly skilled) musicians, but not all have been skilled in Western art music traditions. Many are jazz or popular musicians or have significant experience in a non-Western tradition upon entry. Most of our students use their musical skills extensively in their pursuit of the PhD degree, and all acquire additional musical skills while they are in our graduate program. And because many of our students spend part of their fellowship career teaching the department's "Music Humanities" core course, which presents a basic history of Western art music along with the key musical concepts that have developed in concert with that tradition, possessing relevant knowledge about Western art music is a valuable practical skill for students in our program and one you will be expected to develop if you do not have the relevant background at admission.
Nonetheless, not only do we look seriously at applications from students with backgrounds other than traditional undergraduate music degrees; we often find students with other backgrounds (anthropology, linguistics, area or ethnic studies, or political science degrees, for example), cross-cultural travel experiences, good command of more than one language, and strong musical skills acquired outside of an academic degree program to be strong candidates for our program. Indeed, we recommend potential applicants who do earn a BA in music make sure that such work includes, if possible, a substantial ethnomusicological component, and/or coursework in anthropology and other social science fields.
Question: What is the place of "performance" in your program? I note that you don’t require graduate students to perform in ensembles or take lessons, or permit them to earn degree credit for doing so.
Answer: Historically, we have never been a performance-centered program in the sense of offering degree credit for playing in ensembles or taking lessons in non-Western music. That has changed in the last few years, as we have co-sponsored the addition of several unique ensembles – Bluegrass, Japanese Gagaku and Hogaku, Latin Music, Klezmer, Middle Eastern Music, Afro-Caribbean – to the Department’s Music Performance Program offering, and graduate students are welcome to join these groups, although credit earned thereby does not count toward the degree requirements directly.The Japanese Gagaku/Hogaku ensembles offer a unique opportunity rarely found at American institutions, and have some funding for students (including a few ethnomusicology graduate students over the years) to travel to Japan on through annual summer mentorship program.
For jazz musicians, there are also performance opportunities as part of our Jazz Performance Program, directed by (ethnomusicology faculty member and PhD program alumnus) Prof. Christopher Washburne. PhD students can also take ensemble courses offered at NYU through the inter-university doctoral consortium (NYU also typically offers one or two ensemble courses per semester).
But there's more to say about this subject. New York City offers one of the world's richest scenes for musical performance opportunities across a huge range of styles, genres, cultures, and traditions. Many students are drawn to Columbia because they want to pursue performance opportunities in New York in parallel with their academic careers. And many of our students have, over the years, been deeply involved in performance activities in New York City. One can find a teacher for nearly any of the world's musical traditions here, and often this means teachers with deep and native connections to these traditions. All you have to do is get on the telephone or the subway to find a richer and more culturally embedded performance opportunity than could be offered by any university department or program. And most of our students have taken advantage of this fact to the hilt. It's harder than taking an ensemble course with a visiting artist to have to go out into the community and search out the musical experiences you crave, but it is ultimately more like what ethnomusicologists must learn to do as professionals, and much more fulfilling when you accomplish entry into the local worlds of musical performance that exist in every corner of this city (and that provide endless opportunities for MA and doctoral research). Such connections are easier to make because of the long history of our students' work in the New York City area, and because we bring local artists through regularly for lecture/demonstrations and performances through the Center for Ethnomusicology.
We consider performance, often, to be an inherent and important aspect of ethnomusicological research and scholarship (and several of our faculty members have written extensively about their own professional practice as performers), but we have a broad conception of what the value of developing and maintaining performance skills might be to any given project or any particular student. That said, our formal curricular offering is focused on training students in social theory and the social scientific study of music, the history and practice of the discipline of ethnomusicological research, and the pursuit of a high-level research-driven career in the discipline. Thus, our formal curriculum emphasizes research practice, intellectual history, and contemporary theoretical approaches to music as human activity. If your goal is to become a professional performer in a non-Western tradition (or a popular music tradition), this might not be the program for you unless you have similar goals for yourself as a scholar and the initiative to seek out your own performance opportunities.
Question: I notice that Columbia is exceptionally strong in Jazz Studies, and Jazz is my musical and /or intellectual focus. Should I apply through the Ethnomusicology program?
Answer: Columbia indeed offers tremendous resources in the area of Jazz Studies, thanks especially to the Center for Jazz Studies. Such Centers, at Columbia, do not have their own faculty or offer degrees. Faculty members associated with the Center are scattered across the departments of Music, English, History, and the Institute for African American Studies. Prof. Washburne and Prof. Fellezs are each affiliated with the Jazz Studies Center.
In recent years, our ethnomusicology program has seen a remarkable number of applicants with a strong interest in Jazz, many of whom are exceptionally well qualified for graduate study, but who in many cases would be better advised to apply for graduate study in areas other than ethnomusicology. We want to make such applicants aware of the broad range of options for the serious study of Jazz at Columbia. Some have a specifically ethnomusicological interest -- broadly speaking, focused on sociological and cultural questions and ethnographic methods for addressing those questions or on Jazz as a global musical style and culture. Others have a more historical, archival, biographical, music-analytic, or performance- and composition-focused interest in Jazz, though most express some healthy blend of these interests. We are more likely to consider seriously candidates who can articulate a specific case for approaching Jazz through ethnomusicology (or ethnomusicology through Jazz!). In other words, an interest in Jazz does not automatically mean you should apply through our program for graduate study at Columbia. But we are an excellent place to study ethnomusicology with an emphasis on Jazz.
Question: I notice your faculty's areal expertise is concentrated in the Americas, North Africa, Europe, and the Pacific. What if I want to work in another part of the world? Do I need to work with a specialist in my area of interest?
Answer: That depends . . . . We are a small program, with current strengths in indigenous and popular musics of the Americas, North African, Pacific and East Asian popular musics, Jazz, popular music, music and technology, music and language, music and policy, gender and performance theory, archiving, cultural/intellectual property, and repatriation, and social and critical theory more broadly. And we usually have affiliated post-doctoral fellows and visiting scholars at any given time whose interests add areal diversity to our mix.
Our experience shows us that the conventional wisdom -- that you should be advised by a senior scholar who works "in your area" (e.g., an Africanist if you work in Zimbabwe, an East Asianist if you work in Korea) -- is less obviously true these days than it used to be. Given the increasingly strongly interdisciplinary character of area studies in particular, and humanistic and social scientific research in general, you may be better advised to consider attending a program where the university itself is strong in your area. Columbia is especially strong in South and East Asian studies, and the Middle East, and Central Asia. We are exceptionally strong in Jazz and African-American studies. We’re strong and getting stronger in Latin American studies, and we’re building new strengths in Native and Indigenous studies. We also have one of the best anthropology departments in the country. Prospective ethnomusicologists should also consider the importance of working with faculty who are strong in their areas of theoretical focus, as well as geographical focus.
We have had recent PhDs or those working on dissertations now who have worked in China, Japan, Korea, West Africa, East Africa, Southern Europe and North Africa, the Republic of Georgia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Ukraine, Argentina, The Czech Republic, The United States (New Orleans, New York, Vermont, San Francisco, Arizona/Hopi, North Carolina/Cherokee, Atlanta, Nashville), Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Panama, Israel, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Chile, Germany, and many other places. Almost all have had successful careers.
Question: Is a small program like yours right for me?
Answer: We have five primary faculty members involved in graduate advising, and around 15-20 graduate students in our program at any one time, a number of whom are in the field at any given time (meaning our resident grad student population is more like 10-15 at any given time). We like it that way; we think of our program as a tight-knit community with a shared purpose despite our diverse projects and a strong commitment to collaborative research and the idea of our program as an interdependent and holistic enterprise, where we are working together on developing big ideas that have comparative and generalizable implications that are accountable to problems, issues, and publics beyond the academy, even as we each pursue individual interests and projects.
We strive for a strong sense of community in the program and seek people who are looking to join and contribute to a community in turn. You will interact constantly with the ethnomusicology area faculty and your fellow students at every stage of your program and in numerous contexts. We treat students as colleagues in training, and expect students to act toward each other as colleagues, and to show a collegial level of professional commitment to the program as well as to their own work. We seek to create a sense of community identity in our program, and we invest in that effort heavily. And while it is the nature of a doctoral program to change and evolve, especially in times of rapid social, economic, institutional, and technological change, we keep students as informed as possible about (and as involved as possible in) discussions about the program, its future, its goals, its problems, and its policies.
Question: How important are GREs (Graduate Record Exams) for admission and funding?
Answer: It must be said honestly: we have a very competitive admissions process. We see dozens of applications -- most from highly qualified applicants -- for 2 to 5 funded positions – we don’t admit students without funding them -- in our program each year that we open admissions (two out of every three years). Therefore, everything counts. We care primarily about your score on the verbal GRE exam. Scores in the 90th percentile on the verbal exam are simply expected except in unusual cases where other qualifications are outstanding, or where a diagnosed learning or other disability explains a lower test score (in such a case, contact the Area Chair with your concerns and be assured of complete initial confidentiality when you do so. We are committed to accessibility and have experience with accommodations for some disabilities.)
If you do poorly, work on your test anxiety, take a course, study a guide, and take it again. It's worth it. The primary work of a graduate student is reading and writing English prose at a high level of fluency. We must feel confident in your ability to do so. Most people who can write English at a PhD level will do very well on the verbal GRE. Therefore, if you do get a low score, you should also critically self-evaluate your readiness for PhD-level work.
We do adjust our expectations somewhat for applicants whose native language is not English, but see important information about the TOEFL exam and international students below.
Question: How important are letters of recommendation for admission and funding?
Answer: Very, if the writers can speak to your abilities as a scholar, researcher, or cross-cultural communicator. Letters from people who barely know you, or which strike a very general tone, are less useful than even slightly critical letters from mentors who have worked with you closely. Letters from people who are familiar with ethnomusicology are much more useful than letters from people who aren't.
Ask your referees to be direct and honest about your scholarly potential, not just your personal qualities. Give them writing samples to evaluate and remind them what you did in their class. (And here's a friendly bit of advice from some busy professors: give your writers at least a month's notice before the deadline, supply them with copies of your personal statement, transcripts, and papers you wrote in their classes, in a folder [also include a stamped, addressed envelope for applications that require letters to be mailed, although most are now submitted online], mark deadlines clearly on the enclosing folder or envelope in large letters, and remind your writers about impending deadlines -- politely -- several days before the letters have to be mailed). It is also ideal to meet with your recommender(s) in person (or by phone), especially if you have not seen them in some time, to discuss your reasons for pursuing a PhD and your choice of programs to apply to. Give your recommender(s) the material they need to write a solid, detailed assessment of your scholarly potential.
Question: What should I submit as a “writing sample”?
Answer: We look at writing samples, obviously, to see if you can write fluently and clearly in English. But we also read them to see if you can think critically through research questions - which means, for us, that you can think about music or sound in social analytic terms. Therefore, do not send us a harmonic analysis of a Haydn string quartet, even if it's well written, unless you don't have anything that deals with music in a social context, as a symbolic practice, as a meaningful human activity, as a political expression, etc. (Not that you couldn't extend an harmonic analysis of a Haydn string quartet in such directions – we’d be happy to see that!) And don't just print out a paper you wrote two years ago. Edit the writing samples you submit, and update them. Give us your best. The writing samples you submit are extremely important – maybe the most important part of your application. Length is less important than quality and the choice of an ethnomusicological topic. A shorter essay (or two short pieces) demonstrating fluency in social thought will help you more than a 50-page research paper on a topic unrelated to ethnomusicology or social thought.
We will accept two shorter (approx. 1000 word) writing samples, as do other areas of the Music Department, but for ethnomusicology we PREFER one substantial sample, (15+ page complete research paper, a chapter from a thesis, etc.). Please contact the area committee chair if you have questions about what to submit.
Question: What should I say in my personal statement?
Answer: The biggest mistake people make is over-doing the "personal" part (and this is good advice for applicants to graduate school in general!). Telling us how much you love all music, or how you always wanted to be a professor, or how you discovered Ethnomusicology, etc., should comprise only a small portion of your statement. The best applications address the applicant’s goals as a scholar, her/his ideas for potential research projects, and her/his developing specific interests in particular musics, cultures, and theoretical issues.
Make your statement sound professional; you are applying to a professional school. Avoid extended autobiographical anecdotes. We don't need to know very much about your extra-curricular activities unless they are arguably qualifications for graduate study in ethnomusicology. Put them on a resumé or CV. Use the personal statement to tell us what you find intellectually compelling about music as a human activity, how you have developed your thinking about that interest or problem, and how you see that development as best served by being in graduate school here, in this program (always try to speak specifically to the reasons you’re attracted to the particular program you’re applying for). Yes, we do want a sense of you as a person, of course. But we need to have a sense of your potential as a scholar.
Question: Should I visit Columbia if I am serious about wanting to join the program?
Answer:. If you can afford the time and money, a visit to our program is an excellent idea. A visit is definitely not required, however, and a visit is not an "interview." If you cannot visit, and there are questions you would like to ask that are not answered here, phone calls with faculty members can be arranged by email. Whether you are visiting or arranging a phone conversation, please send a brief academic resume (by email, to the area committee chairperson) in advance (degrees earned, schools attended, relevant courses and grades, major research projects, languages learned, travel experience, musical background, etc.). In-person and phone meetings are short (30 minutes at the most). It's a shame to waste the time filling in the basic facts about your experience. Be prepared, especially, to talk about your research interests and why Columbia appeals to you specifically. Visiting prospective students can usually sit in on our graduate seminars (check the course schedule and plan accordingly) and meet with faculty and students, as well as get a feel for the place in general. Be sure to let us know you're coming, and to clear the dates with us.
Write to each faculty member individually to make appointments for meetings and for permission to attend her/his class, please. But begin by sending an email ONLY (do not call) to the area committee chairperson (Prof. Kevin Fellezs for 2016-17, email at firstname.lastname@example.org) for general coordination of a visit. But also be sure to write to other faculty members to make individual appointments and always write to the individual instructor in advance to obtain permission to sit in on any class (because this is not always permitted or possible). Be aware that there are sometimes several students visiting at any given time during the fall, and that our time is limited for meetings. The earlier in the Fall semester you can let us know you're planning to visit, the better. If you write in the summer, response may be delayed and you should check in again early in the fall. On short notice, we may be so busy we can’t make more appointments, or some or all of the faculty or students may be away at a meeting (check the dates of the Society for Ethnomusicology and American Anthropological Association annual meetings and be sure to avoid those dates for visits). If you can attend either the SEM or AAA meetings (highly recommended for prospective PhD students -- you can go hear papers by the students and faculty of various programs and learn a lot!), we are sometimes available for brief meetings with applicants if you give advance notice.
Question: What makes the ideal candidate for your program?
Answer: We see a lot of strong applicants every year that we open admissions (two out of every three years, explained elsewhere on this page) – many more than we can admit and fund. There's no single objective criterion – or group of objective criteria -- for what makes one strong applicant preferable to another. There is no "best candidate." There are, however, many excellent candidates, and more than we have funded positions for. We make our admission and funding decisions based on a complex calculus, weighing individual applicants' promise heavily while considering which of many highly qualified candidates will make up the best class as a group, spreading the potential advising load among our faculty members, and lastly, considering how strongly an applicant wants to be at Columbia and is served well by being here. If you really, really, really want to come to Columbia, and you think you are a strong candidate, let us know in no uncertain terms how strongly you are drawn to our program and why.
The Columbia program has a distinctive set of intellectual and activist foci, discussed at various places on this website and discernible from the types of projects pursued by our students and faculty. Someone who is qualified for PhD study should be able to articulate an understanding of our identity as a program within the field, as one of a number of top PhD programs in the US of equal quality but with different emphases. Not only should your personal statement discuss individual faculty members with whom you might want to work, and indicate some prior familiarity with their work in the process; you should consider how your development as a scholar would fit within and benefit from the particular qualities of our program as a whole. We highly recommend tailoring personal statements to the specific institutions to which you are applying, not using a single generic personal statement. Given any two comparable candidates for admission, we will always favor one who makes it clear that s/he has a good sense of what we do here and why s/he belongs here.
Question: I already have an MA degree. Will I have to repeat the MA requirements and thesis in your program?
Answer: Skipping our MA thesis requirement is only rarely possible. If you have earned an MA in ethnomusicology or another field where you have completed a substantial, fieldwork-based thesis equivalent to the theses done in our program, and where you have completed foundational coursework similar to ours, you may qualify for "Advanced Standing," and be exempt from the MA requirements in our program. In most cases, even students who have completed MAs culminating in substantial ethnographic theses may still be advised to take some of the courses required for our MA, although if they are granted Advanced Standing, they are exempted from the 18 credits required for the MA degree, and may move directly into fulfilling the 24 credits beyond the MA required for the PhD (some of which would then be fulfilled by courses normally taken by students pursuing the MA, such as our Proseminars I and II, or our Field Methods I and II seminars).
Decisions on Advanced Standing status are only rendered final once a student has entered the program in every case. Students granted Advanced Standing are offered four (rather than five) years of guaranteed fellowship support, and are usually eligible for (though not guaranteed) a fifth additional year, just as students who enter without Advanced Standing are often eligible for (though not guaranteed) a sixth year of support in addition to their five years of guaranteed support. The reason for the reduced amount of support in cases of Advanced Standing is, obviously, that in such cases a student generally needs less time to complete requirements for doctoral candidacy.
As of 2014-2015, we can now give "transfer credit" towards the MA degree for up to 15 credits of coursework taken at the MA or PhD level in another US, Canadian, or UK graduate program in Ethnomusicology or Musicology. We will do so only when the proposed classes/seminars for transfer credit have substantially similar content and an equivalent level of rigor to courses offered in our program, and when we can evaluate the syllabus and the work produced for the class or seminar being proposed for transfer credit (usually a final paper). In most cases, such transfer credit is fairly meaningless, since students are not charged financially for credits earned, and there would rarely be a situation where we would permit a student to be exempt from any of the core seminars in our program. Most of our students take more courses than they need to, because they want to. Most of our students finish required coursework in three years even while reducing their course loads in years 2 and 3.
Question: What about the fellowships? How much teaching is involved?
Answer: Students on fellowship, whether admitted for the MA-PhD combination or with Advanced Standing, have no duties in the first year of their appointment. After the first year, students on fellowship are expected to take on a variety of duties within the Department during the 2d, 3d, and 4th years they are Columbia fellowship support. The final year of assured support is also an unencumbered "dissertation fellowship."
A majority of our students spend at least two, and often more, years teaching the core curriculum course known (still) as "Masterpieces of Western Music," or colloquially as "Music Hum." In the second year of fellowship support, most students serve as teaching assistants under the guidance of more advanced instructors. After completing this year of assistantship, students on fellowship are then eligible to become instructors with their own sections of the course (and assistants of their own). Despite the name of this course, it is possible for ethnomusicologists to teach the course with a significantly ethnomusicological approach, and models for doing so have been developed over the years by ethnomusicology students and faculty. Most of our students have benefited from teaching this course, and in fact, have excelled at it. Our students also teach as both assistants and instructors in our two courses in Asian Music Humanities, giving them valuable experience teaching what is often called a "world music" class, often a required credential for ethnomusicology PhDs on the academic job market.
Finally, opportunities are available for Ethnomusicology students to serve as co-directors and leaders of our growing number of non-western and traditional music ensembles, or even to create and lead one of their own, also a very valuable credential as a form of teaching experience for ethnomusicology PhDs on the academic job market. (This also can entail additional financial compensation.)
Most of our students earn major external (or sometimes Columbia-internal) competitive research grants to support their field research in the 4th, 5th, and/or 6th years in the program. Many also win major dissertation writing grants. Such grants can be taken in place of GSAS (the Columbia Graduate School) fellowship support, in which case fellowship support is deferred (thus your "fifth" unencumbered year of assured dissertation writing support can be taken in your 6th year, or even your 7th year, if you fund year 4 or years 4 and 5 with external grants, as many of our students have in fact done). Alternately, GSAS incentivizes seeking external support by offering generous "top-up" provisions that can bring the value of an external grant to well above the value of a standard fellowship if the grant is taken as substitutional funding for a year of GSAS support. We place a strong emphasis on effective grant-writing in our program; you should anticipate the likelihood of being able to fully fund 6 or even 7 years of study for the PhD. Students have completed our program in 5 years; most take 6 or 7.
We also have assistantships available in some of the jazz and popular music courses offered by members of the Ethnomusicology faculty. In addition, the Center for Ethnomusicology employs one student on fellowship, generally for a one-year term, as the assistant to the Director. The student-published journal, Current Musicology, also employs two students on fellowship as Editor and Assistant Editor (and one of these is often an ethnomusicology student). Ethnomusicology students are often teaching assistants in other courses taught by the ethnomusicology faculty as well.
These fellowship/assistantship/instructorship duties can be time-consuming, though they are often fulfilling and always career-enhancing experiences (and at least one year of teaching experience is required for the PhD). Students should be mindful that as their academic focus intensifies, their fellowship duties increase at the same time, meaning that even as a graduate student with full funding, you will experience a taste of the life of a professional academic -- too much to do, and not enough time. It's not for everyone, and requires real skill in time management, work discipline, and the integration of one's diverse activities.
Question: What if I am admitted but not offered a fellowship?
Answer: This does not happen. All PhD and DMA students in Music are admitted with full funding for no fewer than four years (with Advanced Standing) or five years (without Advanced Standing). We do not make unfunded offers of admission to our doctoral programs. All of our students are also equally funded, with the exception of competitive external awards they may win in addition to GSAS support.
Question: So if you offer 5 years or more of funding, should I apply for outside fellowships and scholarships even if I expect to be competitive for a fellowship offer at Columbia (or any other university)?
Answer: Absolutely yes. Such grants as the Javits Fellowship, the SSHRC fellowship, and the Ford Minority Doctoral Fellowship are extremely competitive and prestigious. If you win one, you will almost certainly be offered matching fellowship support at most of the programs to which you apply (though there is no guarantee of that) that can be taken in addition to the outside support, meaning that you could be supported for seven years or sometimes even more, or take some of the support as funding for field research, etc. In addition, earning such a prestigious fellowship is quite likely to be career-enhancing if you complete the PhD.
Question: I am a member of a recognized minority or under-represented social group. What are Columbia's policies pertaining to graduate admission and funding for minority students? What sources of funding are available for minority students?
Answer: You should visit the website of the GSAS' Office of Minority Affairs at:
The OMA will provide specific information on CU policies on admission and supplemental funding opportunities for minority students, and other important resources. At a program level, we strive to admit the most promising students -- those we believe will have a strong shot at a professional scholarly career, irrespective of background or heritage. But we also strive to create strong cohorts of students with diverse interests and backgrounds, and we consider the cultural, linguistic, national, gender, class, and ethnic diversity of our student body as a factor in our thinking about admission and fellowship decisions, just as we do when we search for new faculty colleagues. We are proud of the diversity of our student body, reflecting a commitment that extends back to the origins of our program, which has a proud record of producing minority and women PhD graduates. Our current study body is comprised of fully 50% members of recognized minority groups, and is more than half women.
We encourage talented women, minority, international, veteran, sexual minority, working-class, and disabled students to apply, and to approach us directly (contact the area committee chair, and be assured that the conversation will be held in confidence if you so desire) if they have special concerns about the admission process that are not addressed directly by the Office of Minority Affairs at GSAS. Our commitment to diversity reflects a specifically academic consideration as well, since our discipline makes cultural diversity a central object of inquiry. Therefore, a diverse community adds to the academic excellence of our program for all of our students and faculty. Diversity is integral to our intellectual projects here.
Current Diversity: Our community of students at present (Spring 2014) is approximately 20% African American, 5% Native American, 15% Latino (US citizens), 5% Asian American, 5% Arab American, 30% Anglo American, and 20% international (currently, all from Latin America); it is comprised of 55% women and 45% men. Several of our students are the first in their families to earn graduate degrees, several are parents with young children, and many also come to us from public undergraduate institutions. Our students range widely in age at the extremes, but tend to begin in the program between the ages of 24 and 35.
At present we have two Ford Minority Doctoral Fellowship winners in the program. The broader Department of Music also has an exceptional, and arguably field-leading, record for the diversity of its student body, of which we are all very proud.
Question: Are there specific considerations relevant for international students?
Answer: Our admission and fellowship offers have no citizenship requirements. International students on fellowship are eligible for specific student visas through the United States Department of State. We have always had a significant number of international students in our program, and many of those students have gone on to distinguished careers in the United States and in their native countries. The international character of our program (students and faculty) is a point of pride, but also one source of our program's quality, since the field of ethnomusicology is so profoundly an international discipline, and becoming more so every year.
The main consideration relevant to international students is English-language fluency. Columbia University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences places specific requirements on all applicants who are not native speakers of English, detailed at:
The primary consideration for us in evaluating international students, other than the considerations that apply to all applicants, concerns the ability of such students to read, write and speak English with exceptional fluency.
This is not intended to be chauvinist. In fact, we emphasize the importance of understanding ethnomusicology as an international field advanced in many languages. Given the research emphases of several of our faculty members and many of our students, and the significant number of Latino and Latin American students in our program, Spanish and Portuguese, in particular, are widely spoken, read, and understood in our community, and we frequently have visiting speakers and guests who present in those languages (and others) with simultaneous translation. We value linguistic diversity every bit as much as any other aspect of cultural diversity cultivated in our community.
But because our program culminates in the production of a substantial work of scholarship -- the PhD dissertation – that must of necessity, under university rules, be written in English, students who are not exceptionally skilled in English writing – regardless of their native language -- generally face great difficulties in programs such as ours. If you are interested in our program but not fluent in English to a very high level, we suggest that you devote at least a year to intensive English-language study, preferably in an immersion environment (e.g., living in the US) before you apply. If you are not sure whether your fluency is adequate to PhD level work in our program, please send a writing sample well in advance of the application deadline and we will evaluate it informally and give you an honest opinion that may save you the time and expense of applying before you are ready. We are eager to have international students join our program; we do not want these students to have a frustrating experience.
Question: So what exactly IS your curriculum? What courses do I have to take? What exams? On what schedule? See the link to Ph D Program in the Center for Ethnomusicology Website and the link to the Musicology handbook at the top of this page for additional information.)
Answer: Our curriculum is constantly under discussion and in recent years we have revised it substantially; that will continue. We have for example adjusted our course schedule to our admissions calendar, which admits two cohorts in every three year period; in the third year of that period, when we do not admit a cohort, we offer a richer slate of elective seminars for our 2d and 3d year students, because we "bracket" some of our required seminars.
In general, we are moving toward a more flexible model of "required" coursework, as are many other programs, while still maintaining a very rigorous and fixed set of core courses for graduate students.
Question: Where do Columbia PhDs work?
Recent graduates have taken teaching positions or in departments of music, anthropology, English, Asian Studies, African Studies, and other disciplines at such institutions as Connecticut College, The University of Oklahoma, The University of Chicago, Sarah Lawrence College, Tulane University, The University of Richmond, Pittsburgh University, Ewha Women’s University (Korea), The University of Hawai'i, The Ohio State University, Tulane University, The University of Toronto, Reed College, The University of Pittsburgh, The University of California/Santa Barbara, Sarah Lawrence College, The University of North Carolina/Asheville, The University of Illinois, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston College, New York University/Abu Dhabi, The University of North Carolina, Asheville, Bard College, and others. Several have also won postdoctoral fellowships in recent years – including fellowships at Yale, Kenton, Oxford, Leiden, Cambridge, Harvard, New York University, Toronto, The University of Pennsylvania, and in several cases here at Columbia. Many of our students have taught as replacement and adjunct faculty at a number of universities while finishing the PhD as well. Some of our graduates also work in non-academic settings, or combine part-time teaching with non-academic careers in music, policy, and research.
We have an excellent placement record, certainly one of the best records in the discipline (and a standout rate for any humanities PhD program in any field) over the past decade (also true of our department in general). In fact, in recent years our placement rate approaches 85 percent (in postdoctoral fellowships and/or tenure track positions within 3 years of graduating with the PhD, most within less than that). Our complete placement record for students who entered the program after 1997 is detailed below (we generally advise all PhD program applicants to request this data from all programs to which they apply -- a comprehensive and not selective list of all graduates and their current placements).
We take placement extremely seriously, and your marketability as a job candidate will be a consideration in your advising at every level from day one in the program. We emphasize publishing and conference presentation as components of graduate education, and have exceptional records in these areas (along with our extraordinary record for external grant support, which is related). In most years, our students are represented in disproportionately large numbers at the national conferences of both the SEM and the AAA, and frequently attend other major national and international meetings. In any given year, our students publish numerous articles. You will be supported and advised in these areas of professional development (for example the Center for Ethnomusicology provides conference travel support over and above that offered by the Graduate School to all GSAS PhD students). Our strong placement record provides a tradition of success that feeds back into successive cohorts of students, and extends to our strong emphasis on preparing students to compete on job markets beyond ethnomusicology and departments of music, something at which our students also excel -- having earned jobs in English, Asian and African Studies, and Anthropology and been frequently competitive for jobs in other fields in recent years. In an increasingly interdisciplinary academic universe, we believe students who train in ethnomusicology can (and should!) find many new disciplinary contexts in which to forge careers outside of the field of Music proper, and that they must be able to compete in those contexts (as is also true of our approach to grantsmanship, which is closely related).
The current academic job market is fiercely competitive and challenging and above all changing fairly rapidly in some fundamental ways that no one can quite predict on a timeline relevant to the career trajectory of a student entering a PhD program now. We are acutely aware of that and strive to make our students as competitive as possible for academic careers, including anticipating new ways of pursuing such careers. On the other hand, we tend to find that strong students who do original and compelling research projects for their dissertation work almost always do find good jobs that lead to healthy careers within a few years of earning the PhD if not immediately upon earning it; the field of academic ethnomusicology is expanding and has had a fairly robust job market in recent years, relative to prevailing negative economic conditions to be sure. Do great (and hard) work, have a good attitude, pursue the professional opportunities available to you as a graduate student, and find your own voice, and we're pretty sure you’ll get a good job at the other end.
In Conclusion: Matching Your Goals to Our Goals
Our primary goal is to get you through our program with a strong foundation in the history, theory and methods of ethnomusicological research, social thought, and professional academic practice, and with an exceptionally strong dissertation and a solid professional profile to show for your efforts. We want your experience here to be personally enriching and equally a source of enrichment for our program itself, both for the fellow students in your cohort and for those ahead of and behind you in the program, and for the faculty. We hope to provide a stimulating and collegial environment in which students can realize the potential we detect in them when we make an offer of admission. We want you to complete the program in a timely manner, and to be a strong candidate upon completion of the program for a post-doctoral fellowship or a tenure-track job at a research university or college. If these aren't your goals for yourself over the next few years, this is probably not the program for you.
Earning a PhD is hard work, undertaken in the prime years of one's life, and it entails economic and personal sacrifices commensurate with the potential rewards of a successful career in the field for which it is a qualification. Earning a PhD, even with fellowship support, entails significant opportunity costs relative to the time it takes to complete the degree -- for example, the years spent living in relative poverty while your college classmates are advancing in more lucrative professions, and the difficulties of starting a family, entering a marriage (not knowing where you will end up working, a problem compounded for marriages between graduate students, which are quite common), or following a whim to move or travel. The job market in academia is extremely tough and competitive. The unemployment and underemployment rates are high and this is a risky career choice compared to other professions. Ironically, the best careers often fall to those who enter the profession with little consideration of such matters, and a single-minded devotion to their own project, and to the field. That’s the kind of student we’re looking for.
Finally, you must understand that graduate school is a stressful experience, even for the strongest students; even after you enter the profession you will spend years living up to the expectations and standards other people set for your work and your conduct. Living in New York City, it should be mentioned, is also stressful for many people, even those of us who find it unbelievably stimulating. You should factor these issues into your thinking about your goals and about whether Columbia is the place to pursue them. We want you to be healthy and happy as well as successful and productive. If our program's goals match your personal goals, we welcome your inquiry and your application.
Program Policies and Standards (Official Policies of the Program):
Honor Code: All work completed toward the MA, MPhil, and PhD degrees in the Ethnomusicology program is governed by a strict honor code, as is all non-degree scholarly work done while a student in our program (conference papers, publications, etc.). Students are trusted to maintain the highest standards of ethical scholarly conduct at all times and in all contexts. Plagiarism, of any kind, and any other form of academic dishonesty, is grounds for immediate and permanent dismissal from the program.
Standards of Conduct: Students are expected to behave professionally and respectfully in all interactions with fellow students, colleagues, and faculty members. They are expected to attend seminars and classes with few absences, and to participate in program and departmental events (talks, performances, etc.) as regularly as possible. Students are responsible for maintaining communication with faculty advisers on a regular basis, and for meeting all other requirements specified by the Department and GSAS. Students must file official annual GSAS annual progress reports beginning in year 2 or risk losing funding for the following academic year. Students are expected to be quickly responsive to faculty inquiries by email unless in the field and out of electronic communication range and to remain in regular contact with us even when in not in residence. Research conduct must also be governed both by the formal standards of Columbia's Institutional Review Board (no field research may proceed without IRB approval) and by the more implicit standards of field research ethics we emphasize in our program and described in the ethics statements of the American Anthropological Association and the Society for Ethnomusicology. Students in our program represent the program, the Department, and Columbia University in all professional settings, and should conduct themselves accordingly.
Course Incompletes: In addition to enforcing GSAS and departmental standards for the completion of all coursework in a timely manner (i.e., no incomplete may stand for more than one year without permanently converting to an "F," but please note that any individual faculty member and the program may set less generous deadlines), as a program policy we do not permit students in ethnomusicology to maintain any incompletes in any courses, not even beyond a single semester. No student may have more than two open incompletes at any time, under penalty of being placed on academic probation. A third simultaneous incomplete is grounds for termination in the program, as is the conversion of any incomplete grade to an "F."
Grades: The ethnomusicology area now uses Letter Grades for course evaluation in all courses. However, in graduate school, grades work a little differently than in an undergraduate program. A grade of “C” in any course constitutes a serious sign of concern and may lead to probationary status and more than one "C" may constitute grounds for termination in the program; a large number of “B” grades in ethnomusicology courses is also evidence of slow or insufficient progress. Mostly, you should be earning "A" grades in graduate seminars.
Evaluations and Advising: All pre-candidacy students are be advised on course selection and other such matters at the beginning of each semester by a quorum of the Area Committee. Students in candidacy must meet with a faculty advising committee at least once per year unless fieldwork makes this impossible. Written evaluations are issued for major work in the program, such as the MA thesis and exams, and of course for most seminar work. Faculty members are always available to advise individual students on their program and progress and students are expected to reach out to faculty members in a timely manner if they have concerns or face difficulties.
Deadlines: The MA thesis, the exams, and the dissertation proposal must be completed on the schedule delineated on the "About the PhD Program" web page unless another accommodation is approved by the committee for significant reasons (health, pregnancy, family crises, military service, etc.). Students in PhD candidacy are also expected to maintain steady progress and submit significant written work (generally comprising at least a draft chapter of the dissertation) in each semester during which they are registered unless they are in the field.
Failure to meet the deadlines imposed by the program (and the Graduate School) is grounds for termination in the program.
Termination in the Program: In very rare instances, the Ethnomusicology Area Committee may decide a student should be asked to leave the program, usually with a terminal MA degree; sometimes at a later date, for example if major GSAS deadlines are not met, or if a student fails any two exams. (You are permitted to re-take one exam; a different exam may also be re-taken, but solely at the Area Committee’s discretion. Failing any single exam twice necessitates termination in the program.) Going beyond the 7th year without completing the dissertation entails an automatic probationary status; going beyond the 9th year entails likely termination unless there is a strong and justifiable reason for the delay. Failure to submit dissertation-related work to your adviser and/or committee members in each semester you are registered and once you have completed primary fieldwork is also grounds for termination. Academic dishonesty or serious interpersonal misconduct also constitute grounds for termination.
You will always be advised about your academic progress in a timely manner. Termination decisions are never taken lightly or hastily, and may be appealed to GSAS via a grievance process.
The Ethnomusicology Area Committee, made up of all faculty members currently teaching in the Ethnomusicology area, reserves the right to assess and determine academic progress and standing for all students in the program, except where such matters are rightfully overseen by the Department, the Graduate School, or the University. Where any of our policies appear to conflict with those of these superseding entities, the rules of these entities apply.
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Placement Record for all students who have entered the Columbia Ethnomusicology PhD program since 1997, and who have since defended their dissertations
We are extremely proud of our placement record over the past 15 years, especially. Below is a list of the names of the 19 students who have completed the PhD in Ethnomusicology at Columbia, and who have entered the program since 1997. The date of each student's dissertation defense is listed in parentheses next to her/his name, followed by her/his current and recent employment information. Please note that nearly 80% of these alumni have full-time academic positions, the majority tenure track or tenured.
Adam Kielman (12/16) -- Assistant Professor of Music, Chinese University of Hong Kong (from 1/17)
Marceline Saibou (5/16) - Adjunct Professor, Fordham University
Sara Snyder (5/16) -- Visiting Assistant Professor (Anthropology, Cherokee Studies), Western Carolina University (2016-17)
Shannon Garland (5/15)
Lauren Flood (5/15) Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2016-18)
Martha "Marti" Newland (6/14) -- Core Lecturer for Music Humanities, Columbia University (2014-16); Lecturer in Music, Columbia University, 2016-17
Jonathan "Toby" King (6/14) -- Assistant Professor of Music, University of North Carolina, Asheville (2014-)
Nili Belkind (5/14) -- Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities-Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellowship in the Humanities, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2015-17)
Niko Higgins (5/13) — Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music, Columbia University (2012- ); Guest Faculty, Sarah Lawrence College (2015- ),
Timothy Mangin (9/12) -- Assistant Professor of Music, Boston College (2016-)
Simon Calle (5/12) -- Ministry of Culture, Colombia, (2012- )
Brian Karl (5/12) -- Program Director, Headlands Center for the Arts, Sausalito CA
Maria Sonevytsky (2/11) -- Postdoctoral fellowships at Harvard and Columbia (2011-13), Assistant Professor of Music, Bard College (2013-
Tyler Bickford (5/11) -- Core Curriculum Teaching Fellow, Columbia University (2011-13), Assistant Professor of English, University of Pittsburgh (2013 - )
Farzaneh Hemmasi (5/10) -- Penn Humanities Forum Postdoctoral Fellowship (2011-12); Assistant Professor of Music, Univ. of Toronto (2012-)
Lauren Ninoshvili (5/10) -- ACLS New Faculty Postdoctoral Fellowship, NYU (2012-14); Adjunct Lecturer, Columbia University and Barnard College, 2014-present
Andrew Eisenberg (10/09) -- Lecturer, Stony Brook University (2009-11), Postdoctoral Fellowships at Univ. of Cambridge (2011-12) and Univ. of Oxford (2012-13), UK; currently Visiting Lecturer, Bard College (2013-14), Assistant Professor of Music, New York University/Abu Dhabi (2015 - )
Ryan Skinner (10/09) -- American University in Cairo (2009-10), Asst. Prof. of Music and African American Studies, The Ohio State University (2011-)
Anna Stirr (10/09) -- Postdoctoral Fellowships at Univ. of Oxford (2011-12) and Univ. of Leiden, Netherlands (2010-11), Asst. Prof. Asian Arts, Univ. of Hawai'i, Manoa (2012-)
Morgan Luker (5/09) - Asst. Prof. of Music, Reed College (2011- )
Elizabeth Keenan (10/08) -- Independent Scholar and Writer
Matt Sakakeeny (10/08) - Associate Prof. of Music, Tulane University (2008-) (tenured)
David Novak (10/06) -- Columbia Society of Fellows (2006-9); Associate Prof. of Music, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara, 2009 - (tenured)
Amanda Minks (02/06) -- Associate Prof. of Anthropology, University of Oklahoma (2006- ) (tenured)
Ada Helbig (10/05) -- Associate Prof. of Music, University of Pittsburgh (2006-) (tenured)
Columbia Ethnomusicology Dissertation Abstracts
Abstracts of Columbia Ethnomusicology dissertations defended between 2003 and 2014. The list below is partial. More will be added soon. The dates in parentheses refer to the year the dissertation was deposited, and the initials next to the date in parentheses to the dissertation's "sponsor," or principle adviser, on our faculty.
Wild music: ideologies of exoticism in two Ukrainian borderlands (2012, AF)
Abstract: This dissertation presents case studies of two distinct Ukrainian borderland groups: the Crimean Tatars of Crimea, and the Hutsuls of the Carpathian Mountains--two human collectivities that are both, today, Ukrainian by citizenship. Both of these groups also embody dominant stereotypes of otherness in Ukraine--Hutsuls as the ideal Herderian romantic folk, and Crimean Tatars as the menacing, mysterious, "oriental" other. This dissertation traces how historical stereotypes of both of these groups as "wild" have shaped and defined their contemporary expressive cultures, specifically addressing how stereotypes of wildness --or hegemonic conceptions of "otherness"--manifest on the ground within the communities who bear the stigma of such entrenched histories of exoticism. This ethnographic project focuses on music as a medium for challenging and reinforcing ideologies of exoticism, demonstrating how insiders and outsiders in both cases draw upon indigenous musical tropes to express or subvert stereotypes of "wildness." By analyzing how music energizes social and political agendas for borderland groups such as the Hutsuls and Crimean Tatars, this project emphasizes the co-presence of alternate subalterities within the nation-state, demonstrating the degrees to which a post-socialist, diverse and fractured state such as Ukraine is constructed through imaginings of its internal, peripheral Others.
_____________________________________Instruments of power: New Orleans brass bands and the politics of performance (2008, AF)
Reinterpreting the global, rearticulating the local: Nueva musica Colombiana, networks, circulation, and affect (2012, AO)
Abstract: This dissertation analyses identity formation through music among contemporary Colombian musicians. The work focuses on the emergence of musical fusions in Bogotá, which participant musicians and Colombian media have callednueva música Colombiana (new Colombian music). The term describes the work of bands that assimilate and transform North-American music genres such as jazz, rock, and hip-hop, and blend them with music historically associated with Afro-Colombian communities such as cumbia and currulao, to produce several popular and experimental musical styles. In the last decade, these new fusions have begun circulating outside Bogotá, becoming the distinctive sound of young Colombia domestically and internationally. The dissertation focuses on questions of musical circulation, affect, and taste as a means for articulating difference, working on the self, and generating attachments others and therefore social bonds and communities.
This dissertation considers musical fusion from an ontological perspective influenced by actor-network, non-representational, and assemblage theory. Such theories consider a fluid social world, which emerges from the web of associations between heterogeneous human and material entities. The dissertation traces the actions, interactions, and mediations between places, people, institutions, and recordings that enable the emergence of new Colombian music. In considering those associations, it places close attention to the affective relationships between people and music. In that sense, instead of thinking on relatively fixed and consistent relationships between music, place, and identity, built upon discursive or imagined ties, the work considers each of these concepts as a network of relations enmeshed with each other and in consistent re- articulation.
Music in Conflict: Palestine, Israel, and the Politics of Aesthetic Production
Abstract: This is an ethnographic study of the fraught and complex cultural politics of music making in Palestine-Israel in the context of the post-Oslo era. I examine the politics of sound and the ways in which music making and attached discourses reflect and constitute identities, and also, contextualize political action. Ethical and aesthetic positions that shape contemporary artistic production in Israel-Palestine are informed by profound imbalances of power between the State (Israel), the stateless (Palestinians of the occupied Palestinian territories), the complex positioning of Israel’s Palestinian minority, and contingent exposure to ongoing political violence. Cultural production in this period is also profoundly informed by highly polarized sentiments and retreat from the expressive modes of relationality that accompanied the 1990s peace process, strategic shifts in the Palestinian struggle for liberation, which is increasingly taking place on the world stage through diplomatic and cultural work, and the conceptual life and currency Palestine has gained as an entity deserving of statehood around the world.
The ethnography attends to how the conflict is lived and expressed, musically and discursively, in both Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) of the West Bank, encompassing different sites, institutions and individuals. I examine the ways in which music making and attached discourses reflect and constitute identities, with the understanding that musical culture is a sphere in which power and hegemony are asserted, negotiated and resisted through shifting relations between and within different groups. In all the different contexts presented, the dissertation is thematically and theoretically underpinned by the ways in which music is used to culturally assert or reterritorialize social and spatial boundaries in a situation of conflict.
Beginning with cultural policy promoted by music institutions located in Israel and in the West Bank, the ethnography focuses on two opposing approaches to cultural interventions in the conflict: music as a site of resistance and nation building amongst Palestinian music conservatories located in the oPt, and music is a site of fostering coexistence and shared models of citizenship amongst Jewish and Arab citizens in mixed Palestinian-Jewish environments in Israel. This follows with the ways in which music making is used to re-write the spatial and temporal boundaries imposed on individuals and communities by the repressive regime of the occupation. The ethnography also attends to the ways in which the cultural construction of place and nation is lived and sounded outside of institutional frameworks, in the blurry boundaries and ‘boderzones’ where fixed ethno-national divisions do not align with physical spaces and individual identities. This opens up spaces for alternative imaginings of national and post-national identities, of resistance and coexistence, of the universal and the particular, that musically highlight the daily struggles of individuals and communities negotiating multiplex modalities of difference.
Implications of contemporary Bluegrass music performance at and around a New York City jam session (2014, forthcoming, AF)
Jonathan Tobias King
Abstract: Bluegrass as it is played in the United States today is not simply a resistant category of country music, but performs a particular and emergent view of past/present relations. More than a “micromusic” mediating between “supercultures” and “subcultures” (in Mark Slobin’s terms ), in fact bluegrass’s complex history resists simple top-down or bottom-up perspectives, articulating a “third space” of authenticity. Active ‘genre-tending’ in a jam setting poetically articulates emergent social relations, in a specific spatiotemporal frame, at New York City’s The Baggot Inn jam scene, a site of bluegrass performance at which the genre is employed creatively as a way of socializing and articulating contemporary presence. Expressive skill, executed through embodied musical gestures derived from specific pieces of music, may embed personal biography with social history and experience. Learning a genre on an individual level is an actively embodied linking of technique and feeling, and differing listening experiences may lead to differing ideas of what a musical text represents. Successful co-performance of a genre (bluegrass, in this case) requires a dynamic performative flexibility. This flexibility in turn can permanently affect both player and context, though different players may have to work to agree or disagree. These live, face-to-face interactions, which depend on local specifics, maintain the coherence of the wider musical genre that facilitates those very actions themselves.
Across a divide: mediations of contemporary popular music in Morocco and Spain (2012, AF)
Abstract: This dissertation is about the mediation of cross-cultural difference among Moroccan and Spanish musical practitioners. It is based on the idea that negotiations across the gaps of such difference have been promoted through the increased circulation of people, products and ideas in the modern era. Based on fieldwork during the years 2003-2007, primarily in the urban sites of Granada, Spain and Fez, Morocco, the project focuses on popular music, how both the production and reception of music are critically bound up with notions of genre, how resulting associations of musical practice are affected by different uses of technology, and how musical practices of all types partake of and help form different ideas of belonging.
Children’s music, MP3 players, and expressive practices at a Vermont elementary school: media consumption as social organization among schoolchildren (2011, AF)
Abstract: Over the last generation changes in the social structure of the family and children’s command of an increasing share of family spending have led marketers to cultivate children as an important consumer demographic. The designation “tween,” which one marketer refers to as kids “too old for Elmo but too young for Eminem,” has become a catchall category that includes kids as young as four and as old as fifteen. Music marketed to children—led by the Disney juggernaut, which promotes superstar acts such as the Jonas Brothers and Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus across television, radio, film, DVDs and CDs, and branded toys, clothing, and electronics—represents a rare “healthy” area of the music industry, whose growth has paralleled the expansion of portable media technologies throughout U.S. consumer culture. The increasing availability of portable media devices, along with the widespread installation of Internet terminals in schools and educators’ turn toward corporate- produced “edutainment” for lessons, has reconfigured schools as central sites of children’s media consumption. Off-brand MP3 players packaged with cheap and brightly colored earbuds have become more and more affordable, and marketers increasingly target kids with celebrity-branded music devices and innovations like Hasbro’s iDog series of toy portable speakers, which fit naturally among children’s colorful and interactive collections of toys. At the forefront of the “digital revolution, children are now active—even iconic—users of digital music technologies. This dissertation argues that tweens, as prominent consumers of ascendant music genres and media devices, represent a burgeoning counterpublic, whose expressions of solidarity and group affiliation are increasingly deferred to by mainstream artists and the entertainment industry. We appear to be witnessing the culmination of a process set in motion almost seventy years ago, when during the postwar period marketers experimented with promoting products directly to children, beginning to articulate children as a demographic identity group who might eventually claim independence and public autonomy for themselves.
Through long-term ethnographic research at one small community of children at an elementary school in southern Vermont, this dissertation examines how these transformations in the commercial children’s music and entertainment industry are revolutionizing they way children, their peers, and adults relate to one another in school. Headphones mediate face-to- face peer relationships, as children share their earbuds with friends and listen to music together while still participating in the dense overlap of talk, touch, and gesture in groups of peers. Kids treat MP3 players less like “technology” and more like “toys,” domesticating them within traditional childhood material cultures already characterized by playful physical interaction and portable objects such as toys, trading cards, and dolls that can be shared, manipulated, and held close. And kids use digital music devices to expand their repertoires of communicative practices—like passing notes or whispering—that allow them to create and maintain connections with intimate friends beyond the reach of adults. Kids position the connections and interactions afforded by digital music listening as a direct challenge to the overarching goals around language and literacy that structure their experience of classroom education. Innovations in digital media and the new children’s music industry furnish channels and repertoires through which kids express solidarity with other kids, with potentially transformative implications for the role and status of children’s in their schools and communities.
Singing between the words: the poetics of Georgian polyphony (2010, AF)
Abstract: There is a strange paradox in Georgia's relation to the West which has emerged in ever sharper detail with the passage of time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Geographically and culturally, Georgia is borderline but not quite fully exotic, oriental: located at the gates of Asia and the Muslim Middle East, it is one of the oldest Christian countries and a rare Caucasian nation oriented primarily towards the European sphere of influence for the last two centuries.
It is precisely this slippery boundary between comfortable familiarity and exotic impenetrability that language in Georgian song--my chief object of inquiry in this dissertation--embodies. The search for meaning in the obscure, archaic, or conventionally unintelligible often emerges concomitantly with narratives of cultural loss at moments of radical social, political, and economic upheaval or transformation, and the Georgian case is no exception. The present dissertation therefore posits the paired expressive-communicative modes of language and music as a lens for inquiry into (un)intelligibility as a salient aesthetic and political trope in the turmoil and ideological anomie of postsocialist Georgia, approaching it through a specifically music-centered ethnography of non-referential sung language, or vocables, in traditional and newer, globally oriented Georgian song. It explores variable and shifting tropes of interpretive ambiguity as produced by artist-performers and intellectuals, poets and politicians in the name of everything from trans-rational linguistic futurism to the building of civic consciousness based on a primordial, archaeological imagination of the nation, to the need to make the Georgian language-music gestalt globally accessible so that world music listeners will buy it. My specific discussion of contemporary Georgian world music poses broader questions for the discipline of ethnomusicology as a whole: How can the study of language in world music serve as a forum for the exploration of non-referential forms of intercultural communication and meaning-making? How can studies of sound and listening as such be rejoined to studies of properly musical creativity and expression, beginning from the voice itself?
Iranian popular music in Los Angeles: Mobilizing media, nation, and politics (2010, AO)
Abstract: This dissertation is an ethnographic and historical study of Iranian exiles in Los Angeles who, for the past thirty years, have created popular music and media that both directly criticizes the state and realizes secular, sensual, and cosmopolitan iterations of Iranian-ness that are outside of official state culture. I argue that popular music has assumed these roles for exiles because of its fraught history: promoted initially by the pre-revolutionary Pahlavi government as a symbol of modernization, popular music was banned for eighteen years following the establishment of the Islamic Republic for engendering immorality and "Westoxification." While exiles have preserved and innovated new forms of Iranian popular music since the ban took effect, today they circulate their musics via satellite broadcasts and the internet throughout the world and into Iran itself, where such music is illegal. The result is that exile-produced popular musics circumvent Iranian state restrictions on expression and create multiple alternative forms of Iranian popular culture for a globally dispersed Iranian audience. These musics also contribute to a mediated transnational public in which new identifications and platforms for political participation emerge. The dissertation investigates exiles' current musical activities, the reception of their music in Tehran, and the history of Iranian state and non-state actors' investments in music. Some of the main questions addressed in this dissertation are: How have popular musics come to serve as cultural vectors that relate subjects to multiple, contested, and dialectically constituted Iranian identities? What are the means, motivations and outcomes of exile musicians' involvement in producing culture, and what emotional and sonic terrains do their musics bring into being? And how have media and diaspora combined to create practices and identifications that engage with the category of nation but are not circumscribed by the nation-state?
The tango machine: Musical practice and cultural policy in the post-crisis Buenos Aires (2009, AO)
Morgan James Luker
Abstract: This dissertation examines new ways in which tango, Argentina's "national" genre of popular music, has been drawn upon and used as a cultural and/or economic resource following the devastating Argentine economic crisis of late 2001, focusing on how the transformation of musical politics has affected the conceptualization and practice of musical form. Based on data gathered over more than 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Buenos Aires, the dissertation is divided into five chapters. Following a general introduction on the historical, musical, and political context of the study, the second chapter investigates how the cultural industries, especially the local music industry, emerged as a priority for the city government of Buenos Aires in the wake of the economic crisis, tracing the formation of such policies through the city's engagement with international debates on "cultural diversity." Chapter three studies how cultural policies based on these diversity discourses have been put into practice, taking the government-produced Buenos Aires International Music Fair--a spectacular event designed to increase both the cultural significance and economic value of local music production, including tango--as an ethnographic case. Chapter four explores the cultural politics of contemporary tango music against core debates regarding the status of "the popular" in Latin America, analyzing how specific musical features and stylistic details of some contemporary tango maps onto broader patterns of musical, cultural, and social inclusion and exclusion in Argentina today. Chapter five considers the work of TangoVia Buenos Aires, a non-profit arts organization that has taken advantage of the city's newfound interest in forming public-private partnerships following the economic crisis, arguing that the viability of such partnerships, from the perspective of both the private entrepreneurs and their public partners, has required a substantial revision of historically entrenched aesthetic ideologies regarding tango in Argentina. By locating tango music and culture within the broader managerial regimes that frame the genre as it is practiced in Buenos Aires today, I bridge disciplinary modes of thinking about the power of aesthetic values, cultural practices, and the workings of cultural policy and the cultural industries within the contexts of economic neoliberalism and cultural globalization.
Artistiya: Popular music and personhood in postcolonial Bamako, Mali (2009, AF)
Abstract: This dissertation examines the socio-cultural and historical contours of musical expression and identity formation in postcolonial Bamako, Mali, a sprawling West African metropolis on the upper Niger River. Specifically, this work engages with a particular community of urban artists--popular musicians--whose lives and works are locally glossed by the Bamana term " artistiya ," a neologism meaning "artist-ness," which I define as "artistic personhood." As a study of personhood among musical artists in Bamako, my work emphasizes the particular ethical and moral concerns that artists daily confront in a postcolonial society structured by clientelism, plagued by corruption, and burdened by poverty.
Mande peoples, the largest and ideologically predominant ethno-linguistic group in Bamako, place a premium on what's called "mògòya ," or "ethico-moral personhood." Mògòya entails a socio-cultural code of behavior that defines the person (mògò ) through a dialectic of collective respect for cultural continuity and community and an individual ethic of social rivalry and individualism that inspires innovation through strategic breaks with mores and tradition. The ability to negotiate the polarities of this dialectic is characterized by "intelligence" ( halkili ), as in the proverb: mògòya ye hakili ye (personhood is intelligence). The inability or unwillingness to resolve this intersubjective (relational and dialogic) tension may result in socioeconomic alienation and interpersonal "shame" (maloya ), the latter sentiment epitomizing the negative psychosocial effects of unethical and immoral behavior in Mande society. My research observes how popular musicians strive to intelligently--that is, morally and ethically--negotiate the social, economic, and political realities of modern life in postcolonial Bamako to produce a specifically "artistic" sense of personhood:artistiya .
The dissertation begins with a historical inquiry into the emergence of artistiya through periods of decolonization and nationalism in the Soudan Français and Mali, when artists enjoyed a high degree of state patronage, to present-day encounters with neo-liberal socioeconomic structures that have destabilized artists' relationships to state and society. Through ethnography, I examine how artists move beyond arguments about lost revenues and infringed intellectual property to affirm their "civic personhood" in the face of a radically informal economy in which "piracy" predominates; how they conceive and embody a "civil" ethics of live musical aesthetics to balance the exigencies of lifeworld and livelihood in a highly competitive urban culture economy; and how they affirm and cultivate a convivial ethos within their profession and local communities against an increasingly alienating and provisional postcolonial society. Throughout, I draw attention to the pressing politics and poetics of modern personhood in an African postcolony.
The resonance of place: Vocalizing Swahili ethnicity in Mombasa, Kenya (2009, AF)
Abstract: Swahili ethnicity is highly porous and ambiguous, often reckoned more as a space to be entered into (or exited from) than an essence one might have. Nevertheless, because Kenya's Swahili-speaking Muslims comprise the core of a Muslim minority engaged in struggles for greater recognition and autonomy, Swahili ethnicity carries a great deal of social and political relevancy in that country. The future of Kenyan Muslims depends in no small part on how Kenyan Swahili and their fellow Kenyans understand the nature of Swahili ethnicity and its relationships to Kenyan citizenship and the global Muslim ummah .
This dissertation, based on eighteen months of anthropological and ethnomusicological fieldwork, is an ethnographic study of vocal expression and Swahili ethnicity on the Kenyan coast. Through interpretive and semiotic analyses of situated vocalizations, I explore the cultural dispositions and social forces undergirding ethnic and religious identification on Kenya's so-called "Swahili coast."
The chapters of the work cover multiple forms of vocal expression, including Islamic vocalizations (i.e. muezzin calls and sermons), "Indian taarab " (Swahili wedding songs based on Hindi melodies), Swahilized Yemeni t [dotbelow]arab(Arab wedding songs that mix Arabic and Swahili words), and hip-hop-influenced youth music. Arguing for the historic centrality of place in conceptions of Swahiliness, I describe how such vocal practices produce epistemic and symbolic contexts for ethnic and religious identification in Mombasa Old Town, a marked Swahili neighborhood that happens to be situated within Kenya's second largest city. By attending to both discursive and non-discursive aspects of the investigated vocal genres, I explore Mombasa Old Town as a both a locally experienced place and a symbol with broad purchase in Kenyan society. This allows me to reveal something of the complex relationship between ethnic identification in Old Town and the stereotypes of Old Town that circulate in Kenyan public culture.
On a broader theoretical level, this dissertation explores the well-trodden yet poorly mapped terrain between ethnomusicology and linguistic anthropology. It also extends the burgeoning field of "vocal anthropology," through an intensive focus on vocalization as a practice of emplacement.
Exchanges of song Migration, gender, and nation in Nepali dohori performance (2009, AF)
Abstract: This is an ethnographic study of how gendered forms of intimacy are linked to changing conceptions of the nation, through the lens of a folkloric popular music genre known as dohori song. With roots in the rural courtship traditions of various ethnic groups, dohori has become emblematic of Nepali national identity through the last three decades, promoted by the state and private music companies. As the social and economic effects of violence in rural areas led more and more people to migrate within and outside of Nepal, then return to their villages in times of peace, the resulting circulation of people, media and practices is contributing to a redefinition of what it means to be a gendered subject belonging to a Nepali nation. I approach dohori as one set of cultural and expressive means by which Nepali migrants address the changes in their everyday lives, and nostalgically construct a version of the nation rooted in the rural hills.
I look ethnographically at dohori's different performance contexts and the changes in meaning that the genre undergoes as people travel among them, blurring the boundaries between performer and audience, producers and consumers. A central premise of this dissertation is that musical sound and aspects of bodily presentation are interrelated with language as important sites for the enactment of social position and values through performance. I look at changes in forms of exchange and the material stakes of performance to examine the politics of how not only words, but also sounds and socially emplaced bodies, change in significance as they move through and influence various contexts. Through attention to how expressive practices are appropriated in constructing national culture, this study contributes to an emerging ethnographic literature on the connections between migration, gender, national identity, and international discourses on culture and development. In this way, this dissertation contributes to the study of how gender, caste, ethnicity, class, and nation are formed through the intimate exchanges that comprise the circulation of people and practices.
The band carries medicine: Music, healing and community in Haitian/Dominican Rara/Gaga (2009, CJW)
Maurea E. Landies
Abstract: In the southeastern Dominican Republic, a festive, carnavalesque Easter procession featuring music, dance and ritual is widely performed by small local troupes of mostly poor rural workers and working class residents of local mill towns. The procession is called, in Spanish, el Gagá , and originates in Haitian Rara brought by Haitian immigrant laborers, especially those who have traveled to the region to work in the sugar cane industry. A number of interest groups participate in this performance, across boundaries of language, nation of origin, race, ethnicity, class, age and gender. I utilize a composite name, Rara/Gagá , to honor the participation of Haitian immigrants, Haitian Dominicans and Dominicans who claim no Haitian ancestry in this performance, and to evoke its dialogism and hybridity. In this work, the performance is examined in the light of the historical context of Haitian Dominican relations and global geopolitical forces.
Most of my fieldwork was undertaken in a sugar cane village and other locales in the southeastern Dominican Republic in the mid 1990s, with research also conducted in urban centers of the Dominican Republic, in New York City and in Haiti. My approach is informed by prior studies in New York City of music/dance/ritual practices that demonstrate Central African influences, especially AfroCuban traditions; Central African influences in Rara/Gagá are also explored in this work. I examine the overlap between Rara/Gagá and AfroHispaniolan ritual called Vodou in Haiti and Vodú in the Dominican Republic. I argue that, for participants in the Dominican Southeast and along a transnational social network that includes Haiti and diasporic locales such as the United States, Rara/Gagá is viewed by participants as a healing community that incorporates music, dance, ritual and procession along the Haitian Dominican cultural border.
_____________________________________Acting like a 'lady': Third wave feminism, popular music, and the white middle class (2008, Advised by Timothy Taylor)
Interculturality in play and performance: Miskitu children's expressive practices on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua (2006, AF)
Abstract: This dissertation is a transdisciplinary study of play and performance among indigenous Miskitu children living on Corn Island, off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. Methodological and analytical tools of ethnomusicology and linguistic anthropology are fused with the conceptual framework of interculturality, as it has developed in indigenous education movements and the social sciences in Latin America. Interculturality, as a descriptive term and an applied project, highlights the interdependence of social groups and the ways that boundaries are continually constructed within and between them. In this framework, expressive practices such as music, movement, language, and dress are not pre-given foundations of cultural difference, but rather the dialogic tools through which differences are enacted in historically shaped fields of interlocution.
It is in everyday social interaction that children begin the lifelong processes of affiliation and differentiation in various contexts of belonging. These processes are foregrounded in a multi-ethnic, multilingual community such as Corn Island, which has undergone dramatic economic and social changes in the past twenty five years, and where the boundaries between social groups are contested and redrawn in ongoing struggles over material and symbolic resources. The core of the dissertation is based on transcriptions and analyses of Miskitu children's informal peer-group activities on Corn Island, organized around the genres of spirit narratives, vocal play, song games, and pretend play. The study also includes an analysis of formal rituals and staged performances in the institutional domains of children's learning, especially schools, churches, and civic events, which help connect the intimate particularities of the family and the peer group to larger histories and political structures. Recurring themes include the centrality of aesthetic modalities of expression in intercultural communication, the relations between children's expressive practices and communications media, and the gendering of various modes of social belonging. In both formal and informal contexts of children's interaction, complex, multi-layered, and continually emergent subjectivities are forged in the intercultural practices of border-making and border-crossing.
Japan noise: Global media circulation and the transpacific circuits of experimental music (2006, AF)
Abstract: This dissertation is an ethnographic study of global media circulation that traces the transpacific exchange of "Noise"--an emergent experimental music genre---between musicians and listeners in Japan and North America. Japanese Noise musicians have sold tens of thousands of recordings in the US, and helped to stimulate a significant American Noise subculture. Yet the dual reception of Noise as a "Japanese" music (sometimes labeled "Japanoise"), but also as a universal avant-garde style relies as much on imaginary speculations as on actual exchange. But by its very name, Noise seems to question the transmission of meaning from one distinct cultural space to another: if "Noise" is "Music," what, after all, is "Culture?"
Listening to urban sound worlds connects us to circuits of technological change; to transnational media networks and the historical projects of the Western avant-garde,; and to the representation of Japanese modernity in the multi-layered sonic experience of musical performance in its cities. Based in several years of fieldwork with participants both in Japan and the United States, my dissertation shows how separated individuals and sites of social production are linked together by recordings in cosmopolitan circulation. How do we expand modern frameworks of cultural politics, place, and expressive culture when we travel with recordings in their distribution? The movement of marginal and obscure experimental musical genres can reframe popular music's symbolic and social practices on many different planes. Through its translocal circulation, Noise becomes a mutable commodity, a cultural trope, an aesthetic tool, a force for social connection and an aspect of everyday life. This dissertation is a multi-sited study of this modern context of music circulation, which questions well-traveled concepts of art, culture, nation, and identity by working towards an interdisciplinary inquiry into the conditions of media's globalization.
The role of music in the construction and maintenance of Irish identity among musicians in New York City at the turn of the millennium (2006, Advised by Daniel Ferguson)
Daniel N. Thompson
Abstract: The Irish have had a significant presence in New York City for over two hundred years, but most particularly since An Gorta Mor [The Great Hunger] of the mid-1840s. Since that time, the musical expressions of the Irish have been a major part of the City's musical life. These musics are embedded in the "world-historical political economy" (Marcus and Fischer 1986) of New York, and thus both reflect and inform this political economy--including, most importantly for this project, being entwined with ideologies of cultural nationalism and ethnic identity, as well as with the evolution of technology--resulting in the continued creation of Irish versions of many of the major genres of Westernmusic extant in New York City.
Because this is not a genre-specific study, a general overview of all of the types of music making that have had a significant presence among the Irish in New York has been outlined, with the aim of providing a historically informed cultural context. This has seemed particularly appropriate in the case of this project's focus of study: Irish musiciansin New York, a significant number of whom frequently reference the past--usually events from Ireland's political and social history, as well as music(s) from the Irish and Irish-American past--in the course of music making.
The fieldwork for this project included working with practitioners of Irish traditional music, rock music, parlor music, ballads, and the European cultivated tradition, with the goal of more clearly ascertaining the role of music in the construction and maintenance of Irish identity among musicians in New York City at the turn of the millennium.
"Play for me, old gypsy": Music as political resource in the Roma rights movement in Ukraine (2005, AO)
Adriana Nadia Helbig
Abstract: Since the 1990s, Roma rights activists in Ukraine have mobilized socially and politically through a network of Roma non-governmental organizations (NGOs) funded by the International Renaissance Foundation, an autonomous Kyiv-based organization within the worldwide network of Soros Foundations. This dissertation examines cultural projects sponsored by the largest and most influential Roma NGO in Ukraine, namely the Romani Yag (Roma Fire) organization in Uzhhorod, Transcarpathia. Based on fieldwork conducted in Roma communities in Transcarpathia in 2001-2002, this study localizes international aid for the marginalized Roma minority in Ukraine and shows how the bourgeoning Roma rights movement has influenced both Roma and non-Roma understandings of "being Roma" in the complex web of postsocialist identity politics. Analyses of video documentaries, music concerts, theater productions, and literary publications produced by Romani Yag and other Roma NGOs reveal ways in which Roma activists appropriate culture for political means in the context of the Roma rights movement in Ukraine. One of the most popular images utilized in these cultural productions is the stereotype of Roma-as-musician. This study delineates not only the political significance of this stereotype but, also, analyzes the socio-cultural impact of its political appropriations on various segments of the Roma population in Ukraine.
"Lost Lambs": rock, gender, authenticity, and a generational response to modernity in the People's Republic of China (2005, AF)
Cynthia P. Wong
Abstract: This dissertation explores rock as a site where modern identities are created in the People's Republic of China ("PRC"). Based on field research conducted between the summers of 1996 and 1999, I examine how rock is used by a generation of urban youth to negotiate issues of identity and self-presentation. The population studied consists of the pioneer rockers that encountered Western rock in the 1980s and have continued to explore it as a meaningful form of expressive culture. This generation was born in the midst of the political fervor of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and came of age in its aftermath (late 1970s and early 1980s), during the initial period of economic reforms--coming of age in between two major historical moments that produced conflicting messages about individuality, sexuality, and personal, cultural, and gendered identities.
This project is based on the premise that the PRC is undergoing its own unique experience of modernity and that rock, as a form of local cultural production, can provide insights into the particular manifestation of modernity that is taking place there. Drawing on the concept of "alternative modernities," I posit that, even though rock is an imported cultural form, its development in the PRC can be seen as following its own trajectory guided by the unique confluence of factors within its social environment. I illustrate that while the local discourse on rock authenticity seems mostly reiterative of the Western discourse on rock authenticity, the rockers' criticisms about the prevailing "falseness" and "hypocrisy" in their local environment provided the stronger impetus for authenticity as a guiding principle for creative expression and for the basis of a community. The subsequent chapters are case studies of two bands, Tang Dynasty and Cobra, focusing the discussion on issues of gender and cultural identity. The first explores the construction of an idealized Chinese masculinity through heavy metal performance, while the latter examines an all-women rock band's critical engagement with contemporary feminine ideals and expectations in China's modernity.
Losers, punks, and queers (and Elvii too): Identification and "identity" at New York City music tribute events (2005, adviser Timothy Taylor)
Jason Lee Oakes
Abstract: Based on fieldwork in New York City, an emergent form of musical performance that I have dubbed the "tribute event" is examined. At these events, musicians and spectators pay homage to a particular popular musician or musicians by performing "musical reenactments," reproducing the music and image of the tributee. The hypothesis guiding this dissertation is that tribute events--despite, or perhaps because of, their seeming marginality--reveal much about how consumers actively produce meaning out of music recordings and discourses. Tribute events are further instructive in their encapsulation of interactions that are usually too diffuse to be observed directly--between local and transnational, live and mediated, consumption and production, and between self-identity and identification with the Other.
Following a theorization of identity and identification, a series of four case studies look at how tribute participants identify with their musical idols as a way of negotiating aspects of their own identities. First, the annual Elvis Week held in Memphis is examined as a model for subsequent tribute events. The publicly-enacted fandom of impersonators and other devotees has had a strong influence on subsequent portrayals of the star-fan relationship in popular music. The second case study is centered on Loser's Lounge, a series of tributes devoted to pop songwriters ranging from ABBA to Burt Bacharach. At Loser's Lounge, participants combine elements of reverent homage and ironic camp, confusing accepted aesthetic categories and their racial associations. Next, at the annual Night of a Thousand Stevies, a group of gender-bending singers and lip synchers perform impersonations of Stevie Nicks, drawing on her music and persona both to reinforce and to subvert prevailing definitions of femininity. Finally, at the weekly Punk Rock Heavy Metal Karaoke, audience members sign up to sing punk and metal songs backed by a live band. The relevance of "genre" is considered in this setting, specifically in terms of how punk and metal are inflected by social class, and in how these genres are maintained and/or reworked only through continual and collaborative effort.
Christian identity, ethnic identity: Music making and prayer practices among 1.5- and second-generation Korean-American Christians (2005, AF)
Paul Jong-Chul Yoon
Abstract: This dissertation is based on more than two years of fieldwork focusing on one-point-five (1.5) and second-generation Korean Americans in a Presbyterian church in Flushing, New York. My approach to these issues emphasizes the phenomenological embodiment of the structures of experience with an attention to the sociality of music and other sonically marked expressive modalities. My research explores the use of contemporary praise songs, hymns, and "cry-out-loud" prayers ( tongsongkido ) in worship services as well as during prayer meetings. A central question for this research is how these expressive domains construct a sense of spirituality that not only mediates the experiences of worship and an understanding of "God's message," but also informs the discourses of generation, gender, and both spiritual and ethnic identity.
I reveal how the words used in sermons, prayers, prayers with music, songs, and Bible study classes creates a "discursive frame" that transforms an individual from a passive listener into an active singer and re-producer of the Reformed Christian biblical exegesis presented at this church. By attending to the ritual structures of the worship service, I show how congregants come to embody belief structures and how these structures impact senses of identity. For instance, differences in musical choice and prayer styles between the Korean- and English-language services reveal unique modes of engagement within the worship time. In part, I show how these differences are rooted in modernist critiques of "emotion" and an attempt to emphasize a more "rationalist" approach. There are also debates within the church that pit stereotypes of "Korean culture" against an understanding of Reformed Christianity. For instance, though congregants of the English ministry disagree with what they see as a "Korean" argument for female subjugation, they reinscribe female subordination through a Christian filter. I demonstrate how interpretations of "Korean" and "Christian" do not simply reify generational divisions, but rather provide a porous boundary zone across which congregants traverse in order to create, contest, and reformulate fluid understandings of Korean-American and Christian identity.
Baatyam: Music, ritual, and Taishanese transnationalism (2004, AF)
James Dale Wilson
Abstract: The reasons for migration are diverse and often complex. The Taishanese migrant experience offers an example of an entrenched and established diasporic condition that has adapted itself to changing political policies in China and abroad, and has shown itself to be singularly successful over the long term. This migrant experience has long exhibited the defining characteristics of contemporary transmigration.
There are highly complicated reasons for Taishanese migration, many of which can be better understood through a study of music and ritual. This is a multi-site ethnography about musical and ritual life that is based on original fieldwork in rural Taishanese villages and in Manhattan's Chinatown during the years 1997-2003. On one level, it is an ethnography of a specific village ritual ensemble ( Yangming Yinyue She ), the village of Yangming, and the transnational significance of ritual activities occurring within a 40 kilometer radius of Yangming. On another level, this dissertation uses ethnographic oral histories of village music making, the lives of musicians, and musical aesthetics to explore the historical dimensions of Taishanese migration, and the historical consequences of diaspora. This ethnographic data in turn informs an understanding of shifting Chinese political attitudes towards overseas Chinese, and current Chinese government policies that both endorse and legitimize migration within the context of economic policies of the Pearl River Delta. The multi-site strategy of this ethnography, with its multiple points of entry, aims at an ethnographically rich understanding of what it means to be Taishanese, and the significance of Taishanese migration in the new millennium.
The sound of han: P'ansori, timbre, and a South Korean discourse of sorrow and lament (2002, AF)
Heather Alane Willoughby
Abstract: This dissertation, based on fieldwork conducted in South Korea, is a study of timbre ("sound itself") as a cultural and ideological system. It examines how harsh or raspy vocal qualities are used in the Korean solo narrative art, p'ansori , to express emotions such as lament, suffering, and grief--as encapsulated in the indigenous South Korean concept ofhan . My intent is to elucidate a historically contingent articulation of han as it intersects with the performance practices of p'ansori , because it is in the mediation --in the sound itself and the social life of sound--that we can examine a hegemonic realization of an apparently ineffable cultural essence.
This study considers the intersections between physical sound, ideologies, aesthetics, and practices of sound making and interpretation, and the experience and ideology of emotion, sentiment, and affect. Specifically, it is an investigation of the inner meanings of p'ansori texts as they are realized through the use of particular timbres, ornamentations, and vocal techniques. This is accomplished by correlating emotional discourses about sound with the visualization of actual sound production (accomplished though computer-generated spectrography). Central to this research is the analysis of conversations, interviews, songs, musical performance practices, p'ansori pedagogy and vocal attainment, and indigenous scholarly knowledge. In the process of studying sound and sentiment, additional topics are addressed, such as nationalism, gender, nostalgia, and identity.
The majority of Korean music research has thus far been primarily historical or descriptive in nature. Therefore, this dissertation is significant in its ethnographic approach, and its synthesis of methods and perspectives from ethnomusicology, sociocultural and linguistic anthropology, and descriptive linguistics. Thus, this work can be broadly characterized as an "anthropology of the voice," both in literal terms (through the study of timbre and sound production), and as a metaphor and signifier of identity, and a vehicle of emotional expression.*
*This dissertation includes a CD that is compound (contains both a paper copy and CD as part of the dissertation).