Tag Archive for ethnomusicology

Wesleyan in the News

NewsIn this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Wesleyan in the News

1. The Nation: “Edward Snowden Deserves to Be Tried by a Jury of His Peers, Just Like Everyone Else”

In this op-ed, Associate Professor of Government Sonali Chakravarti argues against the Justice Department’s decision to deny Edward Snowden’s request for a jury trial. She contends that in Snowden’s case, in which he is accused of leaking classified information from the National Security Administration in 2013, a jury trial “is not only a viable alternative to a hearing before a judge; rather, given the nature of the charges—where the defendant has supposedly acted to protect the people from the very state that would charge him with a crime—jury deliberation is the proper forum for discussion of appropriate punishment and is the bulwark against the potential misconduct of the state.”

2. Transitions Online: “Stuck in the Middle”

Peter Rutland, the Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor in Global Issues and Democratic Thought, professor of government, and Dmytro Babachanakh ’20 explore the history of U.S. involvement in Ukraine, and call upon U.S. leaders of both parties to stop “treating lesser powers as political instruments.”

3. Tulsa World: “Save the Little Grouse on the Prairie”

Alex Harold ’20 is the author of this op-ed that calls for the lesser prairie chicken to be placed on the endangered species list to get the protections it desperately needs, as over 90 percent of its habitat has been degraded or destroyed. While many haven’t heard of this bird, Harold explains that it is an “indicator species” that “reflect(s) the health of the entire prairie ecosystem.” Harold wrote the op-ed as an assignment in E&ES 399, Calderwood Seminar in Environmental Science Journalism, taught by Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Suzanne O’Connell, this semester. The Calderwood Seminars are offered in a variety of disciplines to teach students how to effectively communicate academic knowledge to the public. Read more here.

Detroit Native Slobin Pens New Book on the Motor City’s Musical History

Mark Slobin, the Winslow-Kaplan Professor of Music, Emeritus, is the author of Motor City Music: A Detroiter Looks Back, published by Oxford University Press (November 2018).

Slobin’s book is the first-ever historical study of music across all genres in any American metropolis.

According to the publisher:

Detroit in the 1940s–60s was not just “the capital of the 20th century” for industry and the war effort, but also for the quantity and extremely high quality of its musicians, from jazz to classical to ethnic.

Slobin, a Detroiter from 1943, begins with a reflection of his early life with his family and others, then weaves through the music traffic of all the sectors of a dynamic and volatile city. Looking first at the crucial role of the public schools in fostering talent, Motor City Music surveys the neighborhoods of older European immigrants and of the later huge waves of black and white southerners who migrated to Detroit to serve the auto and defense industries. Jazz stars, polka band leaders, Jewish violinists, and figures like Lily Tomlin emerge in the spotlight. Shaping institutions, from the Ford Motor Company and the United Auto Workers through radio stations and Motown, all deployed music to bring together a city rent by relentless segregation, policing, and spasms of violence. The voices of Detroit’s poets, writers, and artists round out the chorus.

Slobin grew up with classical and folk music backgrounds. His early work on folk music of Afghanistan shifted to studies of Eastern European Jewish music in Europe and America, film music, and theory of ethnomusicology.


Sumarsam Named Honorary Member of the Society for Ethnomusicology


Sumarsam, pictured standing, at right, was named an honorary member of the Society for Ethnomusicology.

For his contribution to the field of ethnomusicology and music scholarship, Sumarsam, the Winslow-Kaplan Professor of Music, was recently named an honorary member of the Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM).

The encomium was presented by Wesleyan alumna Maria Mendonca MA ’90, PhD ’02, during the 63rd SEM General Membership Meeting, Nov. 17, in Albuquerque, N.M.

Sumarsam was commended for his scholarship on gamelan and wayang performance traditions, which inspired the SEM membership, explained Gregory Barz, president of the Society for Ethnomusicology.

“Your mentorship of countless students and colleagues, both directly and by example, is held in high esteem, and the ways that you simultaneously embrace and speak to the various subfields among the disciplines of music scholarship is exemplary,” Barz said. “You demonstrate not only a unique career, but one to which we all aspire.”

Sumarsam is the third Wesleyan faculty member to receive this award. The first one is the late David McAllester, professor of music and anthropology, emeritus (2001); the second is Mark Slobin, the Winslow-Kaplan Professor of Music, Emeritus (2013).

During the meeting, Sumarsam also attended a number of panels, the Society for Asian Music Business meeting, and the SEM Journal of Editorial Board meeting, in which he is a member.

Kiman Speaks on Klezmer Music during Graduate Speaker Series

On Oct 10, Douglas Kiman, a second year PhD student in ethnomusicology, presented a Graduate Speaker Series talk titled

On Oct 10, Douglas Kiman, a second year PhD student in ethnomusicology, presented a Graduate Speaker Series talk titled “Klezmorim and Klezmer Music: From Europe to the United States and Back Again.” Klezmer music is the instrumental folklore of Eastern European Yiddish-speaking communities played by Jewish musicians called klezmorim. For centuries, these musicians traveled with their music, playing for the nobles and for the masses, within and outside their communities, adapting and absorbing from their surrounding cultures.

Graduate Students, Faculty to Present Studies at Society for Ethnomusicology’s Annual Meeting

Three Wesleyan music graduate students and two faculty were accepted to present at the Society for Ethnomusicology‘s 2018 Annual Meeting Nov. 15–18 in Albuquerque, N.M.

Bianca Iannitti will present a case study on the queer Indian-American DJ, Bianca Maieli, in order to explore the queer female identity within Desi music and virtual spaces.

Gene Lai, MA ’16, will present a study titled “Disdained at Home Embraced by Motherland: The Revitalized Tamil Folk Drumming Ensemble in Singapore.”

And Douglas Kiman will present a study titled “Mapping Klezmer Music in Contemporary Europe: A Case Study of the Jazz’n Klezmer Festival.” He will also be presenting at the Society for American Music in March on the musical identity of a band, the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars.

In addition, B. “Balu” Balasubrahmaniyan, adjunct associate professor of music, will speak on “Hybridized Instrumentation in Ilayaraja’s Tamil Film Scores: A Quest for Village Identity.” And Kate Galloway, visiting assistant professor of music, will speak on “Stop to Smell the Pixels: A Digital Field Guide to Nonhuman Musicality in Proteus.”

Founded in 1955, the Society for Ethnomusicology is a global, interdisciplinary network of individuals and institutions engaged in the study of music across all cultural contexts and historical periods. The annual meeting will include several presentations, roundtable discussions, a symposium, concerts, an open jam session, and a world music pedagogy workshop and professional development workshop.

Wesleyan Gamelan Ensemble Participates in Indonesian Festival

Members of Wesleyan’s Gamelan Ensemble participated in the 2018 International Gamelan Festival in Solo, Java, Indonesia, Aug. 9–16. The annual festival is sponsored by the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture and the Provincial Government of Solo and features various programs honoring gamelan—not only for music but also as historical and cultural artifacts.

During the conference, Sumarsam, the Winslow-Kaplan Professor of Music, delivered a keynote address titled  “From Texts to Mantra: Imparting Meaning to Javanese Wayang Puppet Play.” He also led a discussion about his new book, written in Indonesian, titled Imparting Meaning to Wayang Puppet Play and Gamelan: Java-Islam-Global Intersection.

Artist-in-Residence I.M. Harjito of the Wesleyan Gamelan Ensemble performed classical Javanese gamelan pieces.

In addition, the Wesleyan Gamelan Ensemble performed three experimental compositions, including Paula Matthusen’s or say the day is jeweled and burning (2018), Alvin Lucier’s Music for Gamelan Instruments, Microphones, and Amplifiers (1994), and Ron Kuivila’s The Fifth Root of Two (2018). Matthusen is the chair and associate professor of music; Lucier is the John Spencer Camp Professor of Music, Emeritus, and Kuivila is professor of music and director of Wesleyan’s electronic music and recording studios. Matthusen and Kuivila also attended the Gamelan Festival.

Other members of the Wesleyan group who participated in the festival included Alec McLane, music librarian and director of the World Music Archives; Jennifer Hadley, library assistant for scores and recordings and World Music Archives; music graduate students Katrice Kemble; Gene Lai, Christine Yong, Feiyang Xu and Ender Terwilliger; alumni Maho Ishiguro MA’12, PhD ’18, Aloysius Suwardi MA ’97, Joseph Getter MA ’99, Leslie Rudden ’77, Carla Scheele ’78 and Peter Ludwig ’99; and community members Darsono, S. Pamardi, Urip Sri Maeny, Denni Harjito, Anne Stebinger, and Anton Kot.

Wesleyan has an emerging synergy with the performing arts of Indonesia, specifically the region of central Java. A Javanese gamelan study group has been in existence at Wesleyan since the late 1960s, and in 1984 a court gamelan from Yogyakarta, Indonesia, was donated to Wesleyan.

On Nov. 9, court dancers and musicians of Yogyakarta will perform in Crowell Concert Hall and feature the instruments of Wesleyan’s gamelan. In addition, Hamengkubuwono X, the Sultan of Yogyakarta, will visit and tour the Center for the Arts, and participate in a Music Department symposium on Islam and performance.

“The Sultan has been aware that the gamelan housed in the World Music Hall originates from his court,” said Wayne Forrest ’74, MA ’77. “He has made it one of his priorities to support the understanding of the culture of his region by sponsoring tours as well as gifting instruments.”

Photos of the International Gamelan Festival are below: (Photos courtesy of the International Gamelan Festival)

Sumarsam is one of the keynotes speakers. His keynote speech entitles “From Texts to Mantra: Imparting Meaning to Javanese Wayang Puppet Play.”

Sumarsam discussed his new book titled, Imparting Meaning to Wayang Puppet Play and Gamelan: Java-Islam-Global Intersection. He also delivered a keynote talk titled “From Texts to Mantra: Imparting Meaning to Javanese Wayang Puppet Play.”

Graduate Student Khan Performs at 2 International Music Festivals

Yorkston/Thorne/Khan album

In March, the group Yorkston / Thorne / Khan, featuring Wesleyan graduate student Suhail Yusuf Khan (at right), performed in Spain and the United Kingdom.

Graduate student Suhail Yusuf Khan recently performed at two international music festivals with his group Yorkston / Thorne / Khan. The band comprises James Yorkston, a folk singer and guitarist; Jon Thorne, a jazz bassist; and eighth-generation musician Khan, a sarangi violinist and a vocalist of Indian classical music. The sarangi is a short-necked bowed string instrument from northern India, regarded as sounding similar to the human voice.

On March 19, Yorkston / Thorne / Khan performed at the International Sacred Art Festival in Madrid, Spain. The festival included 39 concerts held over five weeks.

And on March 23, Yorkston / Thorne / Khan dazzled a sold-out theater at the Science Museum in London. The concert served as part of the museum’s Illuminating India series, which commemorated 70 years of independence and was part of the British Council’s U.K./India Year of Culture. “Yorkston / Thorne / Khan is one of the most inspired and inspirational cross-cultural acts to emerge this decade,” wrote Ken Hunt in a concert review published by Pulse Connects. “Their melding of, in order, Scottish and British folk music, jazz and electro, and sarangi lore, Hindustani classical and Sufi devotional music sings of a powerful musical alchemy.”

In this video, watch Yorkston / Thorne / Khan perform the song “False True Piya” from their newest album, Neuk Wight Delhi All-Stars. “Piya is a word in the Hindi language, meaning beloved,” Khan explains on his band’s website. “The Hindi lyrics of the song were composed and written by me. They talk about a lover who is longing for a beloved, devastated by pain. A point comes when the lover starts hallucinating that the beloved has arrived and starts having conversations with this hallucination. There is a strange feeling of dark happiness: the beloved is there, but only as a hallucination.”

Students, Alumni Present Papers, Attend Roundtables at Society for Ethnomusicology Annual Meeting

Several students and recent alumni attended and presented at the 62nd Annual Meeting for the Society for Ethnomusicology, Oct. 26-29, 2017, in Denver, Colo.

Founded in 1955, the Society for Ethnomusicology is a global, interdisciplinary network of individuals and institutions engaged in the study of music across all cultural contexts and historical periods.

Ellen Lueck, MA ’12, PhD ’17, presented her paper, “Proposing a Theory for a New Space, the Affinity Interzone.”

PhD candidate Gene Lai presented his paper, “Uniquely Singapore: Revitalizing a Tamil Folk Music Tradition in the Lion City.”

PhD candidate Sean Sonderegger MA ’14 presented “None of That is a Trend: Three Studies in Intertexuality and the Merging of Jazz and Hip-Hop Traditions.”

PhD candidate Huan Li presented her paper, “Roses and Thorns: Mass Media, Chinese Cultural Market, and Qinshi’s Creativity in Reform China.”

PhD candidate Andrew Colwell MA ’11 participated in a roundtable titled “Music and Mobility in Inner Asia: Experience and Theory.” Cowell, who is expected to earn his PhD in ethnomusicology at Wesleyan in 2018, also won the student prize for best paper from the Society for Asian Music.

PhD candidates Ender Terwilliger and Christine May Yong organized a panel discussion on “Performing within Parameters: Government Policy and the Performing Arts in Taiwan, Malaysia and Venezuela.”

In addition, Visiting Assistant Professor Kate Galloway chaired a panel at the event.

PhD candidates, Ender Terwilliger and Christine May Yong, presented their papers as part of an organized panel. Christine’s talk was called Angin Wayang: Framing Wayang Kulit Kelantan Practice Within and Beyond the State, and Ender’s talk was titled From The Capital to the Rice Paddies: Adjusting Performances across Taiwan’s (Political) Landscape.

Gene Lai presented his paper, “Uniquely Singapore: Revitalizing a Tamil Folk Music Tradition in the Lion City.”

Ender Terwilliger, Elaine Sandoval (CUNY Graduate Center), Christine May Yong, and Margaret Sarkissian (Smith College) organized a panel titled "Performing within Parameters: Government Policy and the Performing Arts in Taiwan, Malaysia, and Venezuela."

Ender Terwilliger, Elaine Sandoval (CUNY Graduate Center), Christine May Yong, and Margaret Sarkissian (Smith College) organized a panel titled “Performing within Parameters: Government Policy and the Performing Arts in Taiwan, Malaysia, and Venezuela.”

Graduate Student Kiman Awarded Scholarship to Attend Yiddish Festival

Douglas Kiman

Douglas Kiman

Douglas Kiman, a first-year PhD student in ethnomusicology, recently received a scholarship to attend the 2017 Yiddish New York festival held Dec. 23-28. Kiman’s research focuses on contemporary klezmer music in Western Europe.

Yiddish New York celebrates and engages with East European Jewish (and other Jewish and co-territorial) traditions to foster new creativity. Drawing inspiration from the historic cultural riches of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Yiddish New York is an intergenerational gathering featuring daily workshops and a broad spectrum of performances and programming. Yiddish New York evenings feature concerts, dance parties, and jam sessions at clubs.

Kiman, a native of France, spent two years in New York as a visiting scholar conducting research at the Yiddish Cultural Institute (YIVO). He also was a member of the Columbia Klezmer Band under the conducting of Jeffrey Warshauer.

“This scholarship is a unique opportunity to collaborate and study with some of the greatest living exponents of Yiddish folk arts including instrumental klezmer music, Yiddish song, dance and theater,” said Cheryl-Ann Hagner, director of Graduate Student Services. “Douglas will also start fieldwork for his dissertation by meeting and interviewing the most prominent American and international members of today’s klezmer scene.”

Graduate Student Khan Performs at Multiple Summer Music Festivals

Suhail Yusuf Khan

Suhail Yusuf Khan

This summer, graduate student Suhail Yusuf Khan and his band Yorkston Thorne Khan are performing in music festivals around the world.

The band is comprised of Khan, a sarangi violinist and a vocalist of Indian classical music; James Yorkston, a folk singer and guitarist; and Jon Thorne, a jazz bassist.

Yorkston, Thorne and Khan performed at the Glastonbury Festival June 25 in Somerset, England. Afterwards, the group was mentioned in The Telegraph‘s “10 highlights” article written by Alice Vincent:

While it’s easy to stumble upon a whole new field or an excellent hidden bar at Glastonbury, the best festivals give you a couple of artists to go home and listen to afterwards. And Yorkston, Thorne and Khan, the Indian-folk/jazzy trio, collided to give a wig-out that rang beautifully over it all, Suhail Yusuf Khan’s vocals concertinaing over a jam so deeply felt it was as if you were observing a particularly good band practice. I don’t know the song name, I’ve barely heard of the band, but I’ll be playing them at home the minute I get there.

The group also performed at the Latitude Festival, held July 13-16 Suffolk, England, and the Rudolstadt Festival, held July 6-9 in Germany. In a Zeit Online article, author Christoph Dieckmann wrote:

Skepticism was the formation of James Yorkston / Jon Thorne / Suhail Yusuf Khan: a folk singer and guitarist, a jazz bassist, a sarangi violinist and a vocalist of Indian classical music. The booming world music market produces indeed multicultural soups of the flavors Bockwurst / Sushi / Cardamom, but these three turned out to be the highlight of the festival.

Listen to music from the band’s 2017 album, Neuk Wight Delhi All-Stars, online.

Slobin’s Afghanistan Music Recordings, Field Notes Archived Online

Mark Slobin

Mark Slobin

Between 1967-1972, ethnomusicologist Mark Slobin was one of only four Western ethnomusicologists who managed to complete research in Afghanistan before the subsequent Soviet invasion, civil war, and anti-music Taliban regime.

During these five years, Slobin, who retired from Wesleyan 2016 as the Winslow-Kaplan Professor of Music, completed a comprehensive documentation of music, culture, language and society in the Afghan North. Given the region’s volatile unrest, no further musical—and by extension cultural—studies have been undertaken since.

Slobin’s rare survey of this time period is now available online through Alexander Street, a producer of online educational resources. “The Mark Slobin Fieldwork Archive, Music in the Afghan North, 1967-1972” draws on materials deposited at Wesleyan’s World Music Archives, directed by Alec McLane. McLane brought Slobin’s work to the attention of Alexander Street. The site packages all of Slobin’s materials: the sound files of folk music recordings, films, hundreds of images and field notes. 

Slobin Elected Member of American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Mark Slobin

Mark Slobin

On April 12, ethnomusicologist Mark Slobin, the Winslow-Kaplan Professor of Music, Emeritus, was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is one of 228 national and international scholars, artists and philanthropic leaders who joined the 237th class.

Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is one of the country’s oldest learned societies and independent policy research centers, convening leaders from the academic, business, and government sectors to respond to the challenges facing—and opportunities available to—the nation and the world. Members contribute to Academy publications and studies in science, engineering, and technology policy; global security and international affairs; the humanities, arts, and education; and American institutions and the public good.

Slobin, who retired from Wesleyan in June 2016, is an expert on East European Jewish music and klezmer music, as well as the music of Afghanistan. Slobin’s career started at Wesleyan in July 1971. He has been president of the Society for Ethnomusicology, president of the Society for Asian Music, and editor of Asian Music. He has been the recipient of numerous prizes, including the Seeger Prize of the Society for Ethnomusicology, the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award, the Jewish Cultural Achievement Award (for lifetime achievement) from the Foundation for Jewish Culture, and the Curt Leviant Award In Yiddish Studies from the Modern Languages Association (honorable mention). He was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award for Chosen Voices (1989).

Slobin joins philanthropist and singer-songwriter John Legend; award-winning actress Carol Burnett; chairman of the board of Xerox Corporation Ursula Burns; mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani; immunologist James Allison; and writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in the 2017 American Academy of Arts and Sciences class. Other recipients are Pulitzer Prize winners; MacArthur Fellows; Fields Medalists; Presidential Medal of Freedom and National Medal of Arts recipients; and Academy Award, Grammy Award, Emmy Award, and Tony Award winners.

“In a tradition reaching back to the earliest days of our nation, the honor of election to the American Academy is also a call to service,” said Academy President Jonathan F. Fanton. “Through our projects, publications, and events, the Academy provides members with opportunities to make common cause and produce the useful knowledge for which the Academy’s 1780 charter calls.”

Slobin will be inducted at a ceremony on Oct. 7 in Cambridge, Mass.