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Graduate Student Research

Graduate Seminar in Ethnomusicology

Musicological research at University of Tennessee encompasses aspects of ethnomusicology, historical musicology, and allied disciplines. Masters students complete a thesis based on an original research project, employing any combination of historical, interpretive, analytical, anthropological, sociological, and ethnographic methodologies. Topics span a diverse array of musical practices and cultures. Interdisciplinary activity is encouraged and many graduate students cross traditional boundaries in their work.

Please find below a sampling of recent Master’s theses. Most of the completed projects feature full text links. Additional projects and full-text links will be updated as they become available.

In the post 9/11 world, American media has harnessed social anxieties concerning violence through the negative and antagonistic depiction of social groups seen as the “Other.” During this process, these social groups have become both marginalized and stigmatized. In the contemporary wake of mass violence and a growing public health crisis, mental illness has emerged at the forefront of political debate. Television and film media continually stigmatize representations of mental illness through graphic images enhanced by the strategic uses of music to invoke horror and disgust. Since 2006, Criminal Minds has successfully navigated the post-9/11 media by providing narratives that paint mental illness as a main cause of violence in the form of the serial killer. To accomplish this, the creators of Criminal Minds combine disturbing or grotesque images with pre-existing music that functions in counterpoint to the image. This purposeful combination creates a semantic disturbancebetween visuals and sound, enhancing a viewer’s negative reaction to the scene or the characters. By appropriating music to promote disgust for a character, the series associates acts of violence with mental illness, and thus furthers a negative stereotype. To demonstrate this, I examine the history and current iterations of the crime drama, and how the genre has developed both thematically and musically. I analyze select scenes and sequences from episodes of Criminal Minds using a Bakhtinian lens to determine how the show promotes a monologic or dialogic agenda. In doing this, I take a close look at the use of pre-existing music during scenes of violence, and analyze how it functions in relation to the portrayals of characters with mental illness. The effects of these portrayals can be seen in popular responses to series, which I also analyze. Combining my own scene analysis with multi-disciplinary sources regarding mental illness characterization, film music analyses, media studies, and medical descriptions of the mental illnesses portrayed in Criminal Minds, I determine that the show’s combination of pre-existing music with violence furthers the tradition of “Othering” present within American media.

In the summer of 2017, reggaeton took the world by storm, topping popular music charts globally with the song “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, and leading to a short-lived surge in Puerto Rican tourism. The term boricua holds strong connections to reggaeton and generally expresses a call to indigenous and Spanish heritage. While music videos and the general popularization of reggaeton created an image of Puerto Rico as a desired destination, the conditions of the island’s environment swiftly changed due to the destructive effects of hurricanes Irma and Maria in August and September of 2017. In light of these events, I embarked upon a journey to further understand the connections among reggaeton, boricua identity, and this climate-caused disaster. This undertaking involved my employment of ethnographic methods, primarily conducting fieldwork in the southeastern United States and San Juan, Puerto Rico. In this fieldwork, I conducted interviews, took photographs and videos, made soundscape recordings, translated song lyrics, and analyzed how globalized reggaeton impacts local scenes. Through key interviews and observations, my ethnography shows that boricuas have inscribed their places after hurricane Maria through reggaeton. Further, I demonstrate that reggaeton interacts in multifaceted ways with Puerto Rican politics, socioeconomic conditions, environmentalism, cultural representation, and expressions of place. Intriguingly, this music now plays a large role in ecotourism for Puerto Rico. This thesis shows how reggaeton demonstrates a local understanding of boricua identity and environment after the tragedies of hurricane Maria. I argue that boricuas create a sense of cultural sustainability through reggaeton as they cope with the effects of hurricane Maria. This sustainability occurs in global and local examples, both on the island and within the southeastern United States diaspora.

Musicians often regard Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594) as Giovanni de Palestrina’s lesser-known, northern contemporary, with Palestrina standing as the pinnacle of Counter-Reformation sacred music in the current musicological canon. However, this conception of Lasso does not align with his reputation during his own time, where he stood as the most popular and cosmopolitan composer in Europe. In order to cultivate this reputation, Lasso exercised personal agency over his image as represented within his compositions and print publications, fashioning himself into a versatile and widely appealing musician that composed in every genre of both sacred and secular music. However, Lasso simultaneously presented himself as a pious, Catholic composer to his patrons, the Bavarian Wittelsbach dukes Albrecht and Wilhelm V, who led the Counter-Reformation in German-speaking lands. In this way, Lasso presents a divided sense of his own selfhood. The duality of Orlando di Lasso’s sense of self demonstrates the crystallization of early modern conceptions of selfhood during the Renaissance era as detailed by scholars Susan McClary and Stephen Greenblatt. They argue that, while modern selfhood cemented itself in the seventeenth century, artists of the sixteenth century reflected the transition into this modern conception, often creating ambivalent or conflicted senses of themselves. In my work, I argue that Lasso exemplifies these trends of self-fashioning through his lifelong cultivation of the dual personas described above. While studies of Lasso’s selfhood specifically do not exist, I draw from scholarship of William Byrd as a model for my own study and use a wide array of interdisciplinary scholarship from literary studies, religious studies, and history in addition to musicological work. I defend my argument through an examination of Lasso’s control of his prints, surrounding print culture, his personal and professional relationships, and an analysis of specific musical works including Missa pro defunctis, Locutus in sum lingua mea, Anna, mihi dilecta, and Fertur in conviviis.

This thesis examines the musical community of GeekyCon, a convention centered around popular media, such as Harry Potter, Broadway, and Disney. The GeekyCon community results from the connection between the unofficial convention Facebook group and the yearly physical event. This interconnectivity allows both the live and mediated space of GeekyCon to function as a heterotopia, a concept first conceived by Foucault (1967) as a separate space outside of the dominant society in which ideas and identities can be freely explored. Through ethnographic research, including participant observation as well as interviews, I present the music of GeekyCon as an audiotopia, a sonic realization of heterotopia theorized by Josh Kun (2005). The musical experiences present at GeekyCon, both virtual and physical, provide members of the community with a means to negotiate personal as well as group identities and to decide what it means, as the convention slogan says, to “Get Your Geek On.

I divide the thesis based on several overarching musical themes important to the GeekyCon community. After my initial introduction, the second chapter, entitled “Why are the Wiggles Performing at GeekyCon?” elaborates on the concept of audiotopia. This chapter draws on examples from the Facebook group to demonstrate the way in which music found at the convention creates a site for group identity formation and negotiation, thus demonstrating iterations of audiotopia. The third chapter, “Yes All Witches,” further analyzes the inclusive and feminist environment found within this community. Drawing from the previous chapters’ discussion of audiotopia, I argue that the music at GeekyCon, specifically wizard rock, functions as an aurally enacted safe space. The next chapter, entitled “We’re All in This Together,” describes the participatory and performative practices at GeekyCon. The musical theater singalongs found at the convention blur the line between participatory and presentational music and help establish a sense of community at the convention. I furthermore connect the performative musical practices to a larger discussion of performativity within feminist scholarship. Finally, I conclude with a summary chapter placing my thesis within the larger fields of ethnomusicology and fan studies.

Leoš Janáček’s opera Jenůfa, which premiered in 1904, takes place in a secluded Moravian village and details the story of two women, Jenůfa and Kostelnička. They are intertwined through an act of infanticide, family dynamics, and gender expectations. Recognized as the first Czech naturalist dramatist, Gabriela Preissová wrote the Czech realist play, Její pastorkyňa [Her Stepdaughter] (1890), which provided prose for the opera. Tragedies often occur in Jenůfa due to women defying social norms and the problems that arise as a result of their actions. The gender transgressions of Jenůfa and Kostelnička—actions that deviate from gender expectations in Western Europe—provide an unstable picture of nineteenth-century femininity. Yet despite nineteenth-century operatic conventions, as laid out by Catherine Clément, that call for the death of troublesome women characters, both survive the opera. I argue that Jenůfa and Kostelnička’s survival of the opera’s circumstances demonstrates gender subversion, which manifests in the expression of a modern femininity that defies nineteenth-century gender expectations.
Jenůfa and Kostelnička experience their femininity through chaotic situations. Jenůfa deals with an unwed pregnancy and disfiguration at the hands of a jealous lover, while Kostelnička descends into infanticide and madness. They outlive their deviance, and their survival becomes a site for a modern feminist representation.

Additionally, a nationalist atmosphere surrounded both Janáček and Preissová that valued tradition and codified “Czechness.” Nationalist ideology permeated character relationships within Janáček’s opera, Jenůfa. In my analysis, the tumultuous relationship between Kostelnička and Jenůfa alludes to the division between the oppressive Western nations and the Czech lands. Janáček draws attention to aspects of Jenůfa and Kostelnička’s motherhood, marital status, gender, political power, sexuality, and religion. Ultimately, Jenůfa’s message of transfiguration speaks to strengthening modern femininity against struggle and outlasting tribulation. Additionally, as an opera heroine, Jenůfa outlives her expected death called for by nineteenth-century gender expectations, giving a voice and offering hope to future operatic women protagonists.

Originating in the 14th century, rímur continues to remain a significant tradition in Iceland. Rímur melodies, together with the texts of Icelandic Edda and Saga poetry, were the main form of household entertainment in Iceland for almost six centuries until modern, global technologies cultivated new interests. In the early 20th century, rímur enthusiasts gathered together to form the Iðunn Society of Intoners and Versifiers in Reykjavík, to preserve the singing traditions of their ancestors. Since then, numerous other societies have organized, many within the past decade. In this way, intoning societies have become a medium through which a national Icelandic identity is formed. At the same time, Iceland has witnessed a boom of tourism. I argue this contemporary practice of rímur reflects a nationalistic sensibility within intoning societies, in reaction to tourism and other globalized influences.

Drawing from Tim Ingold’s (2011) concern for sound as lived experience and Anna Tsing’s (2005) analysis of friction in globalized space, I examine how intoning societies sonically represent the lived Icelandic experiences among these communities in the face of increased tourism, conflicts, and frictions between local and global perceptions of Icelandic identity. Additionally, I draw upon the work of ecomusicologists Aaron Allen and Kevin Dawe to consider the sonic impact of ecotourism in Iceland. For this study, I have conducted ethnographic research of these societies in Iceland. The rise of ecotourism in Iceland corresponds to the increased calls for preservation of rímur melodies, intoning practices, and traditional Icelandic music, as marks of local Icelandic identity.

Standup comedy actively performs and engages with constructions of self and social identity, especially in terms of ethnic difference and the negotiation of American race relations. Musical comedy, wherein standup comedians perform song onstage, represents one facet of this expression that configures musical texts and expectations in the service of cultural observation and critique. Bo Burnham and Reggie Watts characterize two disparate approaches to the practice based on their aesthetic tastes, existential anxieties, and racial experiences. The two present their respective identities onstage in relation to a changing American political landscape of the early 21st century that has seen widespread social anxiety about gender and race, particularly. I argue that by presenting musically diverse and absurd representations of self, Burnham and Watts act out different types of hybridity, wherein they must confront their internal contradictions and respond either by reconciling them into a cohesive identity, or breaking down under the weight of the inconsistencies.

I first investigate Bo Burnham and his position as a white male within an entertainment industry that he despises because of its consumerist manipulations. I apply the work of Timothy Taylor on the connection between music and capitalism to explicate how the two interact in Burnham’s act, as well as that of Simon Frith and Paul Willis for how his popular performance serves to construct and signify identity. He performs genre parody that exposes the inauthenticity of massmediated cultural identities, as well as musical skits where he performs his own divergent identity and struggles for consistency. Secondly, I consider Reggie Watts as he mediates a hybridized racial identity through pastiche and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s concept of Signifyin’ on previous black musical texts. Based on Paul Gilroy’s notions of the Black Atlantic, double consciousness, and hybridity, I show that Watts constructs a unified identity that embraces the absurdity of his self-performance, and racial categorization in particular. Overall, my examination of these two performers argues for more study of musical comedy as a mediator of identity and hybridity.

This thesis examines the music of the Oslo-based experimental ensemble SPUNK. Maja S.K. Ratkje, Kristin Andersen, Lene Grenager, and Hild Sofie Tafjord have operated at the juncture of site-specific conceptual art and experimentalism since the early 1990s, recording and releasing much of their work for Norway’s Rune Grammofon label. Employing voice, electronics, and acoustic instrumentation in a free improvisational style, the group’s music demonstrates a robust and varied engagement with a range of experimental and avant-garde traditions.

Drawing from ethnographic, theoretical, and historical methodologies, as well as my own experiences as a free improvisor and listener, I situate SPUNK’s work within the contested rubrics and fluctuating discourses underlying Euro-American experimental musical practice. I interrogate free improvisation’s political and aesthetic valences, tempering my analysis through interviews with the group and close “readings” of their recorded work. I focus particularly on their twelve-year long opus, Das Wohltemperierte SPUNK, a massive project unfolding in discrete acoustic environments throughout Oslo. With respect to this expansive work, I argue that free improvisation enacts a critical ontology that I call processual community.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold, a Viennese musician of the early twentieth century, composed western art music and film scores. Some scholars suggest his musical values and success in film music related entirely to his experiences composing operas. Indeed, Korngold’s adherence to tonality and his reputation as a European high art composer contributed to his success both in Vienna and Hollywood. However, much research has failed to address his time spent arranging and composing operettas. Few scholars have discussed that his lifelong style, including his operas, also reflected the Viennese light and popular music of his youth. Korngold’s background in Viennese music set the stage for Korngold’s discursive practices and negotiation between European high art music and popular music. Based on the work of Simon Frith, I use discursive practice to discuss ongoing discourses between high art and lighter or popular forms, along with social presentations and interaction with mass media. I apply Frith’s ideas to my research through the examples of Korngold’s works and social connections in Vienna and Hollywood. Additionally, through the identity theories of Turino, I demonstrate how Korngold’s Viennese upbringing influenced his musical tastes toward popular styles, such as the waltz, while his father’s influence contributed to his self-perception as a high art composer. Korngold grew up in a close-knit Viennese community of high art musicians, which impacted his music and personal identity. The salon communities in Vienna and Hollywood also contributed to the formation of his group identity. Korngold’s musical style is consistent throughout his life, but the presentation and reception of his music varied based on particular cultural and compositional contexts.

Present in Panama since the 19th century, the Chinese diaspora in Panama City, Panama represents an empowered community of individuals who identify as both Chinese and Panamanian. These Chinese Panamanian hybrid identities emerge within sonic environments through an engagement with transnational media and digital technologies, notably within retail stores. Specifically, music surfaces as an especially important sonic marker of the Chinese Panamanian hybridity. Within the mall of the Panamanian Chinatown of El Dorado, an interesting mixture of both Chinese and Latin American popular music genres sounds throughout the various stores. This mixture of music genres demonstrates Chinese Panamanian agency in asserting and reaffirming the diasporic community’s status as both Chinese and Panamanian.

Based on fieldwork conducted in Panama during the summer of 2014, I argue that the Chinese diaspora within Panama City shapes and asserts to its hybrid identity through its technocultural use of global, mass-mediated musical genres in the creation of soundscapes. Through a careful examination of sound studies and the transnational relationships between music technologies and the communities that use them, this study contributes to knowledge in the fields of ethnomusicology and diaspora studies. It offers a better understanding of how people in transnational and diasporic groups use and experience music to form hybrid identities. Additionally, the findings from this project open the door for further research in Chinese and East Asian studies within a Latin American context, with specific regard for music and technology.

This thesis examines musico-dramatic activities centered at the Spanish viceregal court of Naples during the years 1608-1630 and positions them as reflective of shifting socio-political practices occurring in the cultural milieu of the city in the seventeenth century. I argue that three spectacles written by the writer and courtier Giambattista Basile expose emergent Neapolitan identities within the colonial society of Spanish-occupied Naples. Utilizing Mary Louise Pratt’s (1991) concept of the contact zone, I read these works as instances of autoethnography, a medium involving a conscious blending of forms and idioms, necessitating both negotiation and collaboration between cultures of the occupant and occupied. Within the contact zone of Naples, mythology, history, and lived experience coalesced into a shared phenomenology of the city, creating an integrative soundscape where Neapolitans of multiple social spheres interacted through spectacle. In his writings, Basile sought to extend the rhythms of this contact zone, performing his Neapolitan identity in ways that both glorified the existing structures of power and offered liminal sites where voices of alterity might resonate. Similarly, in each of these spectacles, Neapolitans of multiple social spheres raised their voices and asserted their place on the contested stage of the viceregal theatre. Early modern Neapolitans were thus not merely colonially oppressed peoples subject to a foreign ruler, but were rather active agents in defining and expanding their own field of play. In the seventeenth century, music, spectacle, and identity proved essential to being Neapolitan, providing a means to negotiate the place of Naples in mezzo.

Most readings of Wagner’s final music drama Parsifal seek to illumine a clandestine presentation of Wagner’s racist doctrine or make sense of a less-shrouded but still ambiguous panegyric to Christianity. However, little scholarly material addresses Wagner’s provocative account of sensuality and homoeroticism in this Bühnenweihfestspiel [Stage Consecration Festival Play]. This thesis explores desire and homosexuality within the drama and considers how and why Wagner masks these themes through the opaque mythos of religion, race, and community. Parsifal was partly informed by Wagner’s own complex neuroses: his sexual anxieties and scandals, amalgam of German philosophies, and confusion concerning Germanness. As filtered through his own belief system, Wagner’s Parsifal ambivalently presents homoeroticism, wavering between an idealized pure love and a destructive, even unnatural, force of desire.

I was initially inspired by Laurence Dreyfus’s work Wagner and the Erotic Impulse, which struck me as a fresh exegesis of Wagner’s oeuvre, embracing the overt sexual nature of his dramatic text, music, and philosophical writings. Carolyn Abbate’s Unsung Voices and Jean-Jacques Nattiez’s Wagner Androgyne provide methodologies for narration and androgyny from which I draw. Wagner demonstrates homoerotic sensibilities through both heroic and villainous characters, within an exotic medieval Spain (and a Zauberschloß), and through opposing sonic worlds of communal diatonicism and chromatic sensuality. Exploring this work from a perspective energized by recent musicological gender studies and musico-textual semiotics and relations, my reading of Parsifal is thus primarily corrective. Wagner’s final music drama offers a manifestation of love and sensuality with all the contradictions and fears of Wagner’s experiences and imagination.

Scholars often speak of Olivier Messiaen’s (1908-1992) use of birdsong as inspiration in his compositions. The avian vocalizations he dictated and catalogued while traveling throughout France and the world make appearances throughout his oeuvre. Other well documented influences upon his music include landscape and religion. In order to better comprehend the ecological, religious, and political underpinnings of Olivier Messiaen’s musical output, one must deduce how he drew upon nature and religion as inspiration. I propose that such an understanding can be reached through an in-depth examination of Messiaen’s Des canyons aux étoiles . . . (1971-1974).

Through analysis of Messiaen’s composition and cultural context, this study sheds light on the fundamental relationship between Des canyons, natural soundscape, and American environmentalism. It thus provides a culturally relevant, interpretive framework for understanding issues of soundscape, landscape, and place within his work. Messiaen’s use of animal and geological inspiration demonstrates not only his interest in adapting the music of nature for artistic purposes, but also his advocacy for a sustainable relationship between humanity and the non-human world. In so doing, Messiaen utilized his subjective experiences in wild locations as a symbol for this peaceful human-nature relationship. Des canyons aux étoiles . . . contains a coded environmentalist political message informed by Messiaen’s own experiences of nature and a spiritual imperative to glorify God’s creation.

Gospel music exists within a rich cultural and historical space—at one level, it is part of an important Black musical tradition and at another, it is part of mainstream American history. College gospel choirs, then, mediate the divide of being part of the Black diasporic, religious music aesthetic while co-existing in the academic setting within a largely White-European western art music arena. Moreover, they provide space for students to commune socially, express faith, and gain cultural knowledge. I argue that through the theoretical lenses of double consciousness, cultural memory, and cultural representation, one can clearly understand the position of gospel choirs on university and college campuses in how they facilitate community, express and define “Blackness,” and interact with the greater academic community. Furthermore, such investigation provides opportunity to understand the perpetuation of gospel choirs in the academic setting today.

This ethnographic survey and fieldwork-based research project was undertaken during the academic years of 2010-2012. Outlining my project, I first introduce the concept of African American sacred traditions by visiting the existent scholastic work on gospel music. I then summarize the history of college gospel choirs and explore the provided frameworks, thereby accessing the role of college gospel choirs in academia. Employing my own fieldwork experiences, I apply the theoretical ideas of double consciousness, cultural memory, and cultural representation to my observations. I share my findings about how gospel music on college and university campuses provides opportunity to understand diversity and foster community. This thesis concludes with suggestions for continued study in African diasporic music and gospel music, as well as a reminder that African American musics must be experienced to be fully understood.


In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the American song sheet industry vastly increased in size. This mass mediated form reached a broad number of consumers, who performed this music in their homes, identified with it, and shaped the new discourse on their identity as they did so. Simultaneously, Americans were re-shaping their cultural conceptions of music, in a process Lawrence Levine chronicled as the emergence of “highbrow” and “lowbrow” distinctions. Performing music in the culturally sacralized space of the parlor was meant to be an edifying experience and a display of genteel, “highbrow” identities. Performing comic songs (comic character pieces, topical songs, and parody pieces), however, presented distinct, subversive, and disruptive voices in this crisis moment of American cultural discourse. In the segmented idealized realms of nineteenth-century music, the performance of comic songs in the American parlor provided a powerful means of embodying “lowbrow” identities, contributing to and challenging the emerging constructions of class.

Working with Judith Butler’s notion of performativity, I examine how late nineteenth-century American song sheets served as the basis for the corporeal signification of identities. Using key examples from song sheets that specify the use of pantomime, dance, costuming, and vocal alterations, I demonstrate how they engaged the body and created physical and verbal performatives that embodied comic “lowbrow” identities. By showing how singers fully engaged their bodies and altered themselves for performance, I argue that their mimetic embodiments of Others entered alternate identities into constructions of their own.

Following the Christianization of the crumbling Roman Empire, a wide array of disparate Christian traditions arose. A confusion of liturgical rites and musical styles expressed the diversity of this nascent Christendom; however, it also exemplified a sometimes threatening disunity. Into this frame, the Carolingian Empire made a decisive choice. Charlemagne, with a desire to consolidate power, forged stronger bonds with Rome by transporting the liturgy of Rome to the Frankish North. The outcome of this transmission was the birth of a composite form of music exhibiting the liturgical properties of Rome but also shaped by the musical sensibilities of the Franks—Gregorian chant.

This Frankish project of liturgical adoption and the appearance of Gregorian chant raises two important questions: How did the Carolingians transmit and incorporate Roman chant, and why did they feel drawn to this tradition in the first place? This thesis utilizes musicological studies by scholars like Leo Treitler and Anna Maria Busse Burger, epistemological arguments by analytic philosopher Richard Fumerton, and memorial scholarship by Mary Carruthers and Maurice Halbwachs to provide an analysis of Gregorian chant’s emergence. My investigation into the medieval art of memoria reveals that chant was transmitted through the use of the principles of music theory as mnemonic devices. Modal theory itself becomes a mnemonic by creating an abstract musical location in which the singer and listener can meet.

Further, the impulse that drove this project was the desire for a collective memory that would resolve underlying tensions of group identity within 8th- and 9th-century early Christendom. This desire finds its resolution in modal theory itself because the musical location of chant is also a public location where corporate identity is articulated. Finally, I interpret both musical and memorial functions of chant via epistemic scholarship, showing that they both exhibit a remarkable structural similarity to the principles of acquaintance epistemology, thus unifying the questions of “how” and “why” in chant into a single answer. The quest for self-knowledge becomes part of the particular object used to make it—a material testament to a way of knowing.


This ethnography investigates the collective identity of the Knoxville punk community. I argue that punk rock culture in Knoxville exists as a proactive open community, and frame the discussion with the psychoanalytical work of collective identity by Jacques Lacan, notions of discourse described by James Gee, as well as definitions of community explored by Will Straw and David Hesmondhalgh. Knoxville punk musicians promote the sense of community with music through the value of cultural knowledge, providing physical areas for social space creation, and instructing young women musicians. Each factor provides a distinct element for the proactive movement in Knoxville punk.

In examining the familial nature of punk musicians in Knoxville, I illustrate how punk culture transcends previous notions of subcultural studies and promotes a collective identity through the desire for community progression. Rather than focusing on the negative aspects of a youth culture in opposition to mainstream culture, the Knoxville punk community presents music performance and culture as a bond between friends. This bond produces a desire for punk culture to prosper, providing the inspiration for punk music’s agency of social proactivism in a self-contained community.

This thesis explores the eighteenth-century aesthetic of the sublime in application to Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 Jupiter, K. 551. Using Immanuel Kant’s definition of the mathematical sublime and Johan Georg Sulzer’s idea of the sublime, I argue that Mozart achieves this aesthetic through the synthesis of stylistic opposites: the learned and the galant. The culmination of such is best articulated in the fugue found in the Coda of the fourth movement. In this segment, Mozart combines five galant motives into a learned fugue; this intricate combination of stylistic opposites creates an elevated effect, one in keeping with eighteenth-century philosophies of the sublime. Drawing from my own experiences, I further argue for the subjectivity of the sublime and discuss its occurrence both in composition and as emotion.

This thesis contextualizes Appalachian murder ballads of the 19th- and early 20th-centuries through a close reading of the lyric texts. Using a research frame that draws from the musicological and feminist concepts of Diana Russell, Susan McClary, Norm Cohen, and Christopher Small, I reveal 19th-century Appalachia as a patriarchal, modern, and highly codified society despite its popularized image as a culturally isolated and “backward” place. I use the ballads to demonstrate how music serves the greater cultural purpose of preserving and perpetuating social ideologies. Specifically, the murder ballads reveal layers of meaning regarding hegemonic masculinities prevalent in 19th-century and turn-of-the-20th-century Appalachian culture.

This work also explores the biases and agendas of the early folksong projects in the United States. Examining the arguments of early scholars, I consider the American tradition in juxtaposition to the earlier British forms of music. Rejecting earlier scholarship that argues for the relatedness of British and American balladry, I find that ballads associated with, and circulating in, the United States instead reflect a new cultural idiom grounded in the beliefs of those who sought a conservative Christian aesthetic and way of life in the southern Appalachian mountains.

The murder ballads witness that Appalachia, specifically in the 19th-century period of industrial change, was defined by essential tensions between cultural traditions of the past and emerging notions of American modernism. This tension is met in the songs with responses of violence against women whose life situations — marked by sexual freedom — are the very depiction of a new cultural modernism that threatens the hegemony of the past.

This thesis explores the past and current roles that female bluegrass musicians achieve within the music industry in the United States. Using sociological concepts by Judith Butler, Simon Frith, Mavis Bayton, and, importantly, Thomas Turino’s ideas of participatory and communal versus performative and individual, I demonstrate women’s complex musical, social, and cultural positions in bluegrass culture.

While women continue to make strides in achieving recognition in the bluegrass genre, society still hinders them from finding complete acceptance alongside male musicians. As bluegrass music is based on patriarchal foundations set by its creator, Bill Monroe of the Blue Grass Boys, female bluegrass musicians constantly struggle to variously actualize and resist this gendered model. Even as bluegrass women achieve success through manipulation of the traditional rules set before them, they continue to struggle against patriarchal foundations and women’s historical association with the voice.

Through historical research, personal observations, and in-depth interviews with three female bluegrass musicians, I show that even as these women find acceptance within their own bands, they recognize the unequal musical acknowledgement they receive. With regard to communal and individual performance realms, women, unlike men, have trouble fulfilling positions in both areas. In order to achieve success, some bluegrass women embrace their sexuality and present an overtly feminine image to their audiences.

Notions of tradition, authenticity and hybridity help frame my discussion of women’s roles. While the power of tradition and authenticity hinder women’s progress in the genre, concepts of hybridity allow them to branch out from conventions set down by first generation male bluegrass performers like Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers.

This study investigates aspects of Orientalism found within the genre of the English oratorio, specifically William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast (1931). Building on Edward Said’s research on Orientalism, analyses of Orientalist representations in music exploded the field of musicology in the 1980s and 90s. However, the examination of Orientalism in sacred genres remains lacking. Bringing forth cultural, political, and musical conflicts between East and West, Walton’s oratorio encourages further investigation in previously unaddressed genres. I argue that, by combining dramatic operatic elements with sacred text, Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast reflects a continuation of Orientalist ideologies through binary opposition aimed at perpetuating the predominantly negative stereotypes of the Middle East and its people while celebrating the superiority of Western culture.

Examining political, social, cultural, and musical contexts for Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast in England between the wars, I draw on eighteenth through twentieth-century Western compositions, including opera and symphonic repertory, that appropriate the Orient in similar ways. Close examination of Walton’s oratorio reflects his adherence to standard tonal, harmonic, and orchestral signifiers that differentiate between East and West as established and canonized by Orientalist composers before him. Furthermore, I argue that Walton’s exposure to Orientalist works from an early age, as well as rising nationalistic sentiments in interwar England, shaped his conception of the Orient as a place of violence, savagery, and barbarity while promoting the West, represented by the Israelites in Belshazzar’s Feast, as rational, monotheistic, and civilized.

This thesis examines classical music as a cultural practice and centers on my ethnographies of three musical ensembles in the United States: Alarm Will Sound, eighth blackbird, and Yarn/Wire. Each group is a non-profit performing arts organization formed by conservatory-trained members and each performs and promotes new classical music, or “new music” as it is commonly called. I draw also on my own experience performing and interacting in new music communities.

From these mixed domains, I demonstrate new music ensembles as dynamic and complex entities in which individuals negotiate between the elitist conventions of classical music and populist ideals. In particular, I argue that aesthetic differences correspond to political struggles for recognition. Groups perform musical works in certain styles that reflect their respective aesthetics. With such activities, new music ensembles endeavor to make a name for themselves and gain prominence in new music culture. They thus embody a struggle for prestige. The mechanism for these pursuits entails a circulation of symbolic capital and its conversion into real capital. I frame the activities of the three ensembles within an established history of practice and examine the documented tensions between classical composers and commercial musics, and between internal struggles of modernist and postmodern composers and performers. Finally, I problematize evolutionary concepts of modern and postmodern by portraying the older groups, Alarm Will Sound and eighth blackbird as postmodern, and the younger group, Yarn/Wire, as comparatively modernist


This thesis explores the cultural context of Sacred Harp singing on Sand Mountain, Alabama. Using Stephen Feld’s concept of “iconicity of style,” I demonstrate that Sacred Harp singing is more than just a form of music, but an overarching aesthetic that ties together multiple forms of cultural expression and social interaction. Sacred Harp singing occurs in many different contexts on Sand Mountain, ranging from church services, to organized singings, to impromptu social events. Its presence in all these realms connects the sacred and the secular, bridging diverse aspects of Sand Mountain culture.

As I investigate the place of Sacred Harp within this geographically and demographically distinct region of Alabama, I show how it forms the basis for the construction of complex individual and group identities. Notions of “tradition” are especially important to Sand Mountain singers, who attempt to preserve singing practices and stylistic elements from earlier generations. Sacred Harp singing not only ties together disparate social realms; participants believe that it connects families and communities across time and space, linking present and past generations. In my analysis of the social context of Sacred Harp singing on Sand Mountain, I convey a much more detailed understanding of the iconic nature of the musical form than exists in previous scholarship, greatly adding to scholarly understanding of the cultural context of this musical form.

St. Michael the Archangel performed three key roles in medieval western Christendom, as outlined by religious historian Richard Johnson: guardian, warrior, and psychopomp.[1] The roles of intercessor and military leader derive from scriptural references to St. Michael, while the psychopomp role derives from the Jewish and Christian apocryphal tales that compose the Saint’s vita. Beginning with Charlemagne, liturgies dedicated to Michael were nationally sanctioned in the Carolingian Empire. The Frankish region would remain devoted to the Archangel well into the fifteenth century. Mont-Saint-Michel in particular would develop its own foundation myth,[2] leading the surrounding area in angelic patronage during the late middle ages.

Michael’s three key roles directly correlate with the rise and fall of the Cult’s popularity, which notably coincides with the coming and going of wars. Fresh off the campaigns of the Hundred Years War, fifteenth-century Franco-Flemish countries produced music dedicated to St. Michael that predictably demonstrate a militaristic tone. Franco-Flemish composer Johannes Regis (c.1425-c.1496), in particular, represents this tradition in his Missa L’homme armé. The prominence of the Archangel in this work reflects the historically Michael-devoted environment in which Regis composed his mass.

Regis’s Missa L’homme armé portrays St. Michael as protector and military leader through tropes focusing on the expulsion of the dragon from heaven and depictions of the apocalyptic trumpet. Musically, the piece relies not only on dramatic text but also the popular L’homme armé [Armed Man] cantus firmus, which carried its own military theme and history, including frequent use in fifteenth-century polyphonic works to symbolize warrior figures such as St. Michael. Searches for the tune’s origins lead to Phillip the Good’s Order of the Golden Fleece, as well as Louis XI’s Order of St. Michael, organizations that significantly blended chivalric ideals, knightly practice, and votive devotions.

Missa L’homme armé reflects St. Michael’s western military and devotional functions in Franco-Flemish society through its treatment of text, choice of cantus firmus, and compositional techniques. My study of this piece illuminates the musical expression of the Cult of St. Michael during one of its most popular periods in history.

  1. Richard F Johnson, Saint Michael the Archangel in Medieval English Legend (Woodbridge, U.K.: The Boydell Press, 2005), 30.
  2. Ibid., 41.

The relationship between a composer, his critics, and the public, presents a series of interactions through which to study the historical and artistic culture of a given society and its citizens. This study examines the Berlin (1912) and the New York (1923) premieres of Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire in order to demonstrate the importance of cultural context in forming critical reaction. I find that the cultural modernism and the relevance of the commedia dell’arte in Berlin led to an overall positive audience reaction despite Schoenberg’s unfamiliar compositional idiom. In contrast, the different cultural emphases in New York and the influence of the romantic tradition on New York audiences’ and critics’ perceptions of musical beauty made it much harder for them to accept Pierrot.

The purpose of this thesis is to examine the effect that the crossover music of Mark O’Connor, Edgar Meyer, and Béla Fleck has on current societal perceptions of classical music. In the past, society has seen classical music as a highbrow cultural activity, inaccessible to the majority of American people. In the course of this research, I explore the music of these artists from several perspectives.

Through a technocultural examination of the violin, fiddle, double bass, and banjo, I determine that these instruments are used prominently in many styles of music and therefore facilitate crossover. I identify how different musical domains come together as crossover in the music and recordings of these performers. I discover that the music of O’Connor, Meyer, and Fleck draws from classical music, as well as musical domains specific to the United States, including jazz, bluegrass, and old-time country.

In addition, I attended concerts and conducted interviews with audience members. I also spoke with administrators at several symphony orchestras in the United States. After Clifford Geertz, I developed a “thick description” of a particular Mark O’Connor concert, in which I analyzed the audience behavior and relationship to the musicians (1973). In interviews with audience members, I asked them about the concert experience and explored reasons for attendance at the performance. I asked symphony administrators about their reasons for including these crossover artists in their concert season, as well as their views on changing trends in classical audiences. This research led me to apply Holt’s interpretation of Bourdieu’s theory of taste to the formation of crossover audiences.

My application of Bourdieu’s theory to crossover audiences reveals the broad base of audience participation for these composer/performers and demonstrates the potency of American musical styles for contemporary American audiences. Finally, I conclude that O’Connor, Meyer, and Fleck combine classical music and musical idioms of the United States to create a newly accessible crossover music that extends the boundaries of classical music consumption.