Musicology, Theory, and Ethnomusicology

Musical scholarship at Penn reflects the wide-ranging interests and diverse methodological approaches of our faculty. Within this broad framework, students enter our program with a unique flexibility to define their research projects across the traditional boundaries that have defined the subfields of ethnomusicology, history, and theory. Students in the graduate program investigate the question of listening and the quandaries that have been intellectually and musically grappled with over time, critically thinking through such quandaries themselves. Working with the entire faculty, students explore major figures, texts, and issues in the constitution of listening, its ethical wagers and epistemological foundations, its ideological entanglements, the intellectual history of the music subfield, and current debates across these subfields. Recurring themes that emerge across encounters with this material include the nature of listening, the materiality of the sonic, and the relation between the ear and other senses. Students who enter our program are not expected to reproduce the areas of specialty of the faculty, but are instead encouraged to seek out and forge their own original paths of study. Our department prides itself on pushing disciplinary boundaries. Seminars tend to be organized around a particular instructor's current research and therefore are opportunities to explore the cutting edge of the field.

Theorists in the department have particular interests in continental philosophy and criticism, listening and ethics, the history of theory in modernity, the anthropology of the senses, aesthetics and politics, sound art, urban sound, sound media and technologies, and technics. Music Theory at Penn displaces the typical focus on how music is constituted, whether at the level of universal system or particular work, towards the ways in which listening is constituted in various practices and structures of thought. Recent seminars include: The Senses: Theories, Practices, and Politics; Ranciére; Listening; Modern Music Theory as Aurality; and Music and Touch.

The research interests of the history faculty include material culture, performance studies, Western art music, the history of technology, Jazz, African American, Afro-Latin, and Latin American music, early opera, instrumentality, aesthetics, popular music, historiography, critical theory, public musicology, gender studies, and digital humanities. A central concern for historians has been the recovery of the material, political, and social life of sound. Our topics of research range from hip-hop to organology, we seek to ask the sorts of questions that have often been ignored by musicologies of the past. Recent topics include: New Organologies; Reading Women in Jazz; Haydn's London Symphonies; Music in Black Film; Aesthetics and Criticism; Discourses of Gender in Instrumental Music, 1800-1848; Cultural Memory in Scandinavian song, 1890-1930; Rethinking musical biography: Chopin, 1838-1847; Disciplining Black Music; Sound, Historiography and Visual Culture in Hip Hop; From the Blues to Obama: History, Culture and Power in Black Chicago; and Music.

Ethnomusicology at Penn reflects the interdisciplinary nature of our field, combining approaches from anthropology, musicology, folklore, literary theory, religious studies, linguistics, critical theory, and gender studies in order to interrogate the webs of meaning within which music resonates. Faculty are pursuing research centrally concerned with diaspora, jazz in world perspective, post-coloniality, tourism and mobility studies, applied ethnomusicology, and popular music studies. Areas of expertise for our faculty encompass the Americas, Western Europe, Africa, and the Indian Ocean. Ethnomusicology seminars are often extended into practical, fieldwork-based projects in West Philadelphia—initiatives supported by the university’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships (projects have included exploring gospel music in several West Philadelphia churches and documentary fieldwork in a West Philadelphia mosque). Recent seminar topics have included: Music and Tourism in the Caribbean; Diasporas; Improvisation in Cross Cultural Perspective; Women in Jazz; The Ethics of Style in Caribbean Popular Musics; Cosmopolitanism; Songwork in Early Colonial Latin America; African Musics; and Musics of Central Asia.