About Our Colloquia Series



February 5th

Image removed.Nancy Rao, Professor of Music, Rutgers University, “Sonic and Visual Emblem: Chinatown Theater and Identity of Chinese American Women.”


In 1924 when Anna May Wong became a fashion icon in Hollywood, San Francisco’s Chinatown was mesmerized by idols of a different kind: Cantonese opera actresses. The community marveled at star actresses arriving to perform at the newly opened Mandarin Theater, the beginning of a golden era.

These actresses embodied voice, style and fashion of legendary heroines such as Mulan. They represented inner constructions of extraordinary bodies that manifested aesthetically in performance, and shaped Chinese American women’s affiliation to their cultural identity in significant ways. Though legally transient in US, their transpacific success, mobility and popularity made their Chinese identity poignant. This paper explores female identity intimately bound up with Chinatown Theaters.

March 26th

Image removed.Alex Chavez, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, University of Notre Dame, “Verses and Flows: Migrant Lives and the Sounds of Crossing.”

In his book Sounds of Crossing: Music, Migration, and the Aural Poetics of Huapango Arribeño (Duke 2017), Dr. Alex E. Chávez explores the contemporary politics of Mexican migrant cultural expression manifest in the sounds and aural poetics of huapango arribeño, a musical genre originating from north-central Mexico. In this presentation, he draws on this work to address how Mexican migrants voice desires of recognition and connection through performance, and the politics such desires attain amidst the transnational context of migrant deportability. As a researcher, artist, and participant, Chávez has consistently crossed the boundary between scholar and performer in the realms of academic research and publicly engaged work as a musician and producer. In this presentation, he draws on these experiences to address the politics of his intellectual and creative work and how he engages both to theorize around the political efficacy of sound-based practices, the “voice,” and the disciplinary futures of borderlands anthropology.

April 9th

Image removed. Elizabeth Randell Upton, Associate Professor of Musicology, University of California, Los Angeles, "Lucrezia Borgia’s Voice."Abstract TBA

April 16th

Faculty Works-In-Progress Lecture: Carol Muller, Professor of Music, University of Pennsylvania. Title TBD.





FALL 2018


September 25th

Rey Chow, Anne Firor Scott Professor of Lierature and Director of the Literature Program at Duke University. Title: “The Screen in Sound: Toward a Theory of Listening.”

Rey Chow is the author of numerous books and articles, which have appeared in over ten languages. Her recent book publications include the monograph Not Like a Native Speaker: On Languaging as a Postcolonial Experience (Columbia UP, 2014) and the anthology Sound Objects, which she co-edited with James A. Steintrager (Duke UP, 2019, forthcoming). 

ABSTRACT:  This lecture is drawn from Rey Chow’s chapter in the anthology Sound Objects (Duke UP, forthcoming), ed. James A. Steintrager and Rey Chow. By foregrounding crucial connections among sound studies, poststructuralist theory, and contemporary acousmatic experiences, the lecture presents listening as a trans-disciplinary problematic through which different fields of study resonate in fascinating ways. 


October 9th

Ben Piekut, Associate Professor of Music, Cornell University. Title:  “The Afterlives of Indeterminacy.” 

Benjamin Piekut is a historian of experimental music, jazz, and rock after 1960. His monograph, Experimentalism Otherwise: The New York Avant-Garde and its Limits, was published in 2011 by the University of California Press. Situated at the intersection of free jazz, the Cagean avant-garde, Fluxus, radical politics, and popular music, the book portrays New York experimentalism in the 1960s as a series of conflicts, struggles, and exclusions. His second monograph, The World Is a Problem: Henry Cow and the Vernacular Avant-garde, is forthcoming from Duke University Press; it explores the movement of experimentalism into popular music domains and how such transformations might suggest a reformulation of theories of the avant-garde. 

He is also the editor of two books. The first, Tomorrow is the Question, was published in 2014 by the University of Michigan Press; the collection explores new corners of experimental music history, most notably those in popular culture, in performance and recordings, and in sites outside of North America. The second, the Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies (co-edited with George E. Lewis), is a two-volume set with 60 contributors from the arts, humanities, social, and natural sciences (2016). With David Nicholls, he co-edited a special issue of Contemporary Music Review for John Cage’s 100th birthday, and he is currently co-editing an issue of Third Text on amateurism with Julia Bryan-Wilson. 

He has published articles in a wide range of journals and edited collections. His essay in TDR, “Deadness: Technologies of the Intermundane,” co-authored with Jason Stanyek, received the “Outstanding Article Award” in 2011 from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education. Previously a Lecturer at the University of Southampton in the UK, he is now an associate professor in the Department of Music at Cornell. 

Talk abstract: 

To perform indeterminacy is to charge the present moment with multiple possibilities, but it is also to multiply problems for the future—namely, how to re-perform indeterminacy and how to re-create the ruptures of the past in a new present. This talk considers some of these problems with reference to John Cage’s evolving performance practice in the 1960s, particularly with his collaborator, David Tudor, and the other musicians of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. 


October 30th

Nadine Hubbs, Professor of Women’s Studies and Music and Faculty Associate in American Culture, University of Michigan. Title: “Rednecks, Queers, and Country Mexicans.”

Musicologist, historian, and theorist Nadine Hubbs is professor of women’s studies and music and faculty affiliate in American culture at the University of Michigan, where she also directs the Lesbian-Gay-Queer Research Initiative. Her award-winning books, The Queer Composition of America’s Sound (2004) and Rednecks, Queers, and Country Music (2014), and many articles on U.S. (and UK) pop, classical, and country music recast understandings of music and social groups marked by sexuality and gender, class, race, and immigration. Hubbs's work has been featured by media outlets including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Salon, Slate, TLS, and The Guardian, and on NPR, Pacifica, and BBC Radio. She is presently conducting fieldwork with Mexican American gay cowboys and country fans for a forthcoming book, Country Mexicans: Sounding Mexican American Life, Love, and Belonging in Country Music.

ABSTRACT:  Country music is associated with whiteness and quintessential Americanness, but country lovers are not all Anglo or native born. Latinx fandom is booming, and the country engagements of these mostly Mexican American fans raise crucial questions in our racist, anti-immigrationist moment. My fieldwork with Mexican American country fans in Texas and California and at gay vaquero (cowboy) events in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas does not so much suggest that Mexican Americans seek belonging, or even assimilation, through country engagements as it points to how country music, past and present, belongs to people of Mexican descent.


10 April: Maria Ryan  (Penn)

Title: “Our people, I fear, are drifting too far away from the classics…”: singing race, class, and gender in Philadelphia, the Mendelssohn Chorus, 1912-1914

Abstract: The Mendelssohn Chorus burned brightly but briefly. Founded in 1912, it was an amateur male-voice choir whose members were black clerks of the Philadelphia Post Office. The chorus performed three annual concerts to great local acclaim, but disappeared from the archive after its third concert in 1914. Although it existed for only three years, the traces of the Mendelssohn Chorus in the archive illuminate some of the complex negotiations that took place when European art music was listened to and performed by African Americans in the early twentieth century. In this paper, which is based on archival work in the black-run newspaper the Philadelphia Tribune and at the Library Company of Philadelphia, I argue that the Mendelssohn Chorus illustrates how middle-class black Philadelphians were performing broader issues of class, race, and gender through the performance of classical music, and in so doing, redefining dominant white ideas about what this music was, and who it was for.

The Mendelssohn Chorus was held to high standards by the Tribune’s music editor, often through language that emphasized to its readers the importance of classical music to the race for cultural, community, and financial reasons. I look at the programs of the Mendelssohn Chorus to understand what was understood to be classical music, or “the classics,” in 1910s Philadelphia, as well as the reception of the director’s decision to program African American composers alongside European composers. Furthermore, the programs suggest how musical labor was gendered; a list of “patronesses” in one of the choir’s concert programs demands attention to the way that gender roles operated within, and structured, black classical music-making in the early twentieth century. The Mendelssohn Chorus, therefore, is a fascinating site for exploring the importance and intricacies of amateur music within Philadelphia, how it was being discussed and used as a mode of racial uplift, and as part of the gendered practice of the politics of respectability.


20 March: Elaine Hayes 

Title: Queen of Bebop: The Musical Lives of Sarah Vaughan (Ecco, 2017)
Abstract: Elaine Hayes discusses her recent book Queen of Bebop: The Musical Lives of Sarah Vaughan, which chronicles Vaughan’s (1924-1990) journey from a church girl in Newark, New Jersey, to a big band vocalist; a bebop innovator to a pop starlet; and finally, an international jazz legend to a symphony orchestra diva. Elaine also discusses her journey from academic to author of a mainstream, popular biography. Focusing on the central myths surrounding Sarah Vaughan and her legacy, Elaine explores how she reconciled these two worlds—the “theory” of academia and the need to tell a good, old-fashioned story—in an effort to change how general audiences understood women in jazz and women as creative beings.
BIO: Elaine Hayes received her Ph.D. in musicology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2004.


3 April: David Samuels (New York University)

Title: Early Folk World: Searching for Humanity in 20th Century Industrial Modernity

Abstract: The twentieth century was witness to an ethical discourse about the scope of the human that took its cues from a discussion of how people should sound. The tones and timbres of vocal and instrumental music became key reference points in a dialogue about how to maintain one’s humanity under the conditions of modern urban industrial capital. Three interlocked musical movements—historical performance, folk revivalism and world music—represent overlapping attempts to retrieve an ethical human existence within the contexts of the perceived dehumanizing processes of industrial modernity. The three share common arguments about the human body and the value of social participation as important locations in which to find continued expressions of humanity in the contemporary world.

 February (Tuesday): Juan Castrillón (Penn) 

KIRANIA (Long Clarinets), and PAMI KIRAMI (Long House) are two short film projects of Juan Castrillón's ongoing fieldwork. The first shows how a pair of long clarinets is made within an indigenous group at the Northwestern Amazon in Colombia, and the second film addresses the process of building a distinct place for music performance after 45 years of its absence. The multimodal process of making a film withoutsilencing fieldwork dynamics from the postproduction emerges as a vibrant platform where debates in ethnomusicology are called to acquire a creative role. A role in which indigenous and non-indigenous audiovisual perspectives assemble each other within cinematiccontours. From this light, films authored by ethnomusicologists come to represent their assumptions about the realities they study, rather than been documents acting in themselves as transparent glances to thelife of the people researchers study with. The presentation combines a lecture and workshop style in which Castrillón introduces and analyzes some sequences of the aforementioned films, along with the discussion about how film editing and narrative styles connect with the intellectual agenda of his dissertation.



 Title: "I Am Delivert!”: Vocalizing Black Men’s Testimonies of Deliverance from Homosexuality in Pentecostal Worship

Abstract: In 1995, Grammy Award nominated gospel vocalist Pastor Daryl Coley consented to an interview with Gospel Today’s editor Teresa Hairston for an article entitled, “The California-born gospel singer overcoming homosexuality and diabetes.” It is the earliest music industry account of a gospel vocalist claiming to no longer be homosexual through spiritual “deliverance.” Within historically Black Pentecostal churches that showcase gospel musicians, “deliverance” traditionally refers to a release from physical ailments and perceived spiritual afflictions such as diabetes or homosexuality.  While deliverance characterizes various types of healing through spiritual work, many Black gospel music fans deploy the term in a gendered and sexualized manner, referring to a man’s struggle to resist homosexuality. Moreover, the notion of deliverance is promoted through men’s testimonies about becoming heterosexual with what they believe is God’s help. Male vocalists’ overrepresentation in these public accounts of spiritual “healing” from homosexuality reinscribe the stereotype within historically Black Pentecostal churches that to be involved in vocal music ministry is a queering act . Conversely, women’s deliverance narratives are unlikely to be distributed due in part to the socio-cultural fixation on protecting established constructions of Black masculinity. 

Expanding upon my 2016 research about the perceptions of Black male vocal participation as queer in Are All the Choir Directors Gay?: Black Men’s Sexuality and Identity in Gospel Performance, this talk explores the sonic qualities of Black men’s public renouncement of their gay identity through deliverance testimonies. In a culture where homosexuals are often regulated to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” social agreement, the testimonies of men delivered from homosexuality conform to what feminist writer Adrienne Rich called compulsory heterosexuality (1960). While deploying ethnomusicological, phonological, linguistic, critical race, and gender studies analysis, I examine these delivered believers’ coded and textured performances of orality in Pentecostal worship: virtuosic singing, “speaking in other tongues,” preaching, and preaching-singing. Educing from musician’s narratives and recordings since Pastor Daryl Coley’s self-disclosure, this talk observes the extent to which their accounts prompt (non-)verbal communication about what constitutes legitimate and sustained deliverance.


Title:  “The Importance of Being from ‘The Other Side’: Music, Estrangement, and Border Studies in the 21st Century.”

Abstract: This lecture offers an assessment of the relevance of border studies in today’s increasingly toxic political moment nationally and internationally. The presentation takes as point of departure Mexican songwriter Juan Gabriel’s performance of diasporic self in the film Del otro lado del puente (1979) and the idea of being from “the other side” —which Mexicans and Mexican-Americans use both, when speaking of the land on “the other side” of the Rio Grande and as a synonym of “homosexuality”— to explore the relationship between the geographic borders of the nation-state and the imagined borders of heteronormativity. I suggest that asking what does it mean to look at oneself from the estranged perspective of the Other’s side enables one to take Juan Gabriel’s moralistic musical commentaries about Mexican-American culture —enunciated from the singer’s perceived ambiguous masculinity— to speak about fading notions of fixed national, ethnic, and gender identities that the trans-border experience questions on an everyday basis. Furthermore, I propose this case study as an exploration of the potential of Viktor Shklovsky’s notion of estrangement beyond the aesthetic concerns it originally entailed —as an expansion of aesthetic horizons— and into the sphere of everyday performance and action —as a tool to expose the flipside of normativity. In focusing on Juan Gabriel’s performance successful queering of gender and unsuccessful queering of nationalism I also intend to address a problematic outcome of traditional border studies, the tendency to, as sociologist Pablo Vila suggests, construct the border subject “into a new privileged subject of history.”

20 February (Tuesday):  Stewart Varner, Managing Director of the Price Lab for Digital Humanities

Stewart Varner, Managing Director of the Price Lab for Digital Humanities, is joining us for a colloquium on Tuesday, February 20, at 5:15. He will talk about what Digital Humanities is (or, are), and what we can gain from engaging with this unruly and exciting interdisciplinary field. This colloquium is aimed at graduate students, but all are welcome. 

6 February (Tuesday), at 5:15: Olivia Bloechl (Univ. of Pittsburgh) 

Title: The Politics of Glory: Angelic Citizenship and the Contemplative Chorus in Old Regime Opera. 

 Abstract: What can opera choruses tell us about historical imaginaries of publicness in non-democratic societies? In this talk I broach this question in the context of Old Regime France and its premier opera form, the tragédie en musique. Choruses in praise of authority figures are ubiquitous in the genre, and the convention of the glorifying chorus has long been taken as signaling the genre’s ideological nature. While the tragédie and its onstage groups clearly offered an apologetics for the Bourbon monarchy, ideology critique alone cannot explain these choruses’ most salient features or their striking longevity in serious French opera (from the 1670s through the Revolutionary period). As an alternative, I draw on Giorgio Agamben’s archaeology of glory as a basis for a new understanding of what I call “contemplative choruses” of praise, celebration, and acclamation, as elaborating a doxological myth of citizenship modeled on the angels. Looking at examples from across the repertory, I propose contemplative singing as the particular vocation of the chorus in Old Regime opera, and an unexpected source of its politicality. While the tragédie’s creators routinely put choruses to use in symbolic support of the monarchy, I argue that this political utility represents the genre’s capture of an “inoperativity” proper to contemplative song. Inoperativity, I conclude, is the political core of opera’s contemplative choruses, in which singing with others—and enjoying singing—opens a human potentiality beyond any governing purpose.

BIO: Olivia Bloechl is Professor of Music at the University of Pittsburgh. She is the author of Native American Song at the Frontiers of Early Modern Music (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2008) and Opera and the Political Imaginary in Old Regime France (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2018), and co-editor (with Melanie Lowe and Jeffrey Kallberg) of Rethinking Difference in Music Scholarship (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2015). In addition to ongoing work on work on opera, particularly in France, current projects involve problems of music and vulnerability, the uses of song in American captivity narratives, and global music historiography.


7 February (Wednesday), at 5:15: John Harbison (M.I.T.)

Title: "Tunes and Chords"


9 FEBRUARY (FRIDAY) AT 4:30 (note time): NICOLA SCALDAFERRI (UNIV. OF MILAN), with documentary film screening. 

This event is co-sponsored by the Center for Italian Studies, the Jewish Studies Program's Kutchin Seminar Series, and the Department of Music, all at the University of Pennsylvania.

Ethnomusicologist Nicola Scaldaferri (University of Milan) will present his documentary "Sacred Mountains: Abrahamic Religions and Musical Practices in the Mediterranean Area." The film includes segments on three religious pilgrimages involving sacred mountains: Israelite Samaritans praying on Mount Gerizim in the West Bank; Bektashi Sufis climbing Mount Tomorr in Albania; and the descent from the Holy Mountain by the Black Madonna in southern Italy. Prof. Scaldaferri will be present to introduce the film and lead a discussion. 

Nicola Scaldaferri is Associate Professor in the Department of Cultural Heritage and Environment at the University of Milano, where he also co-founded and directs the Laboratory of Ethnomusicology and Visual Anthropology http://leavlab.com/ He has done extensive ethnomusicological research in Italy, Albania, Kosova, Ghana, and elsewhere, as well as research on electro-acoustic music. Prof. Scaldaferri received his PhD in Musicology from the University of Bologna and a degree in Composition from the Conservatory of Parma. In 2006 he was a Fulbright scholar at Harvard University.


FALL 2017


14 November: Julie Napolin (The New School)

Title:  "Narrative Acoustics"

"If there is a space of thinking, either real or virtual, then within it there must also be sound, for all sound seeks its expression as vibration in the medium of space,” writes Bill Viola. We think of narrative as being with “space”  and, while we understand literature as being with a poetics and rhetoric, we do not ask after its acoustics. What, then, is narrative acoustics? In a triple gesture, it is the making of narrative space by sound, the virtual hearing of sounds in narrative and intertextual space, and the narrative of sonic change.

19 September:  Naomi Waltham-Smith (University of Pennsylvania)

Book Talk:  "Music and Belonging Between Revolution and Restoration" (Oxford University Press, 2017)

Penn's own Naomi Waltham-Smith will be discussing her newly-published book, "Music and Belonging Between Revolution and Restoration".


Talking about her recently published book, Naomi Waltham-Smith argues that a revolution—both music-theoretical and political—takes place where we least expect it: at the heart of the Austro-German canon in the music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Today she will discuss ten of the book’s most provocative claims. Insofar as revolution is always also a matter of turning back again, a revolution in how we under musical listening is possible only be retrieving and radically transforming some of the most unimpeachable concepts in music theory and historiography.

Naomi Waltham-Smith is Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research sits at the threshold between music theory, recent European political philosophy, and sound studies. She is currently finishing a second book on The Sound of Biopolitics and working on a sound archive project entitled “Listening under global Trumpism” which will be hosted by the Slought Foundation.

3 October:  Paula Matthusen (Wesleyan University)

Title:  "Walks with Electronics: Recent Compositions, Collaborations, and Field Recordings"


Walks with Electronics discusses recent compositions and projects related to various field recording projects, from aqueducts of New York City and Rome to caves in Kentucky. The talk discusses very broadly the concept of sociality in field recording, through a series of complementary and differing ideas of walking.

10 October:  Dominic Pettman (The New School)

Title:  "Sonic Intimacy:  Voice, Species, Technics"


In this talk, Dominic Pettman asks us who - or what - deserves to have a voice, beyond the human.  Arguing that our ears are far too narrowly attuned to our own species, Pettman will gloss his new book, Sonic Intimacy, which explores four different types of voices:  the cybernetic, the gendered, the creaturely, and the ecological.  In doing so, he will demonstrate some of the ways in which intimacy is forged through the ear, perhaps even more than through any other sense, mode, or medium.  The voice, then, is what creates intimacy, both fleeting and lasting, not only between people, but also between animals, machines, and even natural elements:  those presumed not to have a voice in the first place.  Taken together, the manifold, material, actual voices of the world, whether primarily natural or technological, are a complex cacophony that is desperately trying to tell us something about the rapidly failing health of the planet and its inhabitants.  As Pettman cautions, we would to well to listen.


17 October:  Maria Murphy/Shelley Zhang (PhD candidates, University of Pennsylvania)


Title:  "Voicing the Clone:  Laurie Anderson and Technologies of Reproduction"  


Title:  "Material Nostalgia for the Cultural Revolution Era:  The Affective Practices of Revolutionary Music in Contemporary China"  


7 November: Philip Gentry (University of Delaware)

Book Talk: What Will I Be: American Music and Cold War Identity. Oxford University Press, 2017.


In the wake of World War II, the cultural life of the United States underwent a massive transformation. At the heart of these changes during the early Cold War were the rise of the concept of identity and a reformulation of the country's political life. A revolution in music was taking place at the same time-a tumult of new musical styles and institutions that would lead to everything from the birth of rock 'n' roll to the new downtown experimental music scene. Together, these new cultural and musical trends came to define the era. In the search for new social affinities and modes of self-fashioning, music provided just the right tool. What Shall I Be follows the concept of identity as it developed alongside new post-war music making. Author Philip M. Gentry travels through four very different musical scenes: the R&B world of doo-wop pioneers the Orioles, the early film musicals of Doris Day, Asian American cabaret in San Francisco, and John Cage's infamous 4'33". The lives of musicians, composers, critics, and fans reveal how individuals negotiated the social changes sweeping the country in the initial days of the Cold War. As we are again swept up in a time of significant transformation, these early strategies help to inform the political and musical narratives of today.