Musicology, Theory, and Ethnomusicology

Musical scholarship at Penn reflects the wide-ranging interests and diverse methodological approaches of our faculty. 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.


The research interests of the Musicology faculty (see list and program description here) include material culture, performance studies, pre-modern conceptions of sacred vs. secular, Jazz, African American music, early opera, aesthetics, popular music, historiography, public musicology, gender studies, and digital humanities. Our topics of research range from hip-hop to pre-modern song and we embrace an equally capacious approach to questions and methodologies.   Recent topics include: Music and the History of the Book, Staging Baroque Opera Today:  Monteverdi, Text and Performance; Music in Black Film; Black Feminist Musics; 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; Sound, Voice, and Song in Medieval Europe; From the Blues to Obama: History, Culture and Power in Black Chicago.



Ethnomusicology at Penn reflects the interdisciplinary nature of the 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.



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.