2022 AMS/SEM/SMT Conference Features Seven Penn Music Scholars

November 3, 2022

American Musicological Society (AMS), Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM), and Society for Music Theory (SMT) is holding their annual meetings jointly on 10-13 November 2022 in New Orleans. With upwards of 3000 attendees, it will be the largest scholarly music event in years and will feature hundreds of papers, workshops, roundtables, lectures and performances. We are thrilled to see so many scholars representing the Music Department and delighted to share their work below:


Where are the Women? Analyzing Gendered Musical Practices in Senegambia’
November 10, 2022: 1:45pm - 3:45pm

Organizer(s): Bina Brody (University of Pennsylvania,)
Chair(s): Catherine M Appert (Cornell University)

West African music has historically been analyzed by scholars according to certain preconceived categories such as caste, ethnicity, age, and gender (Nketia 1971; Hale 1998). Though these categories are instrumental to understanding local musical perceptions, they sometimes obfuscate more complex creative processes. This is especially true with regard to gender, a topic that is constantly being reassessed in contemporary research of music (Bernstein 2003; Lwanda 2006; Lengel 2007).

In many Senegambian societies, music is performed differently by men and women; certain instruments and genres are traditionally practiced only by one gender or the other. However, the growth of international music markets and feminist movements across the continent have roused questions as to the reasons for these divisions, and subsequently shifted local attitudes substantially. Concomitantly, growing awareness of women’s musical practices has led to a wave of research on music that has historically been overlooked (Seye 2014; Hale and Sidikou 2013; Neveu Kringelbach 2013; McConnell 2020). Moreover, women’s involvement as scholars in the field of ethnomusicology has led to a renewed understanding that gender permeates all ethnographic encounters and shapes our experience of music on every level (Janson 2002; Scharfenberger 2011; Appert 2017). This panel aims to unsettle some of the biases that have long been embedded in our interpretation of Senegambian music, and to offer new perspectives on the role of gender in local musical creativity.

This panel interrogates transformations in the gendered production of music in Senegal and the Gambia, asking how these changes are entangled in broader social processes. We approach performance as a total experiential event, looking both at musicians and instruments as equally significant participants in the creation of music. Concomitantly, we address the role of audiences (imagined and present) in shaping current music-making. Furthermore, we ask how ‘male’ and ‘female’ genres are co-produced and mutually inspired both historically and in the contemporary moment. In the process, we examine how musical production is informed by changing perspectives on gender among listeners in Senegambia, shedding light on the wider social resonances of music-making in the region.

This panel is sponsored by the Gender and Sexualities Taskforce.


Làmb, Sabar, and Urban Audiences: Re-imagining Gender Categories in Dakar’s Popular Dance Scene
Bina Brody
University of Pennsylvania

‘Hybrid’ and ‘fusion’ are trending words in contemporary analyses of music across Africa. Scholars have highlighted the ongoing dialogue between local and international genres, and the incorporation of western elements into African popular music (Appert 2016; Feld 2012). At the same time, certain formal divisions remain prominent in both local and scholarly perception. Among these is the gendered distinction between ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ musical genres. In Senegal, Sabar tours have historically been classified as exclusively female dance spaces (Neveu Kringelbach 2013), and conversely, Làmb wrestling dances as hyper-masculine spectacles for a primarily male audience (Wane and Kane 2014; Fall and Tribou 2018).

This paper seeks to disrupt these static gender categories in the study of Senegalese music, in order to reveal some of the reciprocal influences between the two dance genres. As previous scholars have shown, male involvement in Sabar tours in the form of professional drumming is critical for the success of these events (Seye 2014; Tang 2007). Conversely, my research indicates a growing use of ‘feminine’ gestures in Làmb, borrowed from Sabar dances by prominent wrestling champions. Recognizing that these developments are the result of recent changes in Senegalese approaches to sexuality (Biaya 2001), this paper demonstrates how novel forms of music-making are inspired by a reconceptualization of ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ categories. In the process, I ask how hybridized dances, in turn, influence perceptions of gender.

In this paper, I argue that Dakar’s modern cosmopolitanism has created possibilities for self-expression that were historically not permissible. Urban audiences encourage musical creativity that emphasizes current fads over more ‘traditional’ forms of performance. In response, wrestlers formulate new notions of ‘maleness’ that involve more diverse dances within the professional wrestling arena. Concomitantly, urban women take up some of the male dances to express solidarity and appreciation for local champions. In the process, the boundaries between ‘male’ and ‘female’ styles are blurred and mutual influence becomes the new norm. The resulting hybrid genres of performance are important in themselves, but they also contribute more broadly to scholarly understandings of social change in the realm of music in Africa.


Revaluing Creative and Care Work
November 11, 2022: 9:00am-10:30am

“What is Talent without Character?”: Soviet Femininity, Labor, and Music in Rabotnitsa, 1970-1991
Allison Brooks-Conrad
University of Pennsylvania

Soviet women’s accounts of their daily lives foregrounded the ever-present “double burden” of state-mandated employment and domestic labor that the Soviet system essentially necessitated of all women with families. Moreover, the expectation that women complete a full shift of domestic labor in addition to their official employment was coupled with the pressure to maintain an idealized image of Soviet femininity. This set of competing expectations is perhaps best illustrated by the Soviet women’s magazine Rabotnitsa, or Woman Worker. First published in 1914, the magazine has been published continuously since. In the late Soviet era, the magazine regularly featured articles about musicians, concerts, practical musical skills, and other discussions about musical culture. The magazine demonstrates the bind musically-inclined Soviet women were in: the title alone foregrounded the importance of being a worker or laborer, while the articles included recipes, fashion advice, and tips for cultivating good Soviet feminine character.

This paper examines a collection of articles included in issues of Rabotnitsa spanning 1970-1991 and considers how the periodical integrated discussions of music in their definition of ideal Soviet femininity and the accompanying commitment to labor included in that definition. I argue that despite the fact that women likely lacked the time to participate in informal musicking without neglecting the “double burden” of state-mandated employment and domestic labor, the inclusion of music-themed articles in Rabotnitsa indicates that there was a clear attempt to articulate how the cultivation of the ideal female laborer is informed by musical culture. In doing so, the magazine offered a view of how women might access musical culture through their gendered laboring, rather than despite it. While scholars have focused on how professional musicians and composers shaped Soviet musical aesthetics and performance practices, I highlight how women who were amateur or informal musicians were encouraged to engage with musical culture. Finally, I ask whether there existed a zhenskaya muzika, or women’s music, in the Soviet Union and how such a musical culture perhaps served as a means of negotiating between the labor demands on women’s time and the expectation that they publicly present an articulation of their femininity.


Printed Musical Notation as Imperial Evidence in Antebellum America
November 11, 2022: 9:00am - 10:30am

Printed Musical Notation as Imperial Evidence in Antebellum America
Rhae Lynn Barnes (1), Glenda Goodman (2)
(1) Princeton University, (2) University of Pennsylvania

This paper investigates what it means to treat nineteenth-century printed transcriptions as evidence not primarily of musical sound, but of U.S. imperialism. We consider notated songs in printed travelogues from the antebellum period, zeroing in on one from the Native American West: Charles Wilkes, Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition During the Years 1838…1842 (1845). We argue that printed music in this kind of publication served a broader impulse in governmental and non-governmental national expansion: collecting and sharing data on the cultures the new nation encompassed.

Music scholars have long grappled with the limitations of western staff notation in ethnographic and performance contexts, but the role of print in propagating transcriptions has received comparatively little attention. We argue that print turned musical examples into reproducible and interpretable segments of data. These songs did not matter to the travel writers and their white readers solely because of how the music might have sounded, and our interest is not whether these materials represent musical practices “authentically.” Instead, we argue that the printed songs reveal a broader agenda in acquiring and categorizing knowledge and domination via a technology of reproduction–print–that allowed for widespread dissemination to readers who could then imagine using the sources to become armchair authorities on that music. Engaging with scholarship on print history, notation, imperialism, and data, we propose a new way to understand the entanglement of music and imperialism: not as a sounding practice, but as an abstracted representation of mastery.

Categorizing Black Music
November 11, 2022: 10:45am - 12:15pm

Occupy the Block: Jersey Club Music Performance as Black Party Activism
Jasmine Arielle Henry
University of Pennsylvania

In 2015, Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka enacted a new grassroots political initiative entitled “Occupy the Block,” a traveling block party event series designed to reduce violence across the city one neighborhood at a time. Central to these community events are DJ-based performances of Jersey Club music, a Newark-originated electronic dance music subgenre. On the surface, these block parties function as joyous events that produce and celebrate locality, cultural vitality, and urban intimacy through shared music, dance, and refreshments. However, deeper analysis reveals how contemporary Newark politicians have purposefully transformed public parties into politicized sites of community building and empowerment. In these politicized spaces, Black urban residents are offered temporary relief from the sociopolitical and economic challenges of living in a highly racialized, gendered, and classed city like Newark.

To theorize the significance of everyday club music-making and Black party cultures, I offer the term Black party activism—a form of critical community grassroots intervention that uses placemaking and cultural expressive practices to occupy urban public space and create sites of opportunity for marginalized communities. Drawing from participant observation and in-depth interviews, I present analyses of block party events to show how local club music-making constitutes an important aspect of Black party activism in Newark. Drawing from Black geographic theories, I argue that Jersey Club music performance functions as a form of sonic intervention that enables Newark residents to negotiate the politics of contemporary urban space and intersectional challenges of Black urban life. More specifically, I show how local club music is used as a critical sonic tool to direct community members to the resources that they need to survive and thrive in the City of Newark.

By leveraging the highly participatory nature of Jersey Club music and dance, Newark politicians and music-makers hack one public space at a time to make the city more functional and augment a sense of security, livability, mobility, and intimacy among Black urban residents. Through these means, I present a bottom-up, geographic perspective that makes visible the politics of Black club music-making and links this creative labor to the long-term sustenance of the city.


November 12, 2022: 9:00am-10:30am

From Trauma to Bop: Affective Labor and the Apotheosis of Ariana Grande
Katelyn Hearfield
University of Pennsylvania

On a May evening in 2017, the audience of Ariana Grande's Dangerous Woman Tour concert were exiting the Manchester Arena when a suicide bomber detonated a homemade explosive device, killing twenty-two people and injuring over 800 more. Grande's primary audience demographic—women and girls—seemed to be primary targets in the attack. In response, Grande spearheaded the One Love Manchester benefit concert, raising over seventeen million British pounds. After a year away from media spotlight, she triumphantly re-emerged with the albums sweetener and thank, u next in short succession. In this paper, I take these albums (along with efforts such as One Love Manchester) as examples of Grande’s affective labor in response to terrorism. In both albums, Grande addresses mental health concerns, the Manchester Arena bombing specifically, and other deeply personal issues, all of which contributed to a popular perception of her artistic persona as uniquely “authentic.” Amidst criticisms regarding cultural appropriation and the significant profit she has made from these albums, her response to the bombing has indelibly bound her work to a narrative of psychic trauma and has further positioned her as an icon for those who relate to her struggles with mental health.

This paper examines how Grande's career and music have evolved following the Manchester Arena bombing and how her audience engages with her music (and Grande herself as icon) as an opportunity for catharsis, processing, and community building. I deploy the term "collective processing" to avoid normative narratives of healing or goal-oriented paths to recovery that foreground the return to a state that many trauma survivors never fully achieve. I focus, instead, on the process that is set in motion by attempts to heal and recover through building connection and community. Drawing on theories of trauma, parasociality, and social reproduction, as well as fan commentary on social media, I argue that through her willingness to perform affective labor in her music and public persona, Grande has reached an artistic apotheosis hinging on a perception of authenticity, an elusive status for the women musicians populating Top 40 radio.

Sino-Western Musical Encounters
November 12, 2022: 4:00pm-5:30pm

“Why aren’t you Polish?” Fou Ts’ong (1934-2020), Cosmopolitanism, and the Music Public of the 1955 Chopin Competition
Bess Xintong Liu
University of Pennsylvania

“Why aren’t you Polish?” an audience member exclaimed at Fou Ts’ong (1934-2020) for his moving interpretation of Mazurka in the third stage of the 1955 Chopin Competition. As the very first Chinese pianist participated in the Chopin Competition, Fou won the third prize and the Polish Radio Award for the best performance of Mazurka. Achieving such honor, Fou received much attention from both Polish and international publics. Almost an anti-thesis to the stereotypes imposed on Chinese pianists of recent days as “soulless” or “emotionless automatons,” Fou’s performance was mostly described as “very emotional” and often embedded with a “poetic” tone. Certainly, his popularity was inseparable from the musical diplomacy promoted by the alliance of Communist states during the first Cold War decade. Closely tracing the entire process from Fou’s arrival in Poland and his enrollment in Prof. Zbigniew Drzewiecki’s piano course in 1954, to his award-winning moment in 1955, this paper argues for the construction of a music public—a tangible and transnational assemblage of individuals, audiences, institutions, and musical works that proactively negotiated aesthetics and power between nation states and mass. This music public redefined musicianship as a politicized capacity that dovetailed artistry with governance in the Communist regime. It was through this music public that the so-called “Western canon” gained new political significance in post-war reconstruction. While the Competition claimed to select the best interpreter of Chopin, public opinions went far beyond the inheritance of Chopin’s legacy. Juxtaposing multi-lingual archives on the 1955 Chopin Competition with historic press coverages on Fou, this paper demonstrates how Chopin’s Romanticism was transformed into new representations of decency, productivity, and hospitality. Consequently, a nuanced sense of cosmopolitanism emerged from the Competition that was greatly supported by the Communist state and yet consciously grounded itself in pre-war music circles. Such cosmopolitan spirit justified the reception of Fou in the Western world: Instead of highlighting his Chinese identity, both the Polish and Western media were more interested in his passionate style and his association with the Polish music institution. Through the micro-history of Fou, this paper highlights a socio-political dimension of twentieth-century Sino-Western musical encounter.


Violence and Music in Premodern Europe
November 13, 2022: 10:45am - 12:15pm

Punishment by Song: Music and Violence in the Medieval Miracles of St. Nicholas
Mary Channen Caldwell
University of Pennsylvania

Violence in medieval saints’ lives is far from unusual; from gruesome beheadings to elaborate torture, the lives and martyrdoms of saints were bloody and painful. Yet saints also inflicted pain and punishment, as was the case for combative soldier saints and countless other saints who channeled God’s wrath. An unlikely figure in this respect is fourth-century bishop Nicholas of Myra, a saint known for his protection and patronage of women, children, and innocents. In contrast to his peaceful and magnanimous saintly persona, miracles added in twelfth-century Europe to his popular life (vita) feature an apparition of Nicholas whipping and beating clerics for wrongdoings. Beyond the uncharacteristic violence, these episodes remarkably identify music as the motivation for Nicholas’s application of corporal punishment. This paper explores the intersection of music, violence, and saintly intervention in Nicholas’s vita, arguing that hagiographers introduced certain miracles to both encourage and regulate the rapid creation of new music in his name. I illustrate how depictions of Nicholas’s brutal upholding of his musical legacy reflected and shaped politics around the production and transmission of novel liturgical and extraliturgical music for saints, in addition to highlighting clerical and monastic tensions between “old” and “new” musics.

Two miracle narratives underpin my discussion. In the first and more widely transmitted miracle, a prior refuses to permit the singing of “new songs of secular clerics” on Nicholas’s highly celebrated feast day, leading the saint to posthumously appear and whip the prior in time to a “new song” until the prior accepts the rejected music. The second miracle features a widow who laments the lack of music in Nicholas’s name and offers a reward for new sacred compositions. A young cleric enamored with the widow composes songs to gain her affection, but instead elicits the ire and physical punishment of the saint who, brutally flogging the cleric, ceases only when he agrees to write music for Nicholas motivated by devotion rather than romance. Considered together, this pair of miracles offers unique insight into the perceived role of saintly intervention and, indeed, corporal punishment in traditions of medieval song.