Music & Culture Lecture Series

Lecture Series Logo 2016

The Canada Research Chair in Ethnomusicology, in conjunction with the School of Music and the Department of Folklore, inaugurated this interdisciplinary lecture series in 2002. Distinguished scholars give presentations that explore the social and cultural life of music. The lectures, which are free and open to the public, take place in the evenings in the MMaP Gallery on the second floor of the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre. The talks are livestreamed from our YouTube channel, and videos of past lectures from the series can be viewed there as well.

2019–2020 Music & Culture Lecture Series

“Producing the ‘Soundtrack of America’ Concert Series at The Shed: Notes on Doing Ethnomusicology in Public”

Dr. Maureen Mahon (New York University)

Wednesday, September 25, 2019 (7:30pm)

On April 5, 2019, The Shed, New York City’s new multi-discipline arts and performance venue, opened with “Soundtrack of America,” a five-night concert series celebrating the legacy and continuing vitality of African American music. Conceived by black British filmmaker Steve McQueen, developed with the input of a creative team that included legendary African American composer and producer Quincy Jones, and featuring 25 emerging artists, the production made an artistic and political statement about the significance, influence, and power of the music African Americans have created during four centuries of life and struggle in the United States. In this lecture, I discuss the conceptualization, development, and execution of “Soundtrack of America” from my vantage point as Chief Academic Advisor to the project. I describe my primary task: the development of a “family tree” of African American music that identified key genres and artists from 1619 to the present that served as the organizing document for the production. In addition to discussing the production and some representative performances, I consider the opportunities and challenges I confronted as a professional academic working on a highly visible public-facing project that engaged the music and cultural issues at the heart of my research and teaching, particularly those associated with race and power.


“‘The Baptists Are Going to Try to Tell You What to Do’: The Silver Strip in the 1940s”

Dr. Holly Everett (Memorial University)

Tuesday, Oct 29, 2019 (7:30pm)

A red-light district that came to be known as the Silver Strip emerged on the Texas-Louisiana border just outside the city of Orange in the tumultuous years of the 1940s. Long the destination of economic migrants from elsewhere in Texas and beyond, Orange’s population grew exponentially in 1940, a dramatic increase primarily attributed to Cajuns relocating from rural Louisiana. Orange was known as a Baptist-controlled community and documentation from the period suggests ongoing conflict between Catholic and Protestant worldviews. Cajuns’ appreciation of drink, music, dancing, and gambling has never met with the approval of conservative Protestantism, as part of what historian Shane Bernard refers to as North American “Anglo-Saxonism.” Inspired by the occupational folklife of musicians who worked in Silver Strip venues, this talk will examine factors contributing to and resulting from this culture clash in Texas’s “Cajun Lapland.”


“Hyperchoral Entanglements: Reflections on Voice and Environment in the Anthropocene”

Dr. Martin Daughtry (New York University)

Tuesday, February 4, 2020 (7:30 p.m.)

From the standpoint of music studies, the relationship between the singing voice and the atmosphere is one of figure to ground or event to medium. When compared to the riveting performance that is voice, in other words, the air around us appears transparent, uniform, and theoretically inert: air is voice’s enabling material, nothing more. However, outside of music studies, as humans and other creatures struggle with global warming, smog crises, and rising CO2 emissions, air is front-page news. What might music and sound scholars learn if we turned the tables on voice and began taking air seriously? Drawing upon recent writing on the Anthropocene and the “nonhuman turn” in the humanities, this talk will attend closely to a number of different movements of air, presenting them as vocal performances. Along the way, I will propose a non-anthropocentric, "atmospheric" conception of voice that will allow us to track and critique our many, often vexing, entanglements with a wide variety of human and nonhuman vocal actors.


“Listening with the Body: The Raqs Sharqi Dancer as Musical Interpreter”

Dr. Ainsley Hawthorn (Yale University)

Tuesday, February 25, 2020 (7:30 p.m.)

The accomplished dance performer is not merely an entertainer, artist, or athlete in their own right but an interpreter who translates sound into movement. Interpretive skill plays a particularly important role in Egyptian raqs sharqi or Oriental dance, which is customarily improvised by a solo dancer to live musical accompaniment. The heterophonic structure of classical Egyptian music creates interest by layering instruments, each of which simultaneously performs its own ornamentation on the melody, rather than by adding harmonies. As intermediary between the music and the audience, the dancer has the ability to direct the audience’s attention to a particular instrument or embellishment by emulating its rhythm, pitch, and dynamics in movement. In so doing, the sharqi dancer chooses not only what the audience will see, but what they will hear. This talk will discuss the concept of muḥāsabah (analytical listening) and will describe how, by being a sammīʿa (skilled listener), the dancer can enhance the audience’s appreciation of the music, temporarily making them skilled listeners as well. Ultimately, the talk will consider dance performance as a multisensorial practice that combines sounds, sights, and movements in order to heighten the audience’s aesthetic and emotional experience.


Music, Media, and Place

230 Elizabeth Ave, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1B 3X9

Postal Address: P.O. Box 4200, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1C 5S7

Tel: (709) 864-8000