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October 29: Lynn Hooker

Join us on 10/29 at 4:30pm in Rm. 205, Goodspeed Hall. Lynn Hooker, Associate Professor of Hungarian Studies at Indiana University, will introduce her paper (download paper here using listserv-circulated password). Laura Turner, Graduate Student in Ethnomusicology at the University of Chicago, will serve as discussant.


“Hungarian Gypsy Musicians as Laborers in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries”

With a few exceptions, the common understanding of Hungary’s Gypsy music tends to emphasize its “traditional” aspects, highlighting its “pastness” (Appadurai, Korom, and Mills 1991: 21). This understanding resonates with a genre heavily weighted with nostalgia, which Budapest journalist Imre Déri defined in 1912 around “the old patriarchal relationship between the Gypsies and the gentlemen-merry-makers” that he already saw as receding into the past (Sárosi 2012: 104). Two important problems arise from this approach: it obscures the role of actual musicians in the music they play, dismissing them as mere “tradition bearers” (Bohlman 1988: 71-72); and it ignores the ways that “the problem of pastness itself changes as the modes of cultural reproduction change” over the course of the twentieth century–“as traditions become mass-produced, as cultural artifacts become commodified, as intimate performances become available to large audiences” (Appadurai, Korom, and Mills 1991: 22). According to some Hungarian tradition-based narratives, these changes constitute decline, yet despite the many dramatic social and economic changes of the period, Gypsy music thrived in the twentieth century until its collapse in the aftermath of the change of regime.

This presentation examines Hungarian Gypsy music through a different lens: instead of tradition, it revolves around the issue of musicians’ labor. Documents and personal interviews with musicians reveal some of the tensions over how their performance was commodified, whether in the intimate “traditional” setting of a restaurant or private event or in the new contexts of the stage, recording, or broadcast. It also touches on some of the performance ramifications of new institutional frameworks and audience expectations in the twentieth century, from the rise of radio and film through the transformations wrought by state socialism to the decline of the industry since 1989.

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MONDAY October 19: Zoe Sherinian (Film Screening)

Our next workshop meeting will be a special session: a documentary film screening with Zoe Sherinian (Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology, University of Oklahoma). Please note that this session will be held on Monday October 19 at 1:30pm in Rm. 103, Foster Hall: 1130 E 59th St., Chicago IL, 60637.


Professor Sherinian will be screening her ethnomusicological documentary, This is a Music!: Reclaiming an Untouchable Drum


Please find a trailer for the film here


Zoe Sherinian is Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of Oklahoma. She has published the book, Tamil Folk Music as Dalit Liberation Theology (Indian Univ. Press 2014) as well as articles on the indigenization of Christianity in Ethnomusicology(2007), The World of Music (2005), and Women and Music (2005) and activist ethnomusicology in the Oxford Handbook of Applied Ethnomusicology (2015). Sherinian has produced and directed two documentary films This is A Music: Reclaiming an Untouchable Drum (2011), on the changing status of Dalit (outcaste) drummers in India, and a second one Sakthi Vibrations (2015) on the use of Tamil folk arts to develop self-esteem in young Dalit women at the Sakthi Folk Cultural Centre (2015). She is presently writing a book entitled Drumming Our Liberation: The Spiritual, Cultural, and Sonic Power of the Parai Drum.  She is also an active musician who performs and conducts trainings in the parai drum and plays the mrdangam and jazz drumset.



This ethnomusicological documentary is about the psychological and economic transformation of a group of untouchable (outcaste) parai frame drummers from a village near Paramagudi, Tamil Nadu, South India. The internal shift in the self-perception that these drummers undergo includes three interwoven threads of musical identity: the identity of the drum, of the music they play, and of the status of the drummers.


Through the lens of rarely filmed folk performances and the experience of an American female ethnomusicologist who comes to study with the group Kurinji Malar, we see a group of nine drummers trying to eke out a living while negotiating ongoing caste discrimination in their village. The Hindu caste system constructs parai drummers and their drum as polluted because they play for funerals. As they have professionalized, however, they have reconstructed their performance as “music” and their identity as “worldly.” The film also explores the economic options of these musicians as laborers. Two of the best drummers are tempted to at least limit their “drumset” performances to auspicious festival occasions because they are able to make enough money and gain social status as construction workers. Other members who work as field laborers or shepherd goats are completely dependant on drumming to supplement their income.


The narrative of this film focuses on the cultural debate among these drummers over whether they should reclaim the term parai (associated by many with the drummer’s “degraded” caste name Paraiyar) or they should continue to use the English term “drumset,” which carries middleclass status. When the drummers get an opportunity to go to the large cosmopolitan city of Chennai to participate in the Chennai Sangamam folk festival, they experience very different treatment at the hands of both the festival organizers and the multi-caste, multi-class urban audience. On their way to the festival they are shocked to find the extensive use of the term “parai attam or parai dance” in all of the festival advertisement. One of the drummers asks, “Why do they still associate us with the ‘Paraiyan’ caste? Why won’t they let us walk freely in society?” When we interview them soon after they arrive and then at the end of their week in Chennai, we see, however, that their overwhelmingly positive reception has greatly shifted their self-perception and value of village based folk artists. Further, they decide to (re)embrace of the term “parai.” It becomes clear that experiencing this appreciation helps the Kurinji Malar drummers reinforce a sense of pride in their drumming as valued music where as previously it was easy for them to internalize these practices as degraded. The question then becomes, can they sustain these changes back in the village?


This film shows that the consideration to change how parai drummers identify their art reflects the process of changing self-identity through musical performance possible for those still considered by many as “untouchables.” However, this case ultimately shows that complete change in presentation of self in the village context is difficult because of the economic dependence of outcaste drummers on the village middle castes who continue to practice castism. Woven throughout the film are dynamic and rare examples of village folk dances like karagattam, kummi and oiylattam, oppari funeral lament, and drumming as well as the voices of the drummers and local activists, who tell the story of the process of working for the economic and social liberation of the oppressed Dalits of India through developing the folk arts.

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October 15: Philip Bohlman and Travis Jackson

This week we are most excited to welcome Philip V. Bohlman (Mary Werkman Distinguished Service Professor of Music and the Humanities in the College, University of Chicago) and Travis A. Jackson (Associate Professor of Music and the Humanities, University of Chicago). Rather than presenting works in progress, this session will be a step back, examining the workshop process itself and discussing topics including:
  • making use of workshops as a scholar
  • developing academic projects
  • ethical issues within ethnographic music research
  • and, of course, any topics that arise during our question-and-answer period
The session will take place Thursday October 15 at 4:30 pm in Goodspeed 205
As always, there will be snacks, drinks, and stimulating conversation.

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October 8: Fieldwork Panel

Dear EthNoise! enthusiasts,

You are invited to join us for the first EthNoise! workshop meeting of the year: Thursday October 8 at 4:30 pm in Goodspeed 205. We’re excited to welcome Will Buckingham, Mili Leitner, Laura Turner, and Maria Welch, all current University of Chicago grad students who will be presenting reflections on their recent fieldwork. Our discussion will range from the specific research experiences of these four students to broader issues related to scholarly fieldwork. Apropos to EthNoise’s workshop spirit, we will discuss the relationship between field research, writing, and the development of academic research projects.

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Autumn Quarter 2015 Schedule

Welcome back to a new academic year! We are pleased to announce our presenters for the autumn quarter (see below). Please note that all workshops, unless otherwise indicated, will be held on Thursdays at 4:30pm in Rm. 205, Goodspeed Hall (1010 E 59th St., Chicago, IL 60637).


Autumn Quarter Schedule:

October 8: Fieldwork Panel, featuring reports on pre-dissertation fieldwork by graduate students in the Department of Music.


October 15: Philip V. Bohlman (Mary Werkman Distinguished Service Professor of Music and the Humanities in the College, University of Chicago) and Travis A. Jackson (Associate Professor of Music and the Humanities, University of Chicago) — in conversation: making use of workshops, developing academic projects, and considering issues within ethnographic music research


Monday, October 19 (special session*): Zoe Sherinian (Associate Professor of Musicology, University of Oklahoma)
*Please note that this session will be held on Monday October 19 at 1:30pm in Rm. 103, Foster Hall: 1130 E 59th St., Chicago IL, 60637.


October 29: Lynn Hooker (Associate Professor, Central Eurasian Studies, Indiana University) — “Gypsy Music as Labor in Twentieth-Century Hungary: Transforming an Industry, Transforming Lives”


November 12: Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM) presentations – Joe Maurer, Mili Leitner, and Thalea Stokes (PhD students in Ethnomusicology, University of Chicago)


November 19: Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM) presentations – Will Faber, Mike Allemana, and Ameera Nimjee (PhD students in Ethnomusicology, University of Chicago)



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EthNoise! coming announcements for 2015-2016

Welcome to EthNoise!: The Music, Language, and Culture Workshop.

EthNoise! is a student-run workshop based in the Department of Music which provides a forum for graduate students and guest speakers to present and discuss ongoing research. We meet on Thursday afternoons from 4:30-6pm approximately every other week during the quarter.

A few updates for the coming academic year 2015-2016:

The new student coordinators are Michael Allemana (, Joseph Maurer (, and Ameera Nimjee (

Please send us an email with any questions or interests regarding the workshop–especially if you’re interested in attending, presenting, or participating as a respondent to a paper.

The fall quarter schedule will be coming later this summer!

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April 30 – Margaret Walker at EthNoise!

Please join us on Thursday, April 30 for a workshop co-sponsored by SASI (South Asian Sound Initiatives): Margaret Walker will give a talk entitled “From Salaam to Pranaam: The Sanskritization of North Indian Dance.” Please find an abstract below.

In preparation for the discussion, Margaret encourages us to read in advance her recent chapter in The Oxford Handbook of Musical Revival. (Please check your email for the password and link or email

As always, we will meet from 4:30-6pm in Goodspeed 205. Our workshop is open to the public and all are welcome.


From Salaam to Pranaam: The Sanskritization of North Indian Dance

There is an unquestioned and widely disseminated understanding about the performing arts of India. Ancient, devotional, sacred, they have, in spite of various foreign influences, global dispersion, and individual creativity, remained faithful to their roots in Hindu ritual. Recent research in a number of classical dances tells a different story, however, showing this accepted history to be a creation of the 20th-century national revival, when music and dance were gentrified and Sanskritized so they could be detached from their roots in the 18th and 19th-centuries and accepted by the rising middle class as national treasures. My research has specifically focused on investigating this type of revisionist history in the dance genre now called kathak, the classical dance of North India. While the reading I’ve suggested covers the larger socio-historical context of the revival, my presentation will focus further on some of the actual changes in repertoire and performance practice that took place as kathak moved into the public arena as new, ancient marker of Independent and bourgeois Indian identity.

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April 23 – Lauren Eldridge at EthNoise!

Please join us on Thursday, April 23 for a presentation and discussion with Lauren Eldridge. The talk is entitled “Racing Genre: Choral Performances of an Authentic Haiti.” Please find an abstract below.

As always, we will meet at 4:30pm in Goodspeed 205. Our workshop is open to the public and all are welcome.


Racing Genre: Choral Performances of an Authentic Haiti

Art music composed by people of Haitian descent has a long legacy throughout the diaspora, but several recent performances have recently fired the imaginations of listeners, challenging them to consider their relationship to Haiti. This presentation examines the performative tensions that arise within these spaces, and in the discursive zone between two mutually constitutive genres: mizik klasik and foklò. Highlighting the role of these genres in two performances of “N’ap Debat,” a choral composition by Sydney Guillaume that holds as its subject the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, I argue that musicians and their audiences are engaging in complex contests of meaning regarding the authenticity of the music and the identities of those present. They are, in this sense, both “racing” against genre and “racing” the actual genres by deploying an array of social strategies to recompose both nation and self. Mizik klasik (roughly, “classical music”) encompasses Western European-style art music. Foklò denotes a wide range of expressive practices that include depictions of Haitian history and Vodou. Since the early twentieth century, composers of mizik klasik have incorporated references to foklò into their work. Meanwhile, the principal patrons of foklò have been cultural elites trained in mizik klasik. The performances reviewed in this presentation, one in Michigan and one in Mirebalais, challenge auditors toward more nuanced understandings of authenticity. By racing (against) genre, musicians and their audiences take part in a performance at the crossroads of group identity and self.

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April 9 – Ibby Grace and Michael Bakan at EthNoise!

Please join us Thursday, April 9 for “Thinking in Music”: A Dialogue between Autistic Self-Advocate Ibby Grace and Ethnomusicologist Michael Bakan. Please find the abstract below.

In preparation for the discussion, Michael Bakan encourages you to read his recent article in Ethnomusicology: “‘Don’t Go Changing to Try and Please Me’: Combating Essentialism Through Ethnography in the Ethnomusicology of Autism,” which will serve as a prelude to the discussion.  (Please check your email for the password and link or email

We will meet from 4:30-6:00pm in Goodspeed 205. As always, our workshop is open to the public and all are welcome.


“Thinking in Music”: A Dialogue between Autistic Self-Advocate Ibby Grace and Ethnomusicologist Michael Bakan 

“I sort of ‘think in music’ in the same way Temple Grandin says she ‘thinks in pictures,’” writes the Autistic scholar, professor, activist, and musician Dr. Elizabeth J. “Ibby” Grace. “Sometimes in order to think, I structure the thoughts into [something] more like music, or they do themselves like that….This enables me socially in ways I would have no chance of access to without [music]….”

What does it mean to “think in music” from an Autistic perspective? How can music enable social efficacy and reciprocity on the part of neurodivergent individuals, especially those who may find other modes of communicative expression and exchange—speaking, conversational interaction, and gestural communication foremost among them—to be not only challenging but positively disenabling? How is music employed to “harmonize” language and the self in the experiential world of an Autistic person who describes herself as one who thinks not in words or in pictures, but rather in music?

These are some of the questions that were addressed in a series of online dialogues between Ibby Grace and the ethnomusicologist Michael Bakan over the course of a six-month period in 2014. The transcripts of these dialogues form the basis of a chapter on Grace in Bakan’s forthcoming book, “Speaking of Music: Conversations with Autistic Thinkers.” This EthNoise session provides an opportunity for Grace and Bakan to engage in a live dialogue of reflection and exploration centered on the documented record of their previous online exchanges. The format will involve Bakan presenting selected passages from the online dialogue transcripts of the book and inviting Grace to respond to and comment upon them. This will open up avenues for further discussion between the two presenters, and in turn with the other workshop participants.

“Speaking of Music” is not a book about dialogues or based on dialogues; it is a book of dialogues. Here that book’s dialogical and agentive priorities will be extended to encompass the intertextuality of the actual work with both the collaborative partners responsible for its creation and a community of scholars and activist thinkers—the EthNoise community—that is ideally positioned to critically engage with and advance the larger project of an ethnomusicology of autism and neurodiversity.


Michael Bakan is Professor of Ethnomusicology and Head of World Music in the College of Music at Florida State University.

Elizabeth J. Grace is Assistant Professor of Disability and Equity in Education in the College of Education at National-Louis University.


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April 3 – MIDSEM Dry Runs at EthNoise!

Please join us on Friday, April 3 for a workshop in which Mili LeitnerJoe Maurer, and Thalea Stokes will present their panel of papers in preparation for the Midwest Chapter of the Society for Ethnomusicology (MIDSEM) conference. Please see below for abstracts.

Please note the room and time change: 12:00 – 1:30pm in JRL 264. We look very much forward to seeing you!


“Owning Music, Owning the Nation”
How does the regulation and control of national music impact identity formation among a country’s disparate groups of people? This panel addresses such questions of music, nation, and ownership from three geographically diverse perspectives, drawing upon the panelists’ recent fieldwork, historical documents, and media sources. The panel investigates these core questions and draws attention to the challenges faced by peoples attempting to claim ownership of national culture in the modern nation-state. The first paper examines patriotic songs of the U.S., focusing on articulations of Americanness in recent songs from the Tea Party Movement within the context of debates regarding the proper performance of previous generations’ nationalist music. The second paper explores the political struggle over ownership of Mongolian throat-singing between China and Mongolia sparked by UNESCO’s delineation of cultural rights. The third paper examines Israeli state-sponsored musical institutions’ renegotiation of their portrayal of the nation since the 1990s, using the rise of Musika Shachorah (“black music”) as a case study to illustrate the nation’s attempts to representation racial diversity. Together, the papers address questions of belonging and cultural ownership that serve as vital sites of inquiry into nationalist identity construction in the modern global community.
“Negotiating National Identity through American Patriotic Song in the Tea Party Era” (Joe Maurer)
Who may sing the United States’ patriotic songs, and in what manner? During the 2012 U.S. presidential election, two candidates (Herman Cain and Rick Santorum) took their campaign theme songs from Krista Branch, a singer associated with the populist Tea Party Movement. Those songs, “I Am America” and “Remember Who We Are,” demonstrate a marked difference from the patriotic songs of previous generations. Rather than focusing on land and patriotic symbols like the national flag, this most recent type of song articulates an ideological conception of “us” and “them,” illustrating the suggested beliefs and qualities required in a performer (and consumer) of patriotic song. This stylistic turn is especially significant in light of recent controversies regarding the performance of older patriotic music. In April 2006, “Nuestro Himno,” a popular new Spanish-language rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner,” attracted criticism from President George W. Bush, who noted that “people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English. And they ought to learn to sing the anthem in English” (New York Times 2006). A linguistic controversy arose once more in 2014, this time around a multilingual rendition of “America the Beautiful” sung in a Coca-Cola advertisement during the Super Bowl. These incidents and their context in the new milieu of American nationalist music point to important questions of ownership and belonging. This paper addresses these questions of musical Americanness and their significance in light of the recent political success of the Tea Party Movement.
“Whose Throat-Singing?: UNESCO Awarding Khoomei as a Chinese Intangible Cultural Heritage” (Thalea Stokes)
In 2009–2010, the People’s Republic of China sent a myriad of applications for the rights to intangible cultural heritage artifacts to UNESCO. Among the applications was one claiming the Mongolian art of throat-singing (Khoomei) as belonging to China’s intangible cultural heritage. When the decision to award China with the rights to Mongolian throat-singing became publicly known, outrage among Mongolians in China, Mongolia, and elsewhere ensued. In the following year, Mongolia sent an application to UNESCO for the same artifact and was subsequently awarded rights; however, the France-based NGO categorized the art as Khoomei rather than “Mongolian throat-singing,” thereby creating a distinction of sorts. How is Khoomei used by China and Mongolia to make claims about their national identities, and what are the deeper motivations behind these claims? How is it, through the mediating global entity UNESCO, that Khoomei has come to represent both China and Mongolia? What is Chineseness and Mongolianness, and how does Mongolianness necessarily represent Chineseness? This paper, aided by prior fieldwork and current research, discusses how China uses cultural artifacts of its ethnic minorities to project an image of a culturally unified and harmonious state on the global stage, an image that is negotiated and disputed by outside actors. The paper will use the dispute of who owns Khoomei as a case study to illuminate the politics of state ownership of music and the translation to state control of a people, their history, and their culture.
“Composing racial diversity in Israel” (Mili Leitner)
Israel’s early years saw the conscious creation of a national popular music canon, facilitated by state sponsored institutions such as Kol Israel, the Music Inspectorate and IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) radio (Regev & Seroussi, 2004). Israel, as is common for the modern nation state, negotiated its identity through its cultural products, and seemingly defined itself as Ashkenazi and European. In the 1990s, an explosion of independent broadcasters established themselves in Israel, capitalizing on the newly available media of cable television channels and Internet radio stations. Their ability more accurately to represent and reflect the rapidly diversifying demographic makeup of Israel was evident in their economic success, and state-sponsored music institutions were forced to react by incorporating musical representations of non-Ashkenaz groups into their institutions’ output. I explore the rise of Musika Shachorah (“black music”) and its reception by African and Latino migrant worker communities and Ethiopian Israelis, as a case study of ethnically non-normative genres being incorporated into the Israeli mainstream. This super-genre, which includes Hebrew-language hip-hop, reggae and soul, gained traction as the nation’s black community expanded rapidly during the 1990s and 2000s. Musika Shachorah has been taken up by Ashkenazi Israelis, re-circulated into state-sponsored media such as IDF radio, and transformed to suit the national agenda as artists like Subliminal rap about Zionism and Jewish pride. Thus a new, diverse, state-sanctioned Israeli nation identity is emerging, illustrating the power of music and its commercial nature to bring about tangible changes in the nature of Israeliness.


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