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View abstracts for the current dissertations in progress by graduate students in the Department of Music. Learn more about our illustrious alumni and past dissertations at this database, developed by current student, Erin Pratt. And to find full dissertations, please visit the UNC Music Library’s website.


ken tianyuan Ge
“Unmoored: Musical Labor and Affect in the Global Cruise Industry”
(under the direction of Andrea Bohlman)

“Unmoored” is an interdisciplinary dissertation that refracts the subject of musical labor in contemporary cruise ship tourism through the ethnomethodological lens of affect studies. The cruise ship has long figured as a point of theoretical and empirical interest for scholars of tourism, post/neocoloniality, post-Fordist political economies, globalization, Blackness, labor mobilities, environmental justice, and the oceanic. Obscured by its transdisciplinary splay, though, is a common interest in liquidity—as capitalist ideal, social form, and material property—that has yet to be synthesized. My dissertation critiques the diffuse, multi-scalar problematic of liquidity from the bottom-up perspective of itinerant music work: using an affective approach to ethnography, and conversely, an ethnographic feel for affect theory, I think with a globally-distributed cast of interlocutors toward understanding how the condition of being split across land and sea—of being unmoored—organizes a set of attachments significantly compromised by oceanic dislocation. Over six chapters, I explore distinct modalities, archives, and fieldsites of unmooring: seasickness in cruise criticism and marketing, darkness among Anglophone showband musicians, underwhelm in Floridian retirement communities, cool in Filipino labor politics, hypovigilance in circum-Caribbean hiring practices, and deferral amidst cruising’s pandemic shutdown. Together, these complicate an infrastructure of feeling (Berlant 2022; Williams 1977) that I call the “oceanic postcolonial”: that which remains in the fallout of neoliberal flexibilization and Western cultural hegemony driving cruise entertainment’s global “race to the bottom,” distilling into a precarious ordinary for seafaring musicians. Throughout my analysis, Western pop music—the “communicative hegemon” (Ng 2006) of transnational entertainment—operates as the ethnographic and hermeneutic soundtrack through which I produce a specifically musicological intervention into the study of affect, labor, and global postcoloniality in the contemporary moment.

Tara Jordan
“‘Mi, Monastir’: Remembrance and Reconstruction of Interwar Monastir’s Jewish Musical Life.”
(under the direction of Michael Figueroa)

On March 11, 1943, Monastir’s Jews were forced from their homes and deported to Treblinka, where they were all killed in the gas chambers on the morning of April 5, destroying a Jewish community that had been established nearly 500 years prior. Today, the remaining communities of Monastirli Jews can only be found in New York City, Rochester, Indianapolis, and Jerusalem. These small pockets of Monastirli immigrants spread throughout the world are all that remains of the formerly thriving Jewish community of Monastir (today known as Bitola, North Macedonia). Doubly exiled, from the Iberian Peninsula and from the city of Monastir, where 300 Sephardim began to rebuild their lives following their expulsion from Spain and Portugal, these Monastirlis are forced to contend with the legacy of the near-total destruction of their Jewish community by the mass deportations of Jews under the Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia. How do historians study these destroyed societies, and, specifically for my research, how do we recover cultural artifacts, like music, that have overwhelmingly been lost to time? My dissertation grapples with this historiographical question by reconstructing the musical life of Monastir after the city left the Ottoman empire (1912) until its destruction, revealing larger linguistic, religious, and secular trends of this formerly thriving Sephardic center that remains at the fringes of Jewish Studies scholarship.

Through a combination of historical, archival research and ethnographic interviews with members of the Monastirli diaspora in the United States and Israel, I aim to rebuild the musical life of Jewish Monastir during the interwar years, once it was no long under Ottoman control. Areas of focus include the romance tradition of the city, featuring such songs as “Espinelo” and “El Cid en las Cortes,” the musical practices of Monastirli synagogues, and the revolutionizing of Monastirli musical life after the founding of Zionist groups following World War I led to the creation of Zionist brass bands, youth orchestras, and choirs. In so doing, I will contribute to the growing body of scholarship on Sephardic musics prior to the second World War and the subsequent founding of the State of Israel, filling in the margins of the field by focusing on this small yet flourishing community.

Zhizhi (Stella) Li
“The Mundane Pageantries: Radio and Ritual in Pre-War Japan, 1925–1937”
(under the direction of Andrea Bohlman)

Since the first broadcast in March 1925, Japanese radio welcomed the rapid increase of listeners in step with the quick spread of the technology. It was also during this time that a growing ideal of a modern, powerful nation arose on both sides of the radio receiver. My dissertation studies the intersection between radio and ideology by looking at how radio produced and implemented rituals that contributed to the formation of modern ideologies. I suggest that within the historical context of pre-war Japan, radio as a sonic practice created, deployed, and reproduced participatory rites and in the process composed the material existence of Japanese state ideology. By thinking interdisciplinarily across various domains including music, history, media, space, and religion through the common thread of sound, I ask 1) how rituals were sonically mediated through radio and 2) how radio listening itself became a ritual practice.

Sarah Lindmark
“From Jukebox to DJ: Dance, Desire, Technology and Liberation in Manhattan’s Gay Discotheques, 1968–1974”
(under the direction of Mark Katz)

My dissertation examines the transition from jukeboxes to DJs in Manhattan’s gay bars and discotheques from 1968 to 1974. I argue that the decline of the jukebox industry was an activating force in the rise of the dance club DJ, a figure that would come to dominate dance floors across the United States by the end of the 1970s. Over this period, jukeboxes grew undesirable both to patrons and venue owners: they cost patrons to use and often had outdated music selections, they could only play shorter-length songs from 45 rpm singles, and in many cases were forced upon clubs by New York’s organized crime families.

DJs, however, offered something that no jukebox could provide: the continuous playback of thematically curated music that facilitated cruising, a secretive facet of gay sociality that flourished in reciprocity with disco culture. My dissertation focuses on the relationship between music, dancing, and sexuality at the intersection of science and technology studies, gender and sexuality studies, and musicology, engaging with existing discourse on the history of DJing and disco culture (Echols 2010, Lawrence 2003, and Shapiro 2015) the interpretive flexibility and closure of technologies (Bijker, Hughes, and Pinch 2012) and world-making and utopian imaginings on the queer dance floor (Buckland 2002, Garcia-Mispireta 2023). Alongside interviews with 1970s bar and club patrons, I analyze Andrew Holleran’s 1978 novel Dancer from the Dance, advertisements, bar guides, and reviews from lesbian and gay entertainment and activist periodicals from in New York City, articles and advertisements from music and coin machine industry magazines such as Billboard and Cash Box, and legal documents from the FBI’s investigation of the Genovese crime family, bringing these disparate sources together to form a mosaic-like history of cultural and technological change in Manhattan’s discotheque scene. My investigation of the overlap and transition from jukeboxes to DJs on some of Mahattan’s early discotheque dance floors reveals that the shortcomings of the jukebox provided some of the conditions of possibility for the emergence of the DJ’s profession and practice.

The University of Michigan Symphony Band’s 1961 Tour and the Role of Wind Bands in Cold War Musical Diplomacy”
(under the direction of Mark Katz)
In 1961, the University of Michigan Symphony Band embarked upon the longest U.S. State Department–sponsored tour in history. The 94 musicians traveled throughout the Soviet Union, Middle East, and Eastern Europe, playing 71 concerts in 30 cities from February to June. With this tour as the basis, this dissertation inserts wind bands of the concert tradition into the discourse of Cold War musical diplomacy. While symphony orchestras, ballet troupes, and jazz ensemble tours are well represented in the scholarly literature on Cold War musical diplomacy, wind bands have largely been excluded. I argue that wind bands performed a unique diplomatic function distinct from other ensembles because of: 1) their appeal to non-elite audiences, 2) their ability to perform outside and in large venues, and 3) their variety of repertoire from popular to classical. With these distinct qualities, wind bands were able to broaden their diplomatic reach to diverse audiences. The University of Michigan Symphony Band’s tour illuminates the role of wind bands to serve on behalf of the U.S. through musical diplomacy during the Cold War era.

Briana M. Nave
“Anatomy of a Musician: The Modernist Medicalization of Musical Talent in the United States (1915–1941)”
(under the direction of David Garcia)

Following new discoveries in the natural sciences and psychology, adoption of scientism in the early twentieth century Western world was so totalizing that even the humanities and arts were impacted. One of the major forces of this movement was the turn to psychological and medical explanations of human experience, including creative behavior, deviant behavior, and physical and mental illnesses. Experimenters strove to develop scientific ways of measuring these experiences. Concurrently and co-constitutively, there was also a drive in the early twentieth century to develop measurable standards of normal ability and atypically high ability, the latter often referred to as “talent,” as in W.E.B. Du Bois’s “Talented Tenth,” (1903), or in the psycho-musical experiments of Carl Emil Seashore from the 1910s–30s. The medical model of disability is a well-developed discourse in disability studies, but I extend the concept here to encompass talent, commonly conceived as the polar opposite point of disability on a spectrum of ability. Through the psychological and sociological experiments of the early twentieth century, music served as a prominent metric of innate disability, normality, and talent, which became embodied and medicalized in individuals. In the context of the United States, this medical model of musical talent was used to naturalize notions of racial and class hierarchy amid fears of social restructuring at a time of significant immigration, expanding industrialization, and a new global cultural importance of the United States in the aftermath of World War I. My dissertation takes the medical model of musical talent for its subject, engaging speculative and narrative historical methods, disability studies, and medical humanities in interrogating how ideas of innate, inherited, and immutable super-ability in music became fixed in scientific, institutional, and popular culture domains of American life.

Sierriana Terry
“Blerds in Japan?: Aural Blackness in Japanese Anime”
(under the direction of David Garcia)

You turn on the television and the first thing you see is Samurai Champloo (2004), an anime series set in historical Japan with a breakdancing swordsman fighting as hip-hop music plays in the background. For Black American anime fans, this anime was the first to juxtapose Japanese and Black American cultures. Within fan culture, specifically Blerd (Black Nerd) culture, what is the construction and reception of these non-Japanese sonic and visual aesthetics amongst online forums and convention discussions? How does this and other similar Japanese anime function as a medium to express Black ideological and societal values through such decidedly non-Japanese sonic and visual aesthetics? My dissertation examines the roles of music genres (e.g. jazz, hip hop, Western classical music) as musical settings that show the complexities of racial discourse in Japanese media and their interpretations through Blerd culture. Exploring anime series produced between the early 2000s and the late 2010s, I examine the racial discourse based on a character’s aural and visual appearance in anime through the lens of Blerdness in Blerd spaces. I argue that Black sonic and visual expressions produced by Japanese animation studios in anime series (re)construct new and/or currently existing representations of Japaneseness in conjunction with representations of Blackness and Whiteness. Using critical methodologies from animation and multimedia studies, I employ ethnographic work to understand the viewer’s construction and reception of Black musical motifs and visual icons and symbols of fictional Japans with (re)imagined histories and presented through the lens of Blerd culture.

Kendall Winter
“Suffragist and Antisuffragist Music and Sound in the United States, 1867-1920”
(under the direction of Annegret Fauser)

Music, songs, and sound were powerful tools that individuals and groups on opposing sides of the woman suffrage debate enlisted to influence lawmakers, voters, and disenfranchised women. Suffragists sang new lyrics to borrowed melodies and commissioned works that aided in the construction of their identity as patriotic citizens deserving of the right to vote. Like the movement itself, the resultant music is coded so that the deserving patriotic citizenry is narrowly conceived along racial and classed lines. My dissertation suggests that the use of musical signifiers of whiteness, wealth, education, and nationality was not just the result of vanity, ignorance, or malice on the side of the white, upper-class women who drove the campaign. I argue that this problematic, albeit effective, self-fashioning was also a defensive reaction to the characterizations of suffragists coming from antisuffragists, whose music and songs are replete with offensive connotations of the Other on the same axes of identity. This latter body of music has been neglected in musicological scholarship to date. My dissertation places these two musical repertoires in dialogue in four case studies that span the duration of the American women’s suffrage movement. In so doing, I uncover a previously undertheorized, embattled sonic characterization of women’s suffrage and its supporters.