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View abstracts for the current dissertations in progress by graduate students in the Department of Music. To view a list of completed dissertations and abstracts, click here. And to find full dissertations, please visit the UNC Music Library’s website.


Amanda Black
“Sonic Gentrification: Tourism, Periphery, and Privilege in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico”
(under the direction of David Garcia)

As the people of the state of Guanajuato, Mexico, face a new reality of unprecedented violence, tourism continues to be a pillar of the economy. Many scholars have delved into the topic of tourism and its exacerbating effects on inequality. Geographers have theorized the articulations between gentrification and tourism, while ethnomusicologists have examined the role of musicians in creating touristic environments in the Caribbean. In the case of San Miguel de Allende, population 161,000, historians and sociologists have examined the arrival of US Americans to what was once a small mountain town. The uninterrupted international media acclaim for San Miguel as the “Best City to Visit” belies the significant problems related to inequality in the city, including water scarcity, extreme income inequality, and crime. Scholarship has yet to analyze the long-term cultural effects of relative deprivation for locals in the face of tourists’ and new residents’ privileged access to and control over cultural events, space, and the sounds shaping their city. I argue that sound and music may be molded, instrumentalized, and controlled so as to weave gentrification and inequality into the social fabric of a city. My research examines the ways in which the combined forces of tourism, US immigration, and gentrification shape the musical, cultural, and sonic boundaries of the city of San Miguel. I employ an ethnographic and multimedia approach to document cross-genre sound difference between the center and periphery, and examine local musical and sound responses to cultural displacement, especially the emergence of hip hop.

Michael Carlson
“‘Musica fatta spirituale’: Aquilino Coppini, Claudio Monteverdi, and Madrigal Contrafacts in Early Seventeenth-Century Milan”
(under the directions of Annegret Fauser and Tim Carter)

Between 1607 and 1609, the Milanese professor of rhetoric, Aquilino Coppini (d. 1629), published three volumes of spiritual contrafacts, mostly of madrigals by Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643). Musicologists have already noted some of the ingenuities of Coppini close readings of Monteverdi’s music, but have treated them as an interesting yet inconsequential footnote. My dissertation offers a necessary reappraisal of Coppini’s approach to contrafacts both by contextualizing his project within post-Tridentine spiritualities in Milan under its new archbishop. Cardinal Federico Borromeo, and by reading his texts and their musical consequences far more carefully than has hitherto been the case.

Informed by archival research and interdisciplinary approaches to music, literature, art, and religious studies, my close reading of these works demonstrates new intertextualities that connect a network of Humanists linked by a highly elaborate form of Milanese syncretism joining the sacred and the secular. Coppini’s contrafacts place Monteverdi’s music within a Milanese constellation of texts (musical, artistic, and literary) that sought to confront the rapidly changing world of the early seventeenth century. I argue that they provide a first-hand account of how Monteverdi’s madrigals were heard by reading them through the lens of Coppini’s rhetorical and poetic practices based on his own syncretic sense of religious affectivity. He catered both to secular audiences and to those in religious institutions, not least convents. It also becomes clear that Coppini must reconstruct texts that Monteverdi first deconstructed, which requires attention to musical rhetoric and not just oratory, prompting new analytical readings of the original madrigals themselves. My approach challenges the typical narratives of “Counter Reformation” contrafacts as didactic instruments of power to create a more nuanced view of works that served not just Coppini’s personal and professional needs, but also broader communities seeking new ways to perform their spiritual lives.

Alexandra Kori Hill
“A Creation of Tradition: New Negro Modernism in the Concertos of Florence B. Price”
(under the direction of Mark Katz)

African American composer Florence B. Price (1887–1953) is best known as the first Black woman whose symphony was premiered by a major orchestra. But Price’s impact on American classical music and Black cultural life extended beyond that exciting day in 1933. Through her more than 40–year musical career, Price developed a style built upon western classical and African American folk idioms, part of a compositional school aimed at establishing a Black folk aesthetic. This has led to descriptions of her style as neo/Afro-Romantic, an extension of the exceedingly popular music nationalisms of the mid–late nineteenth century.

However, Price’s aesthetic also reflects an area of artistic expression and theorizing that requires more critical study in 20th century Black music analyses: New Negro modernism (1890s–1960s). My dissertation looks at Price’s three concertos—Concerto in One Movement (1934), Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major (1939), and Violin Concerto No. 2 (1952) —as examples of New Negro modernist expression. New Negro modernists like Price focused on the (re)creation of tradition, building a corpus of symphonies, concertos, art songs, and concert spirituals that showed the specificity and consistency of a Black vernacular-classical aesthetic. As each concerto showcases Price’s stylistic precedents, they also showcase experimentation; idiosyncrasies of form, harmonic character, and melodic development illustrate the multiple ways Black music idioms could operate in conjunction with established features of the concerto genre. Studying Price’s concertos in the context of New Negro modernism expands our comprehension of her stylistic contributions to American classical music, Black creative life, and US vernacular-classical traditions.

Grace Kweon
“Music for the Struggle by Asian Americans: Performing Race, Activism, and Community, 1968-1975”
(under the direction of Andrea F. Bohlman)

The Asian American Movement (AAM) was a social movement for racial justice in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s that led to the creation of an “Asian American” collective consciousness. To study how music figured in this identity construction, my research examines the activities and products of Yellow Pearl, an Asian American folk trio formed in 1970 by three New York–based activists of the AAM. I will utilize archives of event flyers, meeting notes, photographs, press articles, and correspondence relevant to Yellow Pearl to understand how notions of Asian Americanness created music and was generated by musical performance. I also interrogate how the medium of records, sheet music, and live concerts forged or limited musical networks within the AAM. I focus on this moment of Asian American history to examine the robust disagreements and discussions about the racial and political constructions of Asian American identity. Through my research, I hope to uncover a musical network of listeners and participants and analyze how they mediated music into different cultural products. I bring together musical scholarship on Asian Americans that has been ethnographic and historical by looking at this moment, which has powerful resonance in living memory, but my project is driven through archival work. This study foregrounds the musical activism of Asian Americans as an example of how coalitional politics and musical communities intersected in a moment of racial and political turmoil in US-American history.

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.

Eduardo Tadafumi Sato
“Modernist Crossings in Brazilian Music, 1910–1954”
(under the direction of Annegret Fauser)

During the first half of the twentieth century, Brazilian music was an object of scrutiny in Brazil and elsewhere. The disputes that swirled around the meanings of Brazilian music formed part of the process of emancipation from the nation’s colonial and imperial pasts, as musicians and intellectuals built the country’s cultural foundation. They addressed, among other things, the citizenship of composers and performers, the styles and genres derived from vernacular music of the territory, and the racial, gendered, and ethnic constructs of its population. My dissertation examines this process through a transnational lens, exploring how Brazilian music was recurrently negotiated in the context of transatlantic travels by following the routes of travelers who listened, performed, recorded, and wrote about music and sounds. By examining border crossings from multiple perspectives—those of Brazilians traveling elsewhere as well as Europeans and North Americans visiting Brazil—I will intervene critically in current discussions of travel, cultural circulations, and transnational flow. I focus on a period that includes tumultuous geopolitical situations both in Brazil and abroad, such as the Estado Novo and both World Wars. This was also a time of an accelerated development of mobility and sound technologies, and of the emergence of transnational networks of academic institutions. All of these affected the knowledge produced on music and on nation. I draw on extensive archival research as a practice of what I call “writing from the border,” a strategy aimed at disrupting colonial and national hegemonic systems of narrating history. Furthermore, I contribute to the literature on decolonial histories of music that rethink notions of the West, of the Global North, and of centers and peripheries.

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.