My research considers the interaction between music and politics during the Cold War, For many years now I have studied the effect of the ideological conflict on classical music in the United States: I also consider how those effects continue to shape popular culture today. I have published a book and a number of articles on this topic in books and academic journals (see Publications). Areas of interest to me within my Cold War research include musical nationalism, cultural diplomacy, musicians’ work with government and governments’ work with musicians, the political associations of music-stylistic choices, protest music, and music and trauma.
I also study the ways in which music and national identity interact with the politics of race. Of particular interest to me is the African American composer Ulysses Kay. My 2013 publication on his 1976 opera Jubilee won the Kurt Weill Prize and the ASCAP Deems Taylor/Virgil Thomson Award.
I am now beginning a new community-based research project that examines the role of music in El Salvador’s Civil War (1979-92) refugee camps. Folk music fulfilled numerous functions for refugees from this conflict, many of whom fled to Honduras. Music bore witness to horrific atrocities; it reinforced shared nationalist sentiments; it served as a tool of political protest, promoting alternatives to oligarchical rule; and it aided psychological recovery after intense trauma. In collaboration with an international team of scholars from a range of disciplines, including Media Studies, Hispanic Studies, and Psychiatry, and working horizontally with a large group of grassroots Salvadoran collaborators, I am helping to document the role of music in the camps through collaborative workshops with former residents of the camps and by building an online archive of revolutionary songs. A documentary about Salvadoran musician Norberto “Don Tito” Amaya, produced by Juan Bello and Triana Media as a part of the project with assistance from me and others, can be seen here. The website for the larger project is here.
A recent accessible article about this work, and its implications for our understanding of how humans use music in difficult times, was published in The Conversation and republished on the website of The World Economic Forum.
A video of me talking about my research on US music to a non-expert audience can be found here.