I am an ethnomusicologist who studies American music and culture. My regional focus is the southern U.S., including rural areas and spaces of rural-urban interface. I study music and social life. How does music facilitate interaction between strangers or collaboration across lines of difference? How can music be used as a form of self-expression, resistance, or community cohesion? What does paying attention to soundscapes teach us about our social and cultural worlds?
These are the kinds of questions that motivate ethnomusicologists. We start with music or sound and then ask questions about its content and context. Music guides us through explorations of identity, taste, ethics, difference, social interaction, memory, and belonging. We examine music in everyday life, made by everyday people, not just megastars. Through this lens, ethnomusicologists are deeply concerned with participation: music isn’t just an object, it’s very importantly an activity. It’s something we do. As I step outside of my field and teach in the Engagements program, I bring with me some of the same concerns. I help students explore how big questions inflect everyday life and how we are all active participants in culture-making, capable of engaging, influencing, challenging, and celebrating the world around us.
My first experience teaching was with incarcerated teenagers in a wilderness setting. My students would write slam poetry about cloud types while sitting around a camp fire or study rock formations as we relied on collaboration and problem solving to navigate rugged terrain. This was a formative experience, one that motivated my excitement about the Engagements, a program that is also interested in crossing the boundaries of classroom environments, of academic discipline, and of creative methodology. I believe that this is when the greatest learning can occur: when we are active and collaborative participants in our learning, deeply engaged in the world immediately around us in order to think in limitless ways.