I am an ethnomusicologist who studies American music and culture. My primary focus is country music in all its various forms: honky-tonk, bluegrass, pop country, and others. Studying a kind of music that was historically ignored by the academy, and yet enjoys broad popularity, prompts important questions such as: what cultural forms are worthy of study? What is good music? How can music represent groups of people or ideas? How can music be used as a form of self-expression, resistance, or political stance?
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 the megastars whose music gets played on the radio. 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 join the Engagements program, I bring with me some of the same concerns. I hope to 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.