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Boston University
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Boston University
Department of Musicology and Ethnomusicology
School of Music, College of Fine Arts

Type of Program and Degrees Offered

Boston University offers an M.A. in Music with a specialization in ethnomusicology and Ph.D. in Musicology/Ethnomusicology. We are a department of the School of Music in the College of Fine Arts and affiliated with the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. In particular, we maintain close ties to anthropology, area studies, and musicology.

Program Statement

The program in Ethnomusicology at Boston began with the appointment of Professor Heimarck in 2006, with the graduate program approved the following year. In Fall 2008, Professor Steven Cornelius joined the program, teaching courses on Africa, ethnomusicology, and African drumming. Professor Abe joined the faculty in 2011, and founded the Global Music Lunchtime Concert Series, which showcases musicians, dancers, and performing artists steeped in folkloric, traditional, vernacular, and popular musics from the world over. Past performances include Vieux Farka Touré (Mali), Dakha Brakha (Ukraine), TaikoPROJECT (Japan/LA), Cimarrón (Colombia), the Nile Project, Boban Markovic (Serbia), Red Barrat (India/US), and (Ethiopia). Professor Birenbaum Quintero joined the ethnomusicology faculty in 2014, and he has worked closely with Heimarck and Abe to expand the curriculum and refine the requirements. Also in 2014, Professor Miki Kaneda joined the faculty and offered courses of interest to both the musicology and ethnomusicology areas, such as music and electricity. In 2016, Rachana Vajjhala joined the faculty offering courses on music and gesture, as well as interdisciplinary connections between history, performance, and literature.

Situated within a major research university, we offer an integrated program that benefits from the close relationship with our musicology faculty. Seminars provide intellectual inquiry for ethnomusicology and musicology graduate students, along with peers from diverse disciplines. The ethnomusicology curriculum is supplemented by graduate studies in anthropology, foreign languages, religion, Asian studies, African studies, Latin American studies, and other related disciplines. Our graduate degrees are designed to give students the disciplinary grounding, theoretical understanding, critical tools, applied musical understanding, and research skills needed to become ethnomusicologists of the highest caliber.

BU is an active member of the Boston area ethnomusicology scene and, in collaboration with area colleagues, Professor Heimarck founded the 
bostonethno.org website to further communication and collaboration between Boston area ethnomusicology programs. Professor Heimarck served as the President of the Northeast Chapter for the Society for Ethnomusicology (2010-2013). Professor Abe served as Vice President of the Northeast Chapter for the Society for Ethnomusicology (2013-2016), Council Member for the Society for Ethnomusicology (2013-2016), and a co-organizer of Musics Abroad Seminar series at Harvard's Mahindra Center for the Humanities. Professor Birenbaum Quintero has served as Member-at-large of the Northeast Chapter for the Society for Ethnomusicology (2011-2013), Council Member for the Society for Ethnomusicology (2004-7, 2014-17), and Member of the Society for Ethnomusicology Strategic Planning Committee (2016-). 

Boston offers a unique confluence of rigorous academic pursuits combined with diverse arts and culture, making it a rich site for our students to explore the many dimensions of fieldwork.

 Special Resources

A substantial world music collection of instruments: drums and percussion for Colombian currulao and gaita, Cuban batá and rumba, Puerto Rican plena, and Afro-Peruvian music; 3 quartets of Balinese gender wayang (paired xylophones); African drums from Ghana and Senegal; Indian classical instruments: bansuri (flutes), harmoniums, deluxe tabla, mridangam, tanpuras; and Persian santur. Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center with special collections in the Mugar Library (including significant documents for Charles Keil, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat Hentoff, Cab Calloway, Martin Luther King Jr., and many others); BU Center for the Study of Asia (BUCSA); Center for Latin American Studies, African American Studies Program, American and New England Studies Program, African Studies Library; African Presidential Archives and Research Center (APARC); International Center for East Asian Archaeology and Cultural History; Institute for the Study of Muslim Societies and Civilizations; Editorial Institute; Humanities Foundation; Dakar Senegalese Studies Program for six weeks in summer introduces students to Senegalese culture through West African drumming and dance. BU also has numerous study abroad programs throughout Europe that include music. Students enrolled at Boston University may take courses at Boston College, Brandeis University, Hebrew College, and Tufts University via the 1972 Inter-University Cross Registration Consortium.

Full-Time Faculty in Ethnomusicology

Marié Abe. Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley.  Assistant Professor, School of Music, College of Fine Arts, affiliated with the BU Center for the Study of Asia, American and New England Studies Program, African Studies Center.  Japanese popular performing arts, music and social movements, street music, public space, accordion and immigration histories in California, sound studies, human geography, music and affect, and race and migration.

Michael Birenbaum Quintero. Ph.D., New York University. Assistant Professor, School of Music, College of Fine Arts, affiliated with Latin American Studies and African American Studies. Latin America and the Caribbean, Colombia. Currulao and other music of Colombia’s black Southern Pacific region. Blackness in Latin America, modernity, folklore and nationalism in Latin America, social movements, neoliberalism, violence, sound studies, cultural policy, technology.  

Brita Heimarck. Ph.D., Cornell University. Associate Professor, School of Music, College of Fine Arts, with a joint appointment in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, affiliated with the BU Center for the Study of Asia. Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Balinese gender wayang (shadow play music), local discourses, music editions, modernization, yogic traditions and sacred music practices of India, geographies of the sacred, post-secularization, global networks related to American communities, local contexts, hybrid formations, American individualism. Heimarck is currently Co-Chair of a new section of the International Council for Traditional Music entitled, ICTM Study Group on Music and Allied Arts of Greater South Asia (2016-present).

Miki Kaneda. Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley. Assistant Professor (Musicology and Ethnomusicology), School of Music, College of Fine Arts.  Research interests include intermedia art in postwar Japan, sonic and visual arts, transnational flows of experimental music, graphic scores, art and the everyday, media ecologies, politics and culture.

Affiliated Faculty

Victor Coelho. Ph.D. University of California, Los Angeles. Chair of the Department of Musicology and Ethnomusicology and Professor of Musicology. Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Italian music, lute music, African-American music, popular music, colonialism and cross-cultural perspectives. 

André de Quadros.  M.Ed., Ed.D., La Trobe University. Chair of the Music Education Department and Professor of Music Education. Conductor, ethnomusicologist, music educator, writer, and human rights activist, has conducted choirs and undertaken research in over forty countries around the globe.

Joshua Rifkin. Honorary Doctorate, University of Dortmund. University Professor in Musicology. Bach interpretation, Renaissance music, ragtime, folk, Scott Joplin.

Andrew Shenton. Ph.D. Harvard University. James R. Houghton Scholar of Sacred Music, joint appointment at the School of Theology; Associate Professor and Director of the Master of Sacred Music Program. Music and religion, performance practice, twentieth-century music, Olivier Messiaen.

Rachana Vajjhala. Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley. Assistant Professor of Musicology. French music of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with a focus on the relationships between music and dance, the music of Chopin, and interdisciplinary connections between history, performance, and literature.

Jeremy Yudkin. Ph.D. Stanford University. Professor of Musicology. Medieval music, Miles Davis, the Beatles, and jazz.

Financial Support

Graduate students apply to the doctoral program either with a master’s degree or in a Post-Bachelor route. Students accepted into the program can expect to receive up to five years of funding, comprising a full tuition scholarship and a yearly stipend (currently $22,500/yr).  Graduate students usually have teaching responsibilities (as a Teaching Fellow or Teaching Assistant) for 4 of these semesters. In addition, the Department supports student conference and research travel, and there are other sources for funding on campus through the BU Center for the Humanities, The BU Arts Initiative, and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Program Focus

We are committed to a primacy of scholarship, enriched through performance. Faculty specializations include the music and culture of Southeast Asia (specifically Bali, Indonesia), South Asia, the music of black populations of Latin America and the Caribbean (particularly Colombia), Japanese popular performing arts, global accordion music, and diverse forms of American music. Theoretical interests include cultural policy, social movements, sound studies, technology, race, music and violence, discourses on music, modernization, music editions, geographies of the sacred, post-secularization, globalization, local contexts, diasporic groups, hybridity, critical cultural theory, politics of space and sound, and cultural advocacy. We offer core seminars in ethnomusicology that introduce the history of the discipline, research methods, and musical ethnographies, and special topics courses that investigate diverse interrelations such as music and social protest, music and race, music and ritual, music and mysticism. World music ensembles include Afro-Latin American (Colombian currulao and gaita, Cuban batá and rumba, Puerto Rican plena, Afro-Peruvian), Balinese gender wayang, music of India, Omnivorous Global Music ensemble, and African dance and drumming. We enjoy a close affiliation with the musicology faculty, who have strong research interests in popular music and jazz. We also benefit from a large and prestigious anthropology faculty who offer numerous courses relevant to our graduate students.

Further Information

Dr. Brita Heimarck, Associate Professor, Boston University, School of Music, 855 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA, 02215. (617) 378-5591; Email: britaheimarck@gmail.com

Program Website


Ethnomusicology Student Group

The Boston University Music Society (BUMS), a graduate student association for academic research in the fields of Musicology, Ethnomusicology, and Music Theory. Website: http://www.people.bu.edu/bums/

Related Websites

Bulletin: http://www.bu.edu/bulletins/grs/item32.html

Boston Ethno: http://www.bostonethno.org

African Studies Center: http://www.bu.edu/africa

Center for the Study of Asia: http://www.bu.edu/asian

Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center: http://www.bu.edu/dbin/archives


The content for Boston University was last updated November 8, 2017.

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