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University of British Columbia
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University of British Columbia

Type of Program and Degrees Offered

We are part of a School of Music (Conservatory) and offer the M.A. and Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology. Undergraduates can concentrate in ethnomusicology to a certain degree through a major stream we call “music scholarship.” We are affiliated with all music disciplines—performance and scholarship—as well as strongly linked to the Asian studies and anthropology departments.

Program Statement

We are a small and scrappy ethnomusicology program located within the UBC School of Music, which is the major such school in Western Canada. The School as a whole prides itself on its excellent faculty and harmonious, supportive working environment. Out of 25 full-time faculty spread across eight divisions (Theory, Historical Musicology, Ethnomusicology, Composition, Voice/Opera, Strings, (other) Orchestral Instruments, and Keyboards) there are two full-time ethnomusicologists, Profs. Nathan Hesselink and Michael Tenzer.

The program is designed to educate scholars and performers both to teach and to engage with the shifting lines of inquiry and methodological debates that define the field; we accommodate interests in ethnomusicology’s wide range of geographic areas and intellectual issues. We strongly encourage performance, close interaction with related disciplines (Anthropology, Area Studies, Sociology, Linguistics, etc.), as well as border crossing within music. We also have a strong focus on music theory and analysis.

We strive for balance among diverse aspects of ethnomusicology by stressing performance, music transcription, theory and analysis, social and intellectual history, and contemporary social practice equally. We collaborate regularly with music theory, historical musicology, and composition divisions in the School of Music, and are linked to Area Studies and other departments across the university. Our goal for every student is to communicate our dedication to and love for the musics of the world, and to encourage original, critical, and constructive writing on music that will enable graduates to contribute actively to scholarship, education, and the cultures of world musics around us. The ethnomusicology students and faculty comprise a small community, but our time together is intense and vibrant, and excellent work is being done.

We offer a range of undergraduate courses with titles or topics such as: World Music Cultures, Musical Rhythm and Human Experience, (various) Area Studies in Music, Indian Rhythm, Popular Music, Music Fusions, and others. Graduate classes include the core Ethnomusicology seminar, Cross-Cultural Interactions, Ethnography and Representation, Musical Periodicity, Human Musicality, Categories of Musical Thought, and others.

We often invite prominent ethnomusicologists as guests for lectures and interaction. Recent visitors include Marc Perlman, Bruno Nettl, Ellen Koskoff, Nathalie Fernando, Mark Slobin, Simha Arom, Dana Rappoport, Joshua Pilzer, Philip Yampolsky, and others.

Lastly, we are situated in Vancouver, a beautiful, sparkling city that is a gold mine of world traditions. Once here, few wish to leave.

Special Resources

Musical instrument sets include a full Balinese gamelan semaradana, Korean p’ungmul drums and gongs, Ghanaian drums, and a Chinese silk and bamboo orchestra. We also have a Javanese slendro gamelan, and a large collection of berimbau (Brazil). All ensembles are led by instructors or professors with extensive performance experience. There is also a second, community Balinese gamelan group, Gita Asmara. All ensembles often include long standing community members who bring extra cohesion and skill to the experience of participating. Many other kinds of music and groups (expert Indian classical musicians, a Persian music club, etc.) are active on campus if not directly affiliated with us. We have a lively scene for composers with many kinds of intercultural music making going on in the area.

The ethnomusicology division resides in the recently renovated Old Auditorium building on campus, directly across a courtyard from the School of Music. We have a student lounge and seminar room area with computer facilities adjacent to faculty offices. Instruments and ensembles practice across the street at the Asian Centre. Special Resources include the Music Library’s books, journals, and recordings; the large Asian Library; an Anglo-Canadian folk music collection; and collections in the Museum of Anthropology (especially Northwest Coast).

Full-Time Faculty in Ethnomusicology

Nathan Hesselink. Ph.D. (University of London, SOAS). Professor, Ethnomusicology. rhythmic play and social meaning, entrainment, British popular musics, South Korean folk music

Michael Tenzer. Ph.D. (University of California, Berkeley). Professor, Ethnomusicology. analytical studies, biomusicology, composition, rhythm, Bali, India, Africa, jazz

Affiliated Faculty

Gage Averill. Ph.D. (University of Washington, Seattle). Dean of Arts and Professor, Ethnomusicology. Haitian and North American vernacular musics, music and politics, recording and archives

J.S. Kofi Gbolonyo. Ph.D (University of Pittsburgh). Lecturer, Ethnomusicology and African Studies. Director, UBC African Music and Dance. West African traditional music and dance, Ewe indigenous knowledge, language and culture, Orff-Schulwerk pedagogy, multicultural music education, Ghanaian brass band and choral music

Alan Thrasher. Ph.D. (Wesleyan University). Professor Emeritus, Ethnomusicology. Chinese instrumental music, Chinese music theory, semiotics, organology, performance practice

Financial Support


A range of financial support is available, and for successful students, it is usually full from the second year onwards. In the first year, we provide Graduate Entrance Scholarships, which offer partial support, though full packages may be available for exceptional applicants.

Thereafter several kinds of support come into play. We have had excellent success in procuring these for our students:

Research and teaching assistantships are also available. 

Further Information

For information on admissions procedures (including TOEFL), please contact Juliet O'Keefe: musicadm@interchange.ubc.ca

For all other inquiries related to ethnomusicology, please contact professors Hesselink or Tenzer.
Nathan Hesselink. Office 604-827-3259, Room Old Aud 206.: n.hesselink@ubc.ca

Michael Tenzer. Office 604-822-3405, Room Old Aud 206: michael.tenzer@ubc.ca

Program Website


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The content for University of British Columbia was last updated November 8, 2017.

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