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Ethnomusicology

Ethnomusicology has a rich, prestigious history in the University, dating from the end of the 19th century when psychologist Charles Myers (founder of the Experimental Psychology Laboratory) joined the 1898 anthropological expedition to the Torres Straits. Myers went on to do pioneering work on perception in non-Western music. In the 1940s, the eminent ethnomusicologist Laurence Picken (also biologist and zoologist) began his research in Chinese, then Turkish music. Picken attracted research students from all over the world, and by the 1970s, Cambridge had become an international centre for ethnomusicology. In 1983, Ruth Davis, specialist in Tunisian and other Middle Eastern traditions, joined the Music Faculty as the University’s first designated appointment in Ethnomusicology.

Since then, music outside the Western canon has formed an integral part of the Faculty’s teaching and research. Ethnomusicology is sometimes taught in all three years of the BA Music degree, as a compulsory first year course and second and third year options. Some students choose to write dissertations based on original field work, often supported by College and Faculty travel grants. Ethnomusicology is an option within the M Phil in Music Studies, and a number of students proceed to the PhD. The graduate programme has attracted extremely talented research students in a wide range of music cultural areas, with former PhD students taking up college research fellowships and going on to teaching posts in the UK and abroad. Current and recent research areas include musical ethnography of Palestine in the 1930s, Yiddish song, Mukmalar of Turkmenistan, traditional music of the Bolivian Andes, Greek composers in Ottoman Turkey, the duduk of Armenia and the mey of Turkey, black women singers in South Africa and songs of Tibetan refugees in Nepal.

Resources for ethnomusicology in the Cambridge Music Faculty include facilities for transcription and analysis and portable equipment for field recording; a Javanese gamelan (gift of the Indonesian embassy) used regularly for performances and workshops; strong library collections of books & journals and commercial and field recordings in world music.

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