Research



My research focuses on the interaction between music and politics during the Cold War, specifically as it shaped classical music in the United States. I have published a number of articles on this topic in books and academic journals (see Publications).

I have just completed my first book, titled The Sound of a Superpower: Musical Americanism and the Cold War, which will be published by Oxford University Press in Spring, 2017. It examines the effect of the Cold War on American art music composers, particularly those committed to creating an "American-sounding" music, who had dominated the scene during the 1930s and 1940s. The political zeitgeist of the 1950s presented great challenges to figures like Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, and others active on the political left, as McCarthyism took hold. Attacks on these leaders of the musical Americanism project, and the growing association between tonal nationalism and Soviet socialist realism, posed a grave threat to the style. Yet the Cold War also brought significant opportunities to the Americanists. Indeed, some of those whose politics were more centrist or right wing were able to thrive during the 1950s. At the same time, the U.S. government's interest in using American music to better the nation's international reputation gave composers opportunities to tour overseas (whether as composer-experts or as orchestral conductors) and to shape cultural diplomacy programs as advisers to various branches of government. I contend that these opportunities allowed American nationalists the chance to try to rebrand their style, so that it might survive in the new political and aesthetic climate. The effects of this rebranding shape the way we hear this music, and the tropes it engendered, today.

The Sound of a Superpower:
Musical Americanism and the Cold War

(forthcoming, Oxford University Press)
Virgil Thomson, Leonard Bernstein, Roy Harris,
William Schuman, Aaron Copland


I also study the ways in which music and national identity interact with the politics of race. Of particular interest to me is the African American composer Ulysses Kay. My 2013 publication on his 1976 opera Jubilee won the Kurt Weill Prize and the ASCAP Deems Taylor/Virgil Thomson Award.

I am now beginning a new project that examines the role of music in El Salvador's Civil War (1979-92) refugee camps. Folk music fulfilled numerous functions for refugees from this conflict, who fled to Honduras. It bore witness to horrific atrocities; it reinforced shared nationalist sentiments; it served as a tool of political protest, promoting alternatives to oligarchical rule; and it aided psychological recovery after intense trauma. Working with a team of scholars from a range of disciplines, including Media Studies, History, and Psychiatry, my work on music will contribute to an accessible history of the camps built on collaborative workshops with former residents of the camps.

A video of me talking about my research to a non-expert audience can be found here.