Innovation and Improvisation in São Paulo, Brazil

This July and August, I spent time in São Paulo, Brazil conducting follow-up research for my dissertation, “São Paulo Underground: Musical Innovation and Independent Cultural Production in Urban Brazilian Experimental Music Practice.” The project investigates an independently organized scene of experimentally oriented musicians from a variety of styles, ranging from hardcore punk to free improvisation to electroacoustic composition. Concerts principally feature live, collaborative improvisation (see photos below). Because of the participants’ diverse stylistic backgrounds, this results in an unpredictable, ever-changing series of sounds and performances on a day-to-day basis. This time around, the bulk of my field work consisted of speaking with musicians, conducting follow-up interviews, attending concerts, and seeing how the scene had developed since my primary research period in 2015–16. The real pleasure, however, came in simply spending time with the musicians for the first time in over a year. Much has changed in the Brazilian cultural and political spheres over the past 12 months, but it was good to see the scene going strong.

Márcio Gibson, Thiago Salas Gomes, Mariana Oliveira, and Alex Dias perform at the venue Ibrasotope.
Márcio Gibson, Thiago Salas Gomes, Mariana Oliveira, and Alex Dias perform at the venue Ibrasotope.
Rodrigo Brandão, Rogério Martins, Guilherme Granado, and Tulipa Ruiz perform at the venue Estúdio Fita Crepe. 
Rodrigo Brandão, Rogério Martins, Guilherme Granado, and Tulipa Ruiz perform at the venue Estúdio Fita Crepe.
Carla Boregas and Anelena Toku, members of the duo Fronte Violeta, perform a set at the venue Shuffle Bar. 
Carla Boregas and Anelena Toku, members of the duo Fronte Violeta, perform a set at the venue Shuffle Bar.

– James McNally

James McNally is a sixth-year PhD Candidate in Ethnomusicology. His research investigates the musical cultures of Brazil and the United States, with theoretical focuses on issues of cultural production, race and ethnicity, improvisation, urban studies, and gender and sexuality.  

Re-approaching a Hollywood Film Musical through 1950s Hong Kong Newspaper Advertisements

In early June this summer, I visited the Special Collections of the Hong Kong University Main Library, conducting archival research on the reception of particular Hollywood musical films and their Cantonese remakes through studying Hong Kong newspaper advertisements (in Chinese and English) from the 1950s. I was working on one of my three dissertation chapters on The Sorrowful Lute (Pipa yuan, 1957), a Cantonese remake of Love Me or Leave Me (1955), and I wanted to know more about how the remake made a cultural critique of the original by further moralizing the social status of cabaret singer.

A comparison between the Chinese and English advertisements of Love Me or Leave Me shows how the relationship between Ruth Etting (played by Doris Day) and Martin Snyder (played by James Cagney) is described with reference to different moral understandings of cabaret singers. The Chinese version includes notable elaboration (photo 1, lower half) on what Snyder has done for Etting, how Etting is unfaithful to Snyder, and why Snyder should be sympathized with, whereas the English version focuses on Snyder being exploitative toward Etting, which is best manifested in the caption “SHE WAS A NOBODY—HE WAS ‘MR. BIG’” (photo 2, upper middle), as well as in the depiction of Snyder holding Etting’s neck (photo 2, lower left). This provides some clues as to why, in The Sorrowful Lute, cabaret is viewed by all characters, including the female protagonist and the male antagonist, as morally and artistically inferior to Cantonese opera. Love Me or Leave Me and The Sorrowful Lute share the same Chinese title (i.e., Pipa yuan, see photos 1 and 3). One may wonder what Love Me or Leave Me has to do with the pipa, a Sinicized Chinese instrument; in fact, in early- and mid-twentieth-century Cantonese culture, pipa was a euphemism for those young prostitutes-to-be who sing well. In this sense, the aforementioned details about those advertisements contextualize or even affirm The Sorrowful Lute as a remake that takes culturally specific moral judgment about music performance in addition to textual faithfulness into account.

-Ho-chak Law

Ho-chak Law is a seventh-year doctoral candidate in Ethnomusicology. He is currently finishing a dissertation titled “Cinematizing China Performatively: Film, Chinese Opera, and the Articulation of National Identity.”

Summer in Prague

This summer I was awarded a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship by the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies to take an intensive two-month Czech language course at Charles University in Prague. The course was extremely helpful for me, as a heritage speaker, to round out my knowledge of Czech. Through the course I also got to know a number of other scholars interested in Czech studies from a number of different disciplines. Additionally, while abroad I had the opportunity to forge connections with the music theory community in the Czech Republic. Through discussions with Czech theorists I gained a perspective for how music theory in the Czech Republic was shaped by both its early 20th century authors in music theory and its more general political history, distinguishing it from both the United States and Germany.

-Kája Lill

Czech lang class
The 2017 Summer FLAS Prague class.


Kája Lill is a second-year PhD student in music theory. His interests include 20th century music and the history of music theory in early 20th century Central Europe. 

Feminist Theory and Music Conference in San Francisco

This past July, fellow music theory PhD candidate Steve Lett and I attended the Feminist Theory and Music (FTM) conference hosted by San Francisco State University. Featured in the same session, we presented papers centered on rethinking early feminist music theory’s contributions to our discipline. Steve’s paper was titled “Depoliticizing Experience: Music Theory after the Feminist Critique” and mine was titled “Philosophies of the Body in Feminine Endings: Historicizing the Feminist Roots of Music Theory’s Embodied Turn.”

Referencing the 1978 Maya Angelou poem “Still I Rise,” the conference theme “Still We Rise” threaded through diverse topics and formats. We attended papers on autoethnography of queer American spaces, trauma in recent productions of Strauss’s Salome, and indigenous feminisms from the Marshall Islands. In a workshop on South African protest music, we learned strategies for musical activism alongside musicologist Nicol Hammond who draws on her Apartheid-era experiences in her recent work. Two special sessions commemorated the passing of Pauline Oliveros and Geri Allen, two feminist icons in music. A third special session celebrated the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

FTM is a biennial conference organized by an unincorporated group of dedicated scholars. At the end of the conference, attendees were involved in a conversation about planning the next iteration of FTM. While these details are still in formation, Steve and I are already looking forward to attending in 2019!

-Vivian Luong

vs_photo 2
The Golden Gate Bridge enveloped in fog.

Vivian Luong is a music theory PhD candidate. She is currently working on her dissertation titled “Rethinking Music Loving with Ethnographies of Music Analysis.”

Steve Lett is a music theory PhD candidate. His dissertation titled “The Psychedelic Listener” explores how ideas about music’s role in psychedelic psychotherapy animated the practice of influential music therapist Helen L. Bonny.


The “Other” Patti, and Using as a Source for Archival Research


It’s certainly not a traditional starting place for research, but when it comes to studying nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century America, is an indispensable resource. In studying singers who performed opera in the American Old West, it has supplied me with documents including ship manifests, birth and death records, censuses, and wills and testaments. Such sources often confirm or refute anecdotal evidence that has become lore, provide new insights, and if the individual you’re studying happens to have living descendants, it’s not uncommon to benefit from the hard work of family genealogists. And all of this is available in one place, for the low monthly fee of $19.99. The “Shoebox” feature lets you easily save documents or lines of documents needed for reference, you can easily search adjacent or linked names in records, and each item is thoroughly documented in terms of its original source, roll, page number, etc. Throughout this short excerpt from my dissertation, * denotes the presence of a footnote whose source is


To see in action, let’s take, for example, the Italian-American soprano Carlotta Patti (1835*–1889). She’s the elder sister of the much more famous Patti—the “Queen of Hearts” soprano Adelina Patti. She was herself a talented singer, and an admired member of one of America’s great dynasties of performers. Unfortunately, she’s never received the attention she deserves from historians of any stripe. John Frederick Cone, in his biography of Adelina Patti from 1993, grants Carlotta a mere two sentences, and selectively underscores a physical handicap—a limp caused by a congenital disorder or horse-riding accident, depending on which story of hers we are to believe—as the cause for her not having a more prosperous career on the opera stage. But in point of fact, Carlotta Patti did have a career that many singers would (and still do) aspire to, even if it consisted mostly of recitals and solo concerts, accompanied by some of the most esteemed musicians of the day—from pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk to her husband, the cellist Ernest de Munck. By considering her career as “less than” Adelina’s, scholars have disregarded the contributions she made to democratizing and disseminating art music in nineteenth-century America.

Carlotta Patti was born in Florence in 1835, the second child of tenor Salvatore Patti and soprano Caterina Chiesa Barili-Patti.* As is well-documented, the family arrived in New York in 1846, and Salvatore established, along with buffo Antonio Sanquirico, an Italian company at Palmo’s Opera House. Carlotta took up piano studies under Henri Herz, the famed Austrian virtuoso and pedagogue, who taught and performed in the United States between 1845 and 1851.* In 1852, the eldest daughter of Salvatore and Caterina, mezzo-soprano Amalia Patti, married impresario Maurice Strakosch, a decision that was expedient for establishing the Patti name. As recorded by Adelina’s biographers, Carlotta advanced as a pianist and subsequently taught her younger sister piano. That is, before her own aspirations as a concert artist were put on hold. Carlotta traveled to the West Indies and South America in 1856* to care for an ailing elder half-sister, Clotilde, from her mother’s first marriage to the composer Francesco Barili.* According to Carlotta’s own testimony given during probate proceedings regarding Clotilde’s last will and testament, she was in Lima, Peru in April 1857, shortly before returning to New York from Panama on 14 May 1857.*


Rivalry between Carlotta and Adelina could only be expected when she returned, and it may have been on this account that Carlotta found herself pursuing a singing career. While Carlotta had been away, Adelina met great success on a tour of the West Indies with Gottschalk, performing in Havana just weeks before her half-sister’s (Clotilde) death in March 1858.* Carlotta, instead of resuming her study of piano, set to training her voice. Her training was likely carried out partly under the tutelage of Clotilde’s husband, Carlo Scola, who had returned to New York with Maurice Strakosch in September 1859 with a new band of Italian opera singers in tow, and was indebted to Carlotta for her care of his ailing wife.* Adelina spent the better part of the spring and summer of 1860 on a tour through eastern cities and as far west as Chicago with Amalia, tenor Pasquale Brignoli, Strakosch at the piano, and others.

Gothamites were missing their homegrown prima donna, and in little time began to look for a replacement. The first and most evident option was Carlotta, the New York Times issuing this statement in early June, when Adelina was in Cincinnati: “Miss Patti’s sister, Miss Carlotta Patti, highly esteemed by all the connoisseur-world of New-York as a pianist and a vocalist of the first force, has been invited to atone to her sister’s admirers, for her sister’s absence by a concert, with which request she will shortly comply.” Operagoers, finished with feeling unappreciated by their leading prima donna, sought penance from some member of the Patti family. Carlotta’s solo concert debut took place at Dodworth’s Saloon on October 25, 1860. Dodworth’s was a gentlemen’s concert room opened by the band master Harvey Dodworth in 1858*, a much different venue than the Academy of Music where Adelina had performed exclusively of late. However, as David Monod has shown, pre-Civil War concert saloons did not fit the stereotype of “disreputable dives where working-class men went for rough entertainment, sexual encounters, and cheap liquor.” Rather, Dodworth’s regularly featured opera singers, along with other types of “high” entertainment or the like in adaptations, expanding the accessibility of opera beyond the opera house. Operas were truncated, interspersed with performances by acrobats and comedians, and integrated within an evening of general pleasure and amusement. It was after these New York gentlemen’s saloons and their variety of entertainment that opera houses in the West were fashioned, where Carlotta Patti indoctrinated a generation of immigrants, miners, and sourdoughs into admiring opera and star singers.

-Austin Stewart

Austin Stewart is a sixth-year doctoral candidate, researching opera and civic identity in the American West during the nineteenth century, with an emphasis on the theatres, performances, and artists encountered by the citizens of Denver. His dissertation committee is chaired by Prof. Mark Clague.



Exploring Music and Reform at MedRen 2017

Greetings from London, where I’m wrapping up a year of archival research for my dissertation! In early July, I presented some of this work at MedRen, the annual musicological conference dedicated to Medieval and Renaissance music, which this year was held in Prague. My paper, entitled “Negotiating Edward VI’s Reformation: Music and Religious Change in the Parish Churches of London, 1547–1553,” was in many ways a preview of part of my first dissertation chapter, which looks at parish musical practices in the transitional period between the reigns of King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I in England’s capital city. This year, MedRen celebrated the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of his “95 Theses,” so many of the sessions were devoted to music and the Reformation, which was particularly exciting for those (myself included) who study religious reform. Prof. Stefano Mengozzi also gave a paper at MedRen, so Michigan was well represented this year. The organizers did an amazing job—the conference venue was the beautiful Convent of St Agnes of Bohemia (, and we heard concerts by three wonderful Czech groups: the Tiburtina Ensemble (, Schola Gregoriana Pragensis (, and Societas Incognitorum (—check them out if you have a chance! Finally, I must express my gratitude to the musicology department, which funded my trip to this fantastic conference.

-Anne Heminger

A medieval tile mosaic from St. Vitus Cathedral.


Anne Heminger is a sixth-year PhD candidate in Historical Musicology working with Stefano Mengozzi. Her dissertation, “Confession Carried Aloft: Music, Sound, and Religious Identity in London, 1540–1560,” investigates the intersections between music, officially sanctioned orthodoxy, and the religious heterodoxy that marked English life under Edward VI and then Mary I.