Pitt Hosts Society for Ethnomusicology Annual Meeting

Adriana Helbig Leads the Carpathian Music Ensemble in a recent performance.

The Department of Music will host ethnomusicologists from all over the world when the Society for Ethnomusicology holds its 59th Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh. Sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh, the conference will take place at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown from November 13–16.

Department of Music faculty and graduate students have been working on the organization of the conference during the last two years. Professors Andrew Weintraub and Adriana Helbig are co-chairs of the Local Arrangements Committee that also includes fellow Pitt faculty members Gavin Steingo, Rachel Mundy, Deane Root, and Tyler Bickford, as well as alumna Sister Marie Agatha Ozah (Duquesne University) and Shalini Ayyagari (American University). Graduate student Hety Wong is the in charge of coordinating local student volunteers.  

The Department of Music is home to one of the oldest and most distinguished ethnomusicology programs in the United States. Building on the legacy established by eminent faculty members Nathan Davis, J.H. Kwabena Nketia, Bell Yung, and Akin Euba, the Department prepares graduate students to become educators in the field of ethnomusicology and active professionals in the public sector.

Our faculty and graduate students have organized a number of exciting events and activities for SEM conference participants. These will include a pre-conference symposium on “Music and Labor” that will address the role of music in relation to workers, labor unions (including musician's unions), social justice, and human rights. Marcus Rediker, Distinguished Professor of Atlantic History at the University of Pittsburgh, will deliver the keynote lecture entitled “Sonic History from Below: Reflections on the Music and the Sea.” Drawing illustrations from his work on sailors, slaves, tall ships, and port cities, Rediker will show how music fits into a “history from below.”

Several of the Department’s musical groups will present music and dance concerts for the enjoyment of conference attendees. Pitt’s Carpathian Music Ensemble (led by Adriana Helbig) will set a celebratory mood during the opening reception with folk and popular tunes from Eastern Europe. The reception will then expand into a Balkan and East European Dance Party, in which University of Illinois ensemble Balkanalia (led by Donna Buchanan), will join Pitt’s Carpathian Music Ensemble. On Thursday there will be a free workshop of Irish social dance, Ceili (pronounced “kay-lee”), with live music and on-the-floor dance instruction. Organized by doctoral candidate Meng Ren, the event will be held in association with the Pittsburgh Ceili Club and the Shovlin Academy of Irish Dance. Conference attendees will join Pitt's African Music and Dance Ensemble on Friday afternoon for an energetic exploration of traditional drum and dance music, directed by Gavin Steingo and Yamoussa Camara. Friday night, the Pittsburgh-based group Dangdut Cowboys  (led by Andrew Weintraub) will perform Indonesia’s distinctive dance music dangdut. Dangdut Cowboys mixes classic dangdut songs with country, blues, rock, and reggae. On Saturday afternoon, Indra Ridwan will lead the University of Pittsburgh Gamelan in a performance of Sundanese music of West Java, Indonesia. On Saturday evening, the hotel Ballroom will come alive when ethnomusicologists, including Pitt alumni, join local musicians for a performance featuring popular music from around the African continent.

With four days of academic presentations, a diverse slate of music and dance events, and visits to iconic Pittsburgh locations like the Cathedral of Learning and The Andy Warhol Museum, the 59th SEM Conference is sure to be a success. Congratulations to our faculty and students who have worked so hard to organize the event and best wishes to all participants for a productive and enjoyable time in Pittsburgh.