Professor of Music
Ph.D., Wesleyan University, Ethnomusicology
M.A., Wesleyan University, World Music
B.A., Haverford College, Music Theory & Composition
It is hard to say if my life in music began sitting next to my mother on the piano bench watching her play Christmas carols by ear, seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, or with some other long-forgotten but equally catalytic event. In any event, I was behind the bass in a rock and roll band by the age of 13 and never looked back. My academic interest in music began with the study of music theory in college; at the time, it was an astounding revelation to me that there is a language one can use to describe sound and communicate with others about the structures of music. After graduating from college, for about a decade I played with blues, reggae, swing and jazz bands while gradually becoming more and more attracted to the music of Ireland, Brazil, and India. This led me in 1983 to vocal study with the renowned Indian flutist T. Viswanathan in Wesleyan University's World Music Program, and to the discipline of ethnomusicology.
After finishing graduate coursework my wife and I spent a year in Chennai, South India researching the "padam" genre of dance music on a Junior Fellowship from the American Institute of Indian Studies. After completing my dissertation on padams I had my first opportunities to teach at Indiana University, Duke University, and the University of Oklahoma before coming to Wheaton in 1999.
As an ethnomusicologist my research has focused on the social history of performance in India; colonialism, nationalism and the arts; the musical life of diasporic communities; the guitar family of instruments; modernization discourses in music (especially in colonized countries in the early 20th century); and comparative and vernacular music theory.
I've written several articles and book chapters on the social history of Indian music and dance, and in 2004 co-authored, with T. Viswanathan, the book "Music in South India", published by Oxford University Press in its Global Music Series. Currently I am revising my dissertation for anticipated publication by Manohar Publishers in New Delhi.
On sabbatical from Wheaton during spring semester 2002, a fellowship as a Fulbright Senior Scholar at University College Cork (UCC), Ireland, facilitated a research project on harmony in Irish music. While our family lived in Cork I also taught courses on Latin/jazz intersections and the "guitar in cross cultural perspective" at UCC. Living in Cork that year I was extremely fortunate to meet the great singer and storyteller Seán Ó Sé, best known for his long association with composer Seán Ó Riada in the ensemble Ceoltoiri Chualann and also a master of many performance contexts including variety concerts, cabaret, and ceili band. Seán and I are currently making a film documentary on his career in the Irish music business and hope to premiere the film in the autumn of 2011.
My primary professional affiliation is with the Society for Ethnomusicology, where I currently serve as Chair of the SEM Council. I also am an active member of the International Council for Traditional Music and the Society for Asian Music.
As a performer my main instrument is the guitar. I have also been known to attempt to sing, and to fool around with keyboards, bass, percussion, and that most frustrating and rewarding five dollar piece of metal, the Irish tin whistle.
As a teacher at Wheaton, some of my courses in ethnomusicology focus on geographical regions of the world (Music in Latin American and Caribbean Culture; Music and Dance of South Asia; African American Music Since World War II) while others are organized around topics and issues (Music, Identity and Nationalism; the Guitar in Cross Cultural Perspective; Music and Worship in World Cultures). On coming to Wheaton in 1999 I founded the Wheaton World Music Ensemble, a laboratory/performance course in which students learn to sing and play music from many different parts of the world (that course is currently being taught by Prof. Sheila Falls-Keohane).
Through the Haas Visiting Artist Program and Worldfest@Wheaton, our department organizes artist residencies which support our academic courses by introducing students, via guest lectures, workshops, and concerts, to eminent musicians and dancers from around the world. Recent residencies have included: Steve Littleman and the Oklahoma Fancy Dancers, American Indian intertribal performers; Alhaji Papa Susso, jali and kora musician from Gambia, West Africa; Los Pleneros del Coco Latin orchestra; Brasilian pianist Jovino Santos Neto together with South Indian chitravina perfomer N. Ravikiran and drummers Bob Moses and Master Anand; Japanese-American performance artist Tomie Hahn; New England contra dance musician and caller David Kaynor; South Indian bharata natyam dancer Aniruddha Knight; and the Haitian dance troupe Yanvalou.
2004 "Music in South India: The Karnatak Concert Tradition and Beyond." Co-authored with T. Viswanathan. New York: Oxford University Press.
1997 "Rewriting the Script for South Indian Dance." In TDR (The Drama Review), Journal of Performance Studies, New York Univ., T155, Volume 41(3):63-100, Autumn 1997.
1998 "Tales Tunes Tell: Deepening the Dialogue between 'Classical' and 'Non-Classical' in the Music of India." In the Yearbook for Traditional Music, Volume 30: 22-52, 1998.
2007 "Systematize, Standardize, Classicize, Nationalize: The Scientific Work of the Experts' Committee of the Music Academy of Madras, 1930-1952." In Performing Pasts: Reinventing the Arts in Modern South India, edited by Davesh Soneji and Indira Viswanathan Peterson. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Encyclopedia, Dictionary, and Other Articles:
1989 "From Gurukula to University Department Abroad. Interview with Dr. T. Viswanathan." In Sruti 53:28-33, Madras (India), February 1989.
2000 "The Social Organization of Music in South India." Co-authored with T. Sankaran. In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Volume V, South Asia.
2000 "Chitravina N. Ravikiran: South Indian instrumental master." Liner note essay on South Indian music for compact disc. Nimbus Recordings, UK.
2003 "Folk and Popular Guitar." In The New Harvard Dictionary of Music, revised edition. Cambridge: Harvard University and Belknap Press.
Reviews published in:
The Journal of Asian Music, The Journal of Asian Studies, The World of Music, the Journal of the Music Library Association.
Audio CD publications, with Julie Searles, vocalist:
1994 "Cashews Peppers and More". Julie Searles & Matthew Allen. Brazilian popular music and jazz compositions. Suka-Harp Records 003.
2000 "Time and Again". Searles & Allen with Armando Rivera. Original and Brazilian compositions. Suka-Harp Records 005.
2002 "Recollected." Julie Searles and Matthew Allen. Original and jazz compositions (re-release of 1982 cassette). Suka-Harp Records 006.
Our department's Senior Conference (Music 402) challenges music majors to conduct intensive, extended research on a particular topic within musicology, ethnomusicology, music theory, composition, or performance, and present the results of their research before an audience of their teachers and peers. When I have taught the seminar (in 2001 and 2004) my students presented conference papers in end-of-semester academic symposia, which have been deposited in Wallace Library under the title "Cross-Cultural Issues in Performance Practice."
The titles of our senior music majors' research projects illustrate the diversity of topics they have investigated:
Video Killed the Radio Star
Punk Style: From Sex to Sell-Outs
Boom Boom Chick: An Unorthodox Organology of the Drum Machine
Is Your Schubert My Schubert?
What Keeps us Alive: The Political Music of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in S. Africa
An Evolution of Style: Three Cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach
Strength Through Unity: The Preservation of Culture & the Resurgence of Acadian Music
The Renaissance Madrigal: Issues in Performance Practice
An Introduction to Chinese Folk Music
The Voice of the Future: A Glimpse of How Technology Impacts Vocal Music
The Dance Music of Ghana: A Review of the Ghanaian Highlife
Aesthetic Value in Musical Transcription
I also supervise music majors and non-majors in composition tutorials and ethnomusicological projects, and serve as advisor to independent ethnomusicology majors and Asian Studies majors and minors.