I am a Visiting Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at Whitman College, Walla Walla, WA.Topics of my courses have included world music cultures, music and Chinese philosophy, music and diplomacy, music of Latin America and the Caribbean, Western art music, the history of rock 'n' roll, and African American music.
Recent Research and Publications
research focuses on music’s role in the adaptation of monastic Chinese Buddhism
to new historical, political, and geographic contexts. Ethnography comprises my
central research method, and I also make use of historical methods and musical
analysis in my work. I spent one year at Wutaishan, Shanxi Province undertaking
field research on music in Buddhist monasteries. This project culminated in the
publication of The Instrumental Music of
Wutaishan’s Buddhist Monasteries (Ashgate
in 2012). In 2013, I published an article entitled “Ghost
Festival Rituals: Redeeming Hungry Ghosts, Preserving Cultural Relics” in CHIME: The Journal of the European
Foundation for Chinese Music Research. This article examines how politics
and religion interact in the preservation of Yinyue Yankou, a musical ceremony for the salvation of hungry
ghosts. In 2015, “Impossible Melodies: Octave Cycles and Illusory Pitch Shifts
in a North Chinese Wind Repertoire,” appeared in Analytic Approaches to World Music. In this article, I explore
instances of octave cycling and other auditory illusions in Chinese
instrumental music through both spectral analysis of timbre and an examination
of traditional Chinese gongchepu notation.
Other recent projects include book reviews for Asian Music and CHIME,
and an entry on “Buddhism and Music” for Oxford
Bibliographies in Buddhism.
I am currently pursuing a new research project exploring the roles of music at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (Wanfo shengcheng). CTTB is a complex including male and female monasteries, primary and secondary schools, a university, and facilities and programs for lay Buddhists. Chinese Chan master Hsuan Hua founded CTTB in 1974 in Ukiah, California at the former site of the Mendocino State Hospital for the Insane. I first visited CTTB in the spring of 2014 as faculty adviser on an alternative spring break service learning program, and I was struck by the institution's conservative application of the monastic rules of Chinese Buddhism, with the notable exception of the proscription against musical performance. Musical activities at CTTB include a Chinese orchestra for primary and secondary school students, the composition of new Buddhist songs, and the translation of Chinese Buddhist hymns into English. Current senior monk of CTTB Hengsure was a folk guitarist from Ohio prior to taking monastic orders, and he often plays guitar or banjo and sings New Age, Country and Western, and folk songs during his lectures on Buddhist dharma. I plan to continue field research at CTTB to further explore how music relates to efforts to adapt Chinese Buddhism and attract American adherents.
Chinese Buddhism is a multifaceted and evolving complex of beliefs and practices. My research sheds light on the relationship between cultural preservation and religious freedom in modern China, and illuminates common ground and sites of negotiation between officials and religious leaders. It also explores how monastic Buddhism remains a coherent tradition while adapting to new and shifting political, economic, and cultural circumstances in China and the US. These projects contribute to our understanding of religion in modern Chinese society and of the growing international scope of Chinese Buddhism.