Musicology students present their research at UNM 2023 Musicology Student Symposium

How can music be used to revitalize a language? How can opera be a journey of healing from trauma? How does a popular music genre interact with the Mexican drug war? How can hyperpop be a vehicle for trans identity and liberation? These are just some of the questions explored by the student presenters at the 2023 Musicology Student Symposium on February 17, coordinated by Dr. Ana Alonso Minutti. The featured presenters were Laura Olson, Madison McGregor, Roberto de Leon, and Gabriel Gonzales, with the panel moderated by Sasha Arteaga.

In her paper titled “The Revitalization of Irish Music and Language” Laura Olson traced the history of the use and decline of the Irish Gaelic language. She then presented her research on Irish Gaelic music (in traditional or more contemporary forms) as a tool for revitalizing interest in the spoken language in Ireland and throughout the Irish diaspora. The presentation concluded with an engaging participatory element, inviting the audience to sing a popular song together in Gaelic! In discussion with the audience, Olson mentioned her plans to attend a summer school for traditional Irish music to gain first-hand experience of the efforts to revitalize Gaelic in Ireland.

The second paper by Madison McGregor, “Female Reclamation of Power in Ellen Reid’s p r i s m: Breaking the Traditional Gender Constructions,” examined depictions of femininity and trauma in Ellen Reid’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, two-woman opera, p r i s m. McGregor focused on the central character, Bibi’s, reclamation of power and agency after a traumatic event. McGregor analyzed examples of Reid’s sonic depictions of Bibi’s fabricated sanctuary and her process of leaving it to face the reality of her trauma and begin to heal. After her presentation, McGregor discussed meeting Reid, who recently visited UNM, and the exciting possibility of an upcoming interview with her to further her research.

The third paper by Roberto de Leon, “The Shape of Narcocorridos: La Pura Verdad,” focused on the Mexican genre of narcocorridos, ballads featuring lyrics that glorify drug traffickers and cartel leaders. De Leon argued that narcocorridos’ glorification of criminals has led to increased cartel power, as well as violence and crime in Mexico. Some of this violence has even affected members of narcocorrido bands, who then became even more legendary for their confrontations with police and cartels. Answering questions from the audience, de Leon discussed plans to travel to Mexico to become more familiar with the norteño and narcocorridos music scenes there.

In final paper, titled “Sculpting Sound to Signal Transness,” Gabriel Gonzales explored how the hyperpop producer, Sophie, suffused her trans feminine identity into her music. Gonzales analyzed how Sophie used her unique musical language—which combined analog synthesizer sounds, found percussion instruments, bold, transgressive lyricism, and an approach to the voice as an instrument to manipulate—to interrogate mainstream femininity and articulate her own unabashed trans feminine identity in an industry that is still hostile to trans creators. After their presentation, Gonzales expounded on Sophie’s meaningful collaborations with other popular artists and discussed how her music has inspired their own approach to composition.

In an inspiring morning of scholarship and conversation, each of the student presenters showcased the bright talents of UNM’s Musicology Department. Congratulations to Laura, Madison, Roberto, and Gabriel, and thank you for sharing your research at the 2023 Musicology Student Symposium!