Spotlight on: Dr. Aaron Allen and Ecomusicology

Posted on October 15, 2015


UNCG photo by David Wilson – 5/4/2011 – Aaron Allen, Associate Professor of Music Studies and Director of the Environmental & Sustainability Studies Program, School of Music.


In light of his most recent success in presenting the conference keynote presentation in Finland, we talked to Dr. Allen to get his take on the work he is doing, and his experience in Sibelius’s homeland…

What? – First ever Finnish ecomusicology conference

Where? – University of Turku – Turku, Finland

When? – May 2015

Why? – According to Dr. Allen’s keynote speech, ‘Climate Ecomusicology, and Academic Discourse,’ “music studies can engage with one of the greatest challenges faced by human civilization.  I also presented “Ecomusicology and the Challenges of Sustainability” in their debate series; this presentation was about how materials for musical instruments (from violins to iPods) have global repercussions, both positive and negative.

How does Finland fit into the burgeoning field of ecomusicology?

The people were extraordinarily engaged and interested in connecting music and environmental studies.  Finland has a long standing commitment to environmental issues because of the country’s unique natural features and experiences with winter (which can be beautiful and harsh) and their glorious summer. They have a vibrant contemporary musical life that ranges from folk musics to avant garde art to classical composition (composer Jean Sibelius is perhaps the most widely known historical figure to come from Finland).

My hosts in Turku are working on a large research project to examine the connections between those traditions in Finland, and it was exciting to be a part of the process to think deeply with them about the ramifications of our mutually interesting work.  Students in their musicology program were interested in being exposed to new and path-breaking work.  The Finnish national radio came out to conference and aired extended interviews with me and some of the local faculty.”

What was Turku like?

“Turku is a lovely city, and I had some time to explore it.  It used to be the capital of Finland, but Helsinki took over in the 19th century. I also visited Helsinki, which is a vibrant world capital.”

What do you hope to gain from your relationship with The University of Turku?

“The folks in Turku are interested in developing some potential exchange programs for their students to come to UNCG and for our students to go there (most classes are in English).  Two of the faculty from the University of Turku came to UNCG in the spring, a few months before my visit there; they were both to teach classes and give public lectures, but 2 of the 4 scheduled events were interrupted due to — irony of ironies — snow!”



Dr. Allen co-founded and for five years chaired the Ecocriticism Study Group (ESG) of the American Musicological Society (AMS), and he co-founded and chaired the Ecomusicology Special Interest Group (ESIG) of the Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM).  He currently edits the Ecomusicology Newsletter, a joint project of the ESG and ESIG.

Dr. Allen just completed work as co-editor of “Current Directions in Ecomusicology”, the first major volume dedicated to ecomusicology. Dr. Allen is now working on a book project entitled, “The Tree that became a Lute: Musical Instruments, Sustainability and the Politics of Natural Resource Use” (University of Illinois Press, co-authored with Jennifer Post and Kevin Dawe, planned for 2016). His conference presentations on ecomusicology include venues in music scholarship (e.g., the American Musicological Society and the Society for Ethnomusicology), interdisciplinary studies (e.g. 19th Century Studies Association), and environmental studies (American Society for Environmental History, Association for the Study of Literature and Environment, Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences); he has also given invited lectures at institutions in North America, Europe, and Asia. Most recently, UNCG alumna Sara Soltau (PB ’13) invited Dr. Allen to present his work at SONICBernheim at the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest in western Kentucky. He delivered his lecture and slide show outside in the dark to an audience of a few hundred folks waiting to view the “super blood moon” and lunar eclipse.

Aaron is originally from West Virginia, and his interests as an outdoorsman and woodworker result from his time on the family farm, where he recently hand built a solar-powered log cabin for his parents.


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