Two graduate students from the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University have been awarded Fulbright fellowships for research study outside the United States. Brian Oberlander and Elizabeth Przybylski, both doctoral candidates in the musicology program at the Bienen School of Music, were notified earlier this spring that they would receive the grants for study next year.

Oberlander’s fellowship will take him to Andalusia in southern Spain, where he will study a genre of flamenco fusion that blends the styles, instruments, and aesthetics of flamenco with various repertoires of Arab music, often through live collaboration between musicians from Andalusia and northern Morocco. He will interview musicians, producers, and listeners of this flamenco-Arab fusion, participate in the music, and do archival work at the Andalusian Center for Flamenco in the city of Jerez de la Frontera. Ultimately, Oberlander is striving to understand how musicians negotiate their personal and political differences in the process of music-making and how the music has impacted the different cultures it touches.

Drew Edward Davies, associate professor of musicology at the Bienen School, sees Oberlander’s Fulbright work as ”pioneering.” “Bringing the critical lens of cultural studies to the uses and appropriations of this music genre, Brian will flesh out the often contradictory meanings of contemporary flamenco fusion in Andalusia in order to help understand how musical sounds originating in the Arab world build contemporary identities in Spain,“ Davies said.

Przybylski will travel to Canada and make Winnipeg her base. Her research will focus on the mediation of indigenous hip hop music, specifically how hip hop functions as "musical speech." She will analyze how it communicates differently depending on the venue: on the radio or in live performance. Her methodology will include analyzing the music—particularly the use of sampling—and interviews with participants. Przybylski hopes to contribute to larger discussions about urban indigeneity in particular.

Speaking of Przybylski, Professor Davies notes that her research “will enable her to interact with performers and audiences, develop an ethnographic practice idiomatic to her topic, experience contemporary urban indigeneity, and build an analogue to her previous research in the Northern Plains of the United States."

"By uniting the methodologies of both historical and ethnomusicology to respond to complex questions about culture,” Davies continues, “Liz and Brian's work stands at the leading edge of the field. Their research reveals not only contemporary music cultures in their specific destination countries, but also how music can operate transnationally and transhistorically."

Linda Austern, associate professor of musicology and coordinator of the Bienen School's musicology program, spoke of her pride in the students' achievements. "Brian and Liz represent the best of what our musicology program stands for: thoroughness, originality, and a willingness to unify methodologies from multiple academic approaches to music and from cultural studies to ask and answer cutting-edge questions about music in wider context," she said. "Receipt of these prestigious fellowships will allow Brian and Liz to complete the dissertations they envisioned by having access to material and interview subjects available nowhere else."

Przybylski’s and Oberlander’s honors are especially impressive due to the rarity of two students from the same program receiving Fulbright fellowships in the same year. In addition, two more current or former Bienen School students were finalists in the Fulbright process: senior Holly Rudd, who is studying flute performance; and Alexander Weaver, who studied horn at the Bienen School and graduated in 2010 with a bachelor of arts degree.

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  • Drew Davies