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School of Music graduate student receives Mellon Fellowship

May 15, 2012 By Richard Mumford

Frederick “Fritz” Schenker, a doctoral student in ethnomusicology at the School of Music, has received one of 17 Mellon Fellowships for Dissertation Research in Original Sources.

He will use the fellowship to pursue research in Manila and Singapore for nine months beginning in September 2012 for his dissertation topic, “Performing Empire: Music and Race in Colonial Asia’s Jazz Age.”

According to the Council on Library and Information Resources, which administers this program, the fellowships are intended to help graduate students in the humanities and related social science fields pursue research wherever relevant sources are available and gain skill and creativity in using primary source materials in libraries, archives, museums and related repositories.

In a summary of his dissertation, Schenker begins with the observation that in the early 1920s, American jazz proliferated in southeast Asia in tandem with the expansion of American empire, and that the convergence of the two developments had far-reaching ramifications for both.

He writes, “Jazz moved along the same routes and circuits as U. S. empire, on the same ships that carried soldiers, goods and capital to port cities worldwide. … Wherever colonialism and global capital traveled, jazz seemed to follow, and wherever jazz appeared in these Asian contexts, Filipino musicians were conspicuously present.”

Schenker will spend eight months in Manila and the final month in Singapore, attempting to contact local collectors who may have photos, recordings, newspaper articles, letters and diaries, and others who are descended from those who lived there in the 1920s for their personal recollections of their forebears’ accounts. In addition, he will examine newspapers, recordings, playbills and photos at museums, libraries and archives. He will receive a total of $19,000 from the Mellon fellowship to cover travel, living and research expenses.

Schenker is concluding the second year of his Ph.D. degree program, having received the M.A. in ethnomusicology at UW–Madison in 2010.

He has done considerable research into his topic at UW–Madison’s Memorial Library and Cutter Collection, reviewing historical newspapers on microfilm and travelogues of American and European tourists to southeast Asia. Last summer, he studied Tagalog for eight weeks through the Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute.

Shenker’s dissertation adviser is Ronald Radano, professor of musicology and ethnomusicology; he has also worked with R. Anderson Sutton, professor of ethnomusicology and former director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies.