Past CWMSG sessions

Below are descriptions of CWMSG sessions at the national meeting of the AMS since 2007.


AMS 2015 (Louisville): Cold War Nostalgias


  • Elaine Kelly (University of Edinburgh), Chair
  • Ewelina Boczkowska (Youngstown State University)
  • Martha Sprigge (University of California, Santa Barbara)
  • Peter Kupfer (Southern Methodist University)
  • Ulrike Präger (Boston University)

Discussions of nostalgia in the context of the Cold War tend to recall the term’s origins as a debilitating medical diagnosis. Be it in the hankering for lost worlds that followed the Second World War or the Ostalgie that supposedly swept the former Soviet Bloc in the 1990s, Cold War nostalgia is associated with a fear of progress and a reluctance to overcome the past. Yet nostalgic constructs of the past are rarely straightforward. Nostalgia can serve variously to mediate disjunctions between past and present, to negotiate identity, and as a vehicle of ambivalence and irony.

This panel seeks to reconsider how nostalgia has functioned in Cold War and post-Cold War musical cultures. Taking as its starting point Svetlana Boym’s The Future of Nostalgia (2001), the panel will comprise of four ten-minute position papers, following which the discussion will be opened to the audience. Ewelina Boczkowska will explore the role that restorative nostalgia played in legitimizing communism in post-war Poland. Focusing on portrayals of Chopin in films produced between 1944 and 1949, she will demonstrate how the composer was harnessed to compensate for collective loss and how the “public” narratives at play tapped into the nostalgic yearnings of an oppressed nation trying to rebuild itself.  Martha Sprigge will explore the affinities between expressions of nostalgia in post-war and post-socialist East Germany. Looking at the annual commemoration of Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, and Vladimir Lenin, a festival that was revived in the GDR from Weimar Germany and continues today, she will discuss how its musical rituals have evolved as a vehicle for reflective nostalgia. Peter Kupfer will explore how the conflicts inherent in post-socialist nostalgia are manifest in Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov’s films Burnt by the Sun (1994) and The Barber of Siberia (1998). Boym has described the films as prime examples of restorative nostalgia; they serve to revitalize a sense of national pride, offering idealized visions of the Russian past. Yet, the films were also conceived for Western consumption and are situated firmly in contemporary film culture. Kupfer will examine how the tensions of this juxtaposition of past and present emerge in the use of music in both films. Finally Ulrike Präger will look at the phenomenon of nostalgia travel among German civilians who were expelled from the Bohemian lands in the wake of World War 2. For migrants returning as tourists to the East, the disjunctions between nostalgic constructs and the geographical realities of their homelands are profound. Präger argues that the musical practices and repertoires of these homelands have provided a way of mediating this divide, functioning both to allow travelers to connect the (staged) present with their memories of the past, and providing a “sounded home” that exists independently of their places of origin.

While the session is open to all, the position papers will be distributed in advance to Study Group members. The session will conclude with an informal networking event.

AMS 2014 (Milwaukee)Looking Back at 1989: A Critical Reassessment of the Cold War’s End 

  • Peter Schmelz (Washington University in St. Louis), Chair
  • Alison Furlong (Ohio State University)
  • Trever Hagen (University of Exeter)
  • Christoph Hust (Hochschule für Musik und Theater, Leipzig)
  • Johanna Frances Yunker (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)
  • Andrea Bohlman (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)
  • Joy Calico (Vanderbilt University)

The fall of the Berlin wall in November 1989 was one of the most visible symbols of the Cold War’s end. In the popular imagination its destruction continues to function as shorthand for processes of political, economic, social, and cultural transformation. But what was the lasting impact of these changes for musical life? The twenty-fifth anniversary of 1989 is an ideal time to critically reassess the legacies of that year. This session will open a wide-ranging discussion of the late Cold War and its aftermath. We will approach this topic from two directions. Focusing on Central Europe, the panelists’ individual presentations will closely examine specific examples of music-making in societies in transition. We will also step back from these case studies to explore collaboratively, in formal responses and group discussion, the extent to which Central European transformations were paradigmatic, the degree to which 1989 marks a historical turning point, and the implications of 1989 for the music historiography of the Cold War. The session features four short presentations, two formal responses, and moderated discussion periods. The first two presentations will consider the impact of German reunification on art music composition and music institutions in the former GDR. Johanna Frances Yunker will discuss how Ruth Zechlin worked through her complex feelings about East Germany in the opera Die Reise (1990), in which the relationship between a daughter and her father serves as a metaphor for the relationships between German citizens and their nation’s past. Christoph Hust will draw on archival evidence and oral history in his exploration of how the Deutscher Verlag für Musik, a key player in the music publishing network of the GDR, adapted to new political, scholarly, and economic contexts after 1989. The second pair of presentations will discuss the use of media and popular music to engage in political action both before and after 1989. Alison Furlong will present a case study of Radio Glasnost (1987–89), a collaboration between current and former East and West Germans that was broadcast via the private West Berlin station Radio 100; she argues that the programs constituted a form of “citizen propaganda” that countered the official narratives of the GDR’s state-run media. Trever Hagen will use the recent activities of the anti-establishment rock group The Plastic People of the Universe to launch his consideration of how the socialist past continues to inform possibilities for musically mediated political action in the present-day Czech Republic. Joy Calico will respond to the first pair of presentations, and Andrea Bohlman will respond to the second; each will draw out the larger themes that will become the basis of group discussions moderated by Peter Schmelz.

AMS 2013 (Pittsburgh): Cross-Border Encounters in the Global South: A New Look at Cold War Cultural Diplomacy

  • Danielle Fosler-Lussier, The Ohio State University
  • Eduardo Herrera, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Carol Hess, University of California, Davis (Respondent)
  • Lisa Jakelski, Eastman School of Music (Organizer)
  • Marysol Quevedo, Indiana University
  • Ryan Skinner, The Ohio State University
  • Susan Thomas, University of Georgia (Moderator)

Musicological scholarship about the Cold War has revealed music’s importance as a tool of cultural diplomacy. Most studies to date, however, have focused on Europe and the United States, overlooking the ramifications of the Cold War in the Global South. This three-hour, alternative-format session seeks to nuance existing views of Cold War cultural diplomacy by investigating exchange and other forms of interaction situated in the Global South from the 1950s into the 1970s. The panelists’ individual contributions will closely examine instances of African, Latin American, and Asian encounters with music and musicians elsewhere in the world. Their work will launch a collective discussion of issues that are at the core of our subfield: how music has been used to exercise soft power; how competing individual, state, and corporate interests have shaped musical life; and how the composition and performance of music has been used to establish borders, as well as to cross them. 

The session features four short presentations, two formal responses, and moderated discussion periods. After introductory remarks by Thomas, Fosler-Lussier and Herrera will explore the roles of state and non-state actors in North-South cultural diplomacy. Focusing on the U.S. State Department’s Cultural Presentations program, Fosler-Lussier considers the symbolic and practical value that U.S. government officials and audiences in Asia, Africa, and Latin America assigned to performances of Euro-American classical music. Herrera examines the Rockefeller Foundation’s impact on the founding and early history of Indiana University’s Latin American Music Center and the Centro Latinoamericano de Altos Estudios Musicales (CLAEM) at the Di Tella Institute in Buenos Aires. The panel’s second half will investigate local musical life and cross-border encounters during periods of political and social change. Skinner uses the early career of Panka Dembelé, a pivotal figure in the development of Malian music culture during the 1950s and 1960s, to discuss late and post-colonial Cold War politics in (and out of) West Africa. Quevedo surveys musical interaction both before and after the 1959 Cuban Revolution; she demonstrates how political alliances, first with the US and later with Eastern Europe, impacted cultural exchanges and Cuban composers’ individual styles. Hess will respond to each pair of presentations, drawing out the larger themes that will become the basis of group discussions moderated by Thomas. 

AMS 2013 (Pittsburgh) Special Session: Musicology in Russia and Hungary during the Cold War 

  • Lisa Jakelski (Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester), Chair 
  • Liudmila Kovnatskaya (Saint Petersburg Conservatory), “Self-censorship during the Cold War and Beyond: Experience of Self-Knowledge through Memoirs and Diaries by Prof. Mikhail Druskin” 
  • Lóránt Péteri (Liszt Academy of Music), “Hungarian Musicology under State Socialism: Institutions, Informal Networks, Scholarly Projects, and Ideologies”

AMS 2012 (New Orleans): Oral History and Cold War Studies: Methodological Perspectives and Notes from the Field

  • Joshua Pilzer, University of Toronto, Chair
  • Jennifer Abraham Cramer, LSU Williams Center for Oral History
  • Jonathan Yaeger, Indiana University
  • Amy Wlodarski, Dickinson College, Respondent
  • Nicholas Tochka, Stony Brook University
  • Laura Silverberg, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Organizer
  • Jeffers Engelhardt, Amherst College, Respondent

Despite a shared interest in Cold War studies, musicologists and ethnomusicologists have traditionally approached their subject matter with different methodological strategies. Consequently, there has been relatively little interaction between ethnomusicologists and musicologists studying the Cold War. Yet regardless of one’s disciplinary affiliation, scholars of the Cold War face similar challenges: How does one study a crisis-ridden period colored by political stereotypes, government oppression, censorship, and police surveillance? How might one move beyond official portrayals to uncover real lived experiences? How does one approach a historical period that continues to project a profound influence on many lives today? For both musicologists and ethnomusicologists, oral history has provided a critical means of addressing these challenges.

Sponsored by the AMS Cold War and Music Study Group, this session will bring together ethnomusicologists and musicologists to discuss the role of oral history in Cold War research. Long considered the domain of ethnomusicologists, oral history has been embraced by a growing number of musicologists seeking to go beyond published and archival sources. Yet conducting interviews with actors in Cold War music history is a process rife with theoretical, practical, interpretative, and ethical concerns. This three-hour session of alternative format will be divided into two parts, each consisting of two short papers, a response, and moderated discussion. Papers will be made available online in advance of the meeting. Joshua Pilzer will serve as session chair and moderator.

The session’s first half will focus on oral testimony and trauma. Jennifer Abraham Cramer will present on the role of oral history research in the documentation of traumatic events. In the process, she will discuss special considerations regarding training and preparation and describe how the interview process can affect those who have witnessed or lived through crises. Jonathan Yaeger will draw from his research on the surveillance of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra by the East German Stasi (secret police) to examine the challenges of using secret police files, many of which contain informant testimony with slanderous details. As memories of the Stasi continue to haunt many Germans to this day, Yaeger will also describe the complexities of interviewing former secret police informants and their victims. Amy Wlodarski will serve as respondent.

The second half will examine the interplay between oral and documentary sources. Drawing from his archival and ethnographic research on popular song in Albania since 1945, Nicholas Tochka will describe how contemporary interviews about pre-1989 musical events sometimes contradict the archival record, and he will argue for an approach that embraces the incommensurability of ethnographic and archival methods. Such an approach, moreover, begs a deeper examination of the location of our interlocutors and ourselves within historically situated economies of Cold War knowledge production. Laura Silverberg will discuss the historiographical complexities of working with recent oral testimony, pre-1989 texts, and post-1989 writings by East and West German musicologists, who were simultaneously witnesses to and scholars of postwar musical developments. Jeffers Engelhardt will provide a response.

AMS 2011 (San Francisco): Local Musics and Global Perspectives: Reimagining Eastern Europe in Post-Cold-War Musicology

  • Kevin Bartig, Michigan State University
  • Michael Beckerman, New York University (respondent)
  • Andrea F. Bohlman, Harvard University
  • Lynn Hooker, Indiana University (moderator)
  • Lisa Jakelski, Eastman School of Music
  • Kevin C. Karnes, Emory University

Just one year after Allied victory in World War II, Winston Churchill coined one of the most enduring metaphors of the Cold War: the Iron Curtain. But now, two decades after that curtain was sundered by the fall of the Berlin Wall, the very notion of “Eastern Europe” is losing cultural currency on both sides of the former divide. Accordingly, musicologists have started to look beyond the official institutions and feted musicians of the once “Great Powers” to explore the vital–yet formerly hidden–diversity of music-making and cultural expression in the Soviet bloc. This work has prompted the reconsideration of an array of questions central to our discipline: the relationship between the national, the regional, and the local in musical expression and cultural discourse; the place of minority cultures and musics in republican politics, imperial institutions, and the global marketplace; and the response of musicians to rapid and radical social, political, and economic change.

This three-hour, alternative-format session approaches these questions from two directions. The panelists’ individual presentations look closely at specific examples of music-making in the former Soviet bloc that do not figure in traditional narratives of Cold-War, Eastern European music history. We also step back from these local perspectives to explore collaboratively, in responses and discussion periods, the continued viability of the transnational field of Cold-War studies as a means of placing and explaining local experience within a meaningful global context.

The session features four short presentations, two formal responses, and moderated discussion periods. After introductory remarks by Hooker, Bartig and Jakelski will examine the roles played by festivals of contemporary music in cultural diplomacy and regional integration. Bartig explores ways in which the Zagreb Biennale, funded jointly by the USA and USSR, reflected Yugoslavia’s Cold-War policy of nonalignment. Jakelski positions Poland’s Warsaw Autumn Festival as a site of transnational expression, manifested in its promotion of Lithuanian music during the 1980s. Karnes examines Latvian musicians’ efforts to collect and memorialize Jewish folk musics in the wake of the Holocaust in the Baltic republics. And Bohlman considers an example of Soviet musical influence outside of institutional mandate, arguing that Soviet popular song provided political songwriters in Solidarity-era Poland with creative models and inspiration for their own, distinctly anti-Soviet political singing. Beckerman will respond, reflecting upon these local cases from a transnational perspective, and moving from individual presentations to group discussions moderated by Hooker.

AMS 2009 (Philadelphia)Music Historiography in Cold War Contexts

  • Laura Silverberg, A-R Editions, Organizer
  • Lee Bidgood, University of Virginia
  • Elaine Kelly, Edinburgh University
  • Heather Wiebe, University of Virginia
  • Hon-Lun Yang, Hong Kong Baptist University
  • Marcus Zagorski, University College, Cork

Nearly two decades have passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the demise of communism in Eastern Europe, and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The passing of time has enabled musicologists to approach the Cold War with increasing critical distance, and recent publications and conference presentations offer more nuanced perspectives on the relationship between musical, social, and political developments after the Second World War. Yet Cold War prejudices still risk coloring scholarly investigations into the music of this era.

The assembled panelists will discuss a web of themes relating to music historiography and the Cold War. In particular, this session will consider constructions of the past that emerged after 1945, present-day musicological narratives of the Cold War, and competing conceptions of the musical canon. Panelists will draw from their own research to address the following questions: How did composers and musicians conceive of their musical past, and how did they position their own activities within these carefully constructed historical trajectories? How have authoritarian regimes defined and appropriated the musical heritage? What processes enabled certain musical works to be accepted as part of a musical canon during the Cold War? Finally, what are effective strategies for studying the music of authoritarian regimes, where access to information is carefully controlled?

The research of the assembled panelists reflects diverse geographic regions, methodologies (from archival research to participant observation), and musical genres. Marcus Zagorski (“Historical Narrative and Aesthetic Judgment: Serial and Post-serial Music in West Germany”) will examine how composers active in West Germany during the 1950s and 1960s believed that the techniques with which they worked were prescribed by history rather than subjectively chosen. His paper cites examples of this conception of history and outlines its effects upon aesthetic judgments in the period. Elaine Kelly (“Conceptions of Canons in a Post-Cold War Climate: Interpreting Narratives of the Past in the GDR”) will explore the limitations of assessing East GErman music according to aesthetic criteria shaped by the hegemonic “western” canon. In the process, she will suggest alternative means of interpreting narratives o the past in Cold War and post-Cold War contexts. Heather Wiebe (“Britain’s Cold War”) will examine how some of the Cold War’s most pressing issues were addressed in a specifically British context. Focusing on Britten’s treatment of themes of communication and freedom, as posed against the forces of both capitalism and totalitarianism, she suggests that the particularity of British cultural responses to postwar modernity complicates familiar dichotomies of populist and avant-garde, East and West. Lee Bidgood (“Czech Bluegrass Music, Ethnography, and the Liminal Presence of the Past”) will examine how three generations of Czech bluegrass musicians active both during and after the Cold War conceived of their music in terms of an imagined “American” past. Drawing from her research experience in the People’s Republic of China, Hon-Lung Yang (“Researching Music in the People’s Republic of China”) will reflect on the contemporary challenges of studying music of an authoritarian regime, dealing with government censorship, and confronting the socialist worldview ingrained in Chinese historiography.

AMS 2008 (Nashville): American Music in the Global Cold War: Music Crossing Borders

  • Peter Schmelz (Washington University in St. Louis), moderator
  • Emily Abrams Ansari (University of Western Ontario)
  • Ryan Dohoney (Columbia University)
  • Carol Hess (Michigan State University)
  • Danielle Fosler-Lussier (Ohio State University)

The processes of cultural globalization are generally taken to include music’s transmission to distant places via migration, war, or cultural diplomacy; the alteration or suppression of local musical practices through interaction with non-local ones; and the effects of technological mediation, such as broadcasting or recording, on musical practices. During the cold war these factors were all in play because of the worldwide interaction of national cultures and political allegiances; yet the cold war and cultural globalization are rarely considered together.
In this panel we will consider the cold war as a global conflict, and potentially a culturally globalizing one, by examining the ways in which cold war politics caused music to be pushed or pulled into places far from its point of origin, or to be transformed by political relationships spanning vast distances. Throughout our discussion, we will seek both to gather specific evidence from panelists and audience participants and to weigh how this evidence affects our general understanding of the cold war’s impact on music-making.

Our panel therefore seeks to answer the following questions:

1. What relationships, if any, do you find between the international political activities of the cold war and the processes of cultural globalization?
2. What specific evidence from your own research shapes your view?
3. What implications does this evidence have for our scholarly work as we seek to understand the music of this era?

Four panelists will use these questions as a springboard for brief (15 minute) presentations, focused on their own research. Emily Abrams Ansari argues that the international cultural diplomacy activities of the United States government gave a small group of American composers the means to shape how American music would be presented to foreign audiences, and thereby also offered them unprecedented authority over the musical scene at home. Ryan Dohoney reads Morton Feldman’s and Frank O’Hara’s borrowings from the Soviet author Boris Pasternak as a strategic positioning of the New York Schools of music and art outside of the limiting binary of the Soviet/American axis. Carol Hess demonstrates that the cold war political relations between the United States and Latin America were musically formative in both places through consideration of three revealing moments: the critical reaction to the 1967 premiere of Alberto Ginastera’s opera Bomarzo in the U.S.; Aaron Copland’s anti-modernist representation of Latin America in the Three Latin American Sketches; and the “nationalism” of Nueva Canción Chilena. Lastly, through a case study of the University of Michigan Jazz Band’s 1965 tour in Latin America, Danielle Fosler-Lussier suggests that the connections created through cultural diplomacy enabled musicians and audiences to re-imagine themselves as participants in global cultural and political relations; these connections influenced not only the recipient countries, but also the American scene to which the touring musicians returned.

AMS 2007 (Quebec City): Music and Politics in the Early Cold War: Recent Approaches, Future Directions

  • Peter J. Schmelz (Washington University in St. Louis), moderator
  • Phil Ford (Indiana University)
  • Tamara Levitz (University of California, Los Angeles)
  • Laura Silverberg (Columbia University)
  • Leslie Sprout (Drew University)
  • Danielle Fosler-Lussier (Ohio State University, respondent)

The present panel will be the first public discussion sponsored by the AMS Cold War and Music Study Group. The study group was formed in 2006 to begin exploring more systematically the issues and debates encompassing the study of music, culture, society, and politics in the cold war. Its goal, and one of the fundamental aims of this panel, is to trace in more detail the central, complicated, and still underappreciated roles that music played in the ongoing conflict. The past several years have witnessed a revived interest in the politics and culture of the cold war. With the help of newly released documents and a sense of renewed purpose after 9/11, many scholars are, as critic Carlin Romano has noted, taking aim at “Cold War Conventional Wisdom.” Much of this reassessment predictably has been spearheaded by historians and political scientists, many of whom still remain suspicious of investigating art and the cold war. Nonetheless, an increasing number of musicologists are now focusing on the roles of culture–and specifically music–during the period. This panel will take the pulse of current cold war musicological and cultural studies while also discussing fruitful avenues for future scholarship, ranging from archival to interpretative, by focusing on specific case studies.

The panel will focus on the early stages of the cold war (roughly 1945-1965) and it will feature five scholars assigned to represent major geopolitical areas: Phil Ford will take American popular culture as his topic, specifically exotica pop and the global imagination; Tamara Levitz will consider the effects of the cold war in Caribbean–and specifically Cuban and Haitian–music; Peter Schmelz will discuss the representation of the atomic bomb in Alfred Schnittke’s 1959 oratorio Nagasaki and its reflection of post-Stalin cold war culture in the USSR; Laura Silverberg will address the interactions between socialist realism, nationalism, and the reception of Western modernism in East Germany and Eastern Europe; and Leslie Sprout will explore the impact of lingering trauma from the Second World War on music in postwar France. As this selection of scholars and topics shows, the Cold War and Music study group is interested in expanding and complicating the traditional binary view (US/USSR) of the post-1945 world, while also exploring a variety of musical styles and genres, both “popular” and “art” (and the many hybrids in between). Each of the panelists will present a thesis that encapsulates or critiques a specific aspect of recent thought on the cold war. They will frame the musical with the political and balance musicological concerns with other interdisciplinary perspectives, including work by historians, political scientists, and ethnomusicologists. Issues of patronage, style, signification, and audience also will be considered. The panel will highlight recent directions in the scholarship of cold war music, while interjecting musicological perspectives into broader academic debates about the cold war, thereby countering the conventional wisdom that art and music somehow remained separate from the fraught and pervasive politics of the day.

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