Julia Byl, PhD (University of Michigan)

Associate Professor, Faculty of Arts - Music Dept


Associate Professor, Faculty of Arts - Music Dept
(780) 492-7534
3-34A Arts Building (Main & Conv Hall)
113 St and 91 Ave
Edmonton AB
T6G 2E6



Dr. Julia Byl joins the University of Alberta in 2015, after serving at King's College London for three years as a post-doctoral fellow and Malay Case Study leader on the European Research Council project, "Musical Transitions to Colonialism in the Eastern Indian Ocean." She received her doctorate in ethnomusicology at the University of Michigan, studying with Judith Becker and Richard Crawford. She has taught at King's College London, the University of Illinois, Pomona College, and her alma mater, St. Olaf College, where she was a Mellon postdoctoral fellow. Her recent book, Antiphonal Histories: Resonant Pasts in the Toba Batak Musical Present was published in 2014 as a part of Wesleyan University Press's Music/Culture series.


Julia's research centers on the intersection between contemporary performances and the musical past, between ethnography, historiography, and archival work: How can we reanimate past musical activity that may now seem dry and inert, but was once vivid and alive to the vagaries of performance? Conversely, how do we decide when a musical legacy is still relevant to a contemporary tradition, and avoid fetishizing tradition at the expense of dynamic self-expression?

Sounds Across the Bay: Musical Transitions to Colonialism in the Eastern Indian Ocean

Together with literary studies scholar David Lunn (SOAS) and historian and ethnomusicologist Katherine Schofield (King's College London), Julia is editing a collection of multidisciplinary essays that will serve as the primary output of the 4-year, 20-plus-scholar ERC project, "Musical Transitions." In space, SATB ranges from Lucknow to South Sumatra; in time, from the earliest colonial forays to the period of high colonialism; and in approach, from South and Southeast Asian Studies to literary, historical and religious studies. The combined force of these methodologies have led us to understand music as equally present in generations-old lineages of musicians and instruments, and in the more amorphous conceptions of sonic power that are so pervasive within the range of our studies.

Civic Modulations:  Public Music and Institutional Membership in East Timor

This current project is a study of urban music, the individual, and the transnational institution in one of the world’s newest nations. East Timor achieved independence in 2002 after centuries of Portuguese colonization, a violent Indonesian annexation, and interventions by the United Nations, the Catholic Church, international journalists and peacekeeping troops. Each of these larger memberships offered to East Timorese—“a Lusophone student,” “a torture victim,” “a citizen of a UN member state”—confers a certain identity connected with specific musical preferences. Catholic liturgy in Portuguese has flourished since independence, the colonial language redeemed by the melodies of a transformational church; radio stations offer youth both Indonesian and Brazilian popular music, programming two different sets of local history and global aspirations. "Civic Modulations" seeks to uncover how broad institutional frameworks are transformed when they hit the city streets or the public stage.


Julia's teaching interests include music and religion; the music of Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean; global popular music; and historical ethnomusicology. She feels equally strongly that broad courses on world music--aimed to introduce the discipline to majors and newcomers alike--are the true ambassadors for the discipline and the richness of musical traditions it seeks to represent. Julia welcomes graduate students in any field of music or cultural studies who are interested in thinking through and generating studies of "global histories of music": a sub stream comprised of musicology, ethnomusicology, history, anthropology and area studies that aims to reimagine the global musical past (and present) through connected, deep-rooted studies. And as these histories are profoundly relevant to the present, those interested in exploring the musical present through ethnography and musical apprenticeship are equally welcome.

Current classes:

Music 102: Introduction to Ethnomusicology (Fall 2015)

Music 365: Music and Cosmology (Winter 2016)

Music 565/665: Music of Eastern Europe


MUSIC 102 - Introduction to World Music

Not available to students with credit in MUSIC 165.

MUSIC 202 - Studies in World Music

Introduces issues arising from and tools for understanding the musical diversity surveyed in MUSIC 102. Prerequisite: MUSIC 102 or consent of the department.

MUSIC 466 - Topics in Ethnomusicology

Prerequisite: consent of Department.

MUSIC 665 - Issues in Ethnomusicology

MUSIC 666 - Field Methods in Ethnomusicology

Browse more courses taught by Julia Byl