Julia Byl, PhD (University of Michigan)

Associate Professor, Faculty of Arts - Music Dept

Pronouns: she her


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



Julia Byl is Associate Professor of Music, and holds a doctorate in ethnomusicology from the University of Michigan, where she studied with Judith Becker and Richard Crawford. She joined the University of Alberta in 2015, after serving at King's College London for three years as a post-doctoral fellow on the European Research Council project, "Musical Transitions to Colonialism in the Eastern Indian Ocean." Her work has shifted between ethnographic field work on Toba Batak music in North Sumatra (Antiphonal Histories: Resonant Pasts in the Toba Batak Musical Present), to thinking through the musical flows of the Indian Ocean (Sounding the Indian Ocean: Musical Circulations in the Afro-Asiatic Seascape, edited with Jim Sykes), to a new research programme on music and the institution in East Timor. New research on Sumatran manuscripts and global music history explores the intersection between musical presents and musical pasts--documented, undocumented, and undocumentable. Her research has received funding from Fulbright-Hays, the Ford Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the Killam Trusts, the Luce Foundation, the American Philosophical Society, and SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council).

Julia is also devoted to pedagogy, collaborative work, and public-facing community archiving work. 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 postdoctoral fellow. Since arriving at Alberta, she has edited and produced a documentary, Poets in the Living Room, about the extraordinary career of Regula Burckhardt Qureshi, and is involved in a number of community-focused archiving practices. Julia is currently serving as the President of the Canadian Society for Traditional Music (2021-2024).


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?

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.

Recent MA and PhD theses supervisions have been about: dance-drama from Kannada, India; queer music festivals in Canada; and master-disciple pedagogy in Iran.


Recent presentations:

"Upstream of Global Music History: Against the Musical Flow in North Sumatra": AMS Annual Meeting, Denver - November 2023

"Poets in the Living Room: Towards a Domestic Ethnomusicology": SEM Annual Meeting, Ottawa - October 2023

"Many a Slip Between Tape and Script: Transcribing Toba Batak Ritual Work": IMS "Global Music History" Study Group - October 2023

"When the Valiha Meets Valerius: Indian Ocean Flows and the Spectre of Comparison": ICTM Global Music History Symposium, Palermo - June 2023

"Upstream of India: Sumatran Indigeneity and Local Hindu-Buddhism": Leiden University, June 2023

"Sonic Ecologies of the Sumatran Highlands": Boston University, London "Disciplinal Crossings in the Global Musicology"  - March 2023

"Tracing the Footsteps of King Solomon: Musical Cosmologies in the Southeast Asian Archive": University of California, Berkeley (Colloquium Series): February 2023


MUSIC 186 - Musical Life Today

Explores how people engage with music across different traditions, cultures and localities. The course considers engagements of all kinds, from practicing for a concert to whistling at the bus stop or dancing at a community drum circle.

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 467 - Area Studies in Ethnomusicology: India and South Asia

Prerequisite: consent of Department.

MUSIC 489 - Studies in Music and Identity

The role of music and its technologies in constructing, enacting,and contesting collective and individual. Prerequisite: consent of the Department.

MUSIC 567 - Advanced Area Studies in Ethnomusicology: India and South Asia

Prerequisite: consent of Department.

MUSIC 589 - Advanced Studies in Music and Identity

The role of music and its technologies in constructing, enacting,and contesting collective and individual. Prerequisite: consent of the Department.

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