Gavin Douglas with East African lyre

When Dr. Gavin Douglas was in graduate school a decade ago, Burma was relatively unknown in America. Its music? Almost completely unknown. But he was fascinated. He has taken four research trips, guitar in hand, to learn from the older, master musicians over the past decade. “Teach me,” has been his mantra, in Burmese.

“Few people [in America] knew about the place,” he said, recalling when he first traveled there. “Only six or seven recordings of the music were available in the West at that time.”

Now, he is sharing his knowledge of Southeast Asia through a book that’s part of the Oxford University Press Global Music Series: “Music in Mainland Southeast Asia.” It’s being published this fall. In it, he traces the themes of diversity; music and political struggle; and music and globalization.

He is keen to introduce students to new perspectives. He notes that when he returned from Asia the first time, he saw America and its cultures in a new light.

Teach me.

For example, he noticed that some forms of music were valued and financially supported by the government, and some were not. Why? He may never have considered that, had he not pondered the same issue when he was in Burma.

Through his books and courses, he opens eyes – and ears.

In his classes, he brings instruments from around the world, so students learn firsthand. When students visit during office hours, they see instruments and maps from his research travels.

He, as well as Dr. Revell Carr, another ethnomusicologist in the School of Music, bring in musicians from around the world, broadening the perspectives of students and the community at large.

An example is South Indian musician Jayanthi Kumaresh, who is providing a workshop and public recital on Sept. 25-26. For tickets to the recital, please contact the box office.

Douglas’ next book will focus squarely on the music and politics of Burma – where he was inspired as a college student to more fully consider his perspectives on music and cultures a decade ago.

How the older musicians have continued with their art under various forms of government is a compelling story. “We see it in black and white, from a distance,” he says. In fact, there are lots of nuances, lots of gray area for a researcher to explore.

Photography by David Wilson, University Relations