Music Matters – Even in a Pandemic

About a year ago, six unsuspecting individuals—who now happen to be the authors of this text—handed in their applications for one of the six PhD positions in a new programme at the mdw. At this point, we couldn’t know that we would be accepted and start working on our dissertations just a few months later—but if anyone had asked how we’d imagine it being, our responses would most probably not have anticipated the current circumstances that the Covid-19 pandemic has led us into.

Yet wherever there are changes, there is also the potential for something new. And so, October 2020 marked the beginning of the newly established, research-centred Structured Doctoral Programme (sdp) “Music Matters”, which complements the existing PhD programme at the mdw by offering six positions in a four-year, English-language programme. Central to the sdp is its pursuit of a strongly interdisciplinary focus that draws on the manifold expertise present at the mdw. This emphasis is supported by a team of supervisors comprising eight members from the university’s various research departments who oversee the individual PhD projects and help to develop new possibilities of working together across departmental lines.

We PhD candidates likewise come from varied academic backgrounds—including (ethno-)musicology, film studies, and sociology. And in keeping with how the overall programme topic “Music Matters” is focused on aspects of materiality, practices, and knowledge production within musical and performative phenomena, our individual projects will explore these dimensions within a highly diverse thematic scope. This includes the curatorial strategies implemented in Viennese musical exhibitions, theorisations of rhythm as an aesthetic concept, femme/queer DJ collectives and the associated underground subculture, diversity among musicians in symphony orchestras, the use of the voice in Yiddish singing, and practices of transmission related to the Afghan rubab. Through this range of approaches, the sdp aims to offer a multifaceted account of contemporary research on music/s and performing arts.

With the pandemic having collided with the sdp’s first semester, the launch of this programme could not take place in quite the way that it had been envisioned. Yet we and the sdp’s organisational team found new ways to stay connected and prepare the ground for our upcoming collaboration. Alongside online meetings and workshops with the supervisors, our first steps have included the implementation of an online discussion format called “Inter-relations: sdp meet-up” (up-to-date news can be found at to facilitate exchange with other researchers at the mdw. Additionally, we are planning a concomitant lecture series on “Music Matters” for the 2021/22 academic year. Our more immediate preparations concern especially the beginning of the programme’s courses this month as well as the sdp’s delayed opening event, which will take place as soon as circumstances finally allow us to once again get together safely with our colleagues and other members of our institution – with the hope that this will be possible when we kick off the lecture series in the next semester.

Learn more about the sdp here:

Authors: Juan Carlos Escobar-Campos, Isabel Frey, Tianyu Jiang, Peter Lell, Angelica Pinna, Sophie Zehetmayer

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