Front Matter

Socialist Musical Imaginaries — MUS224

Cross listed: Anthropology, Global & International Studies, Russian & Eurasian Studies

  • Mondays/Wednesdays 10:10-11:30
  • Blum N210
  • Professor Maria Sonevytsky
  • (please allow 24 hours for a response, longer on weekends)
  • Office:                        Blum N205
  • Office Tel:                 845-752-2405
  • Office Hours:            Tuesdays, 2-4


What is the relationship between musical culture and political ideology? Taking examples from China, Cuba, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, this course surveys the cultural policies of socialist states and their effects on the lives, listening habits, and creative output of musicians and music consumers. From the politics of Azeri opera, to the subversive sounds of Siberian punk, to the performance of masculinity in Chinese and Cuban pop music, we will investigate how political ideologies generated state support for certain kinds of music while suppressing other forms of unofficial, underground and protest music. Students will develop an understanding of how socialist cultural policy models in diverse regions of the world have understood the uses and the threats posed by musical culture in daily and symbolic life. Furthermore, we will evaluate what happens when the ideological imperatives of a regime transform, fade away, or are suddenly replaced with a new political ideology. Readings include historical, anthropological, and musicological texts that examine the relationship of musical sound to publics, counterpublics and states. Students do not need to read musical notation to take this class.

REQUIRED TEXTS *Available for purchase at the Bard College bookstore.

  • Lau, Frederick. 2008. Music in China: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Moore, Robin D. 2006. Music & Revolution: Cultural Change in Socialist Cuba. Berkeley and London: University of California Press and Center for Black Music Research.
  • Recommended, but optional: Yurchak, Alexei. 2005. Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • All other readings are available on the Moodle. Please print and bring to class.


Each week, one or two students from the class will be assigned to post a report on the week’s class-related events, readings and in-class discussions. The report should be two to three paragraphs long. It should summarize the readings done for the week, raise unresolved questions, and, when possible, provide relevant outside information. You may wish to include links or images. The weekly report should be posted no later than Wednesday by 9 PM. Students not assigned to post a report that week will write with brief comments that critique, praise and extend the weekly report. These comments should be posted no later than Thursday by 9 PM.


  • Attendance & Participation    25%
  • Course Blog Writing                 10%
  • Tests #1-3  (15% each)              45%
  • Lecture/Event Responses          5%
  • Final Paper                                  15%

Your attendance and participation in this course is critical. You are allowed up two absences for any reason. After that, I reserve the right to lower your grade. Timeliness is also very important: two late arrivals equals one absence. In-class assignments cannot be made up. If you miss class, you are responsible for whatever we covered during our meeting.

You will have three tests throughout the course of the semester—one at the end of each unit, as marked in the syllabus.

You are expected to attend at least three events outside of class this semester. I will announce lectures, concerts and workshops in class and through email as they arise. For each event that you attend, you should write a one-page, single-spaced response paper. Additional responses will count as extra credit.

Your final paper should be 7-10 pages in length, double-spaced. It should provide a deep analysis of one musical piece, style, or social movement related to the class topic. Your paper should include at least three scholarly sources beyond the course readings, and should develop an ethnomusicological argument or stance with regard to the topic of your choosing (i.e., thematizing gender and performance, violence, power, economics, cultural politics, spirituality, tradition, representation, etc.)


This class will benefit greatly from your thoughtful, sustained and enthusiastic participation. To be optimally prepared, readings and other assignments should be given sufficient time. On average, you have 35-50 pages of reading per class meeting: please plan accordingly.

“Participation” comprises 25% of your final grade and includes contributing your voice to class discussion, and also listening and responding to your peers to enhance class discussions. Please come to class prepared to pose at least one discussion question based on the day’s readings. The following is a rubric that outlines how participation will be graded:

A: You contribute to nearly every class meeting, raising interesting questions or problems that demonstrate your deep engagement with the readings and assignments. You are able to respond to the comments of others and contribute to the flow of discussion. Without your participation, our discussion would be substantially less productive.

B: You contribute sometimes, with comments that demonstrate good preparation. You are able to respond to the comments of others and contribute to the flow of discussion. Without your participation, our discussion would be less productive.

C: You contribute rarely, offering comments that demonstrate some preparation. You rarely respond to the comments of others and only occasionally contribute to the flow of discussion. Without your participation, our discussion would be about the same.

D: You contribute very rarely or not at all, making it difficult to evaluate your preparedness. Without your participation, our discussion would be unchanged.

Also D: You contribute to discussions but your comments demonstrate unsatisfactory preparation and do not enhance the flow of conversation. Without your participation, our discussion would be improved.


Please bring your class notebook and a writing implement to every class. Cherish class meetings as a protected space: eighty minutes free from social media and online shoe shopping. If you text, tweet, update your status, or do anything besides give your attention to the class in my classroom, you will be excused and counted as absent for that day.


I take plagiarism very seriously. When in doubt, cite. If you paraphrase, cite. We will cover some of the basics of how to cite in class. If specific questions about attribution of ideas or intellectual property arise, please bring your questions to me or raise them in class.