Christi-Anne Castro is an ethnomusicologist who received her doctoral degree from UCLA with a dissertation on music and nationalism in the Philippines. Her interest in music and politics has not waned, leading to an award-winning book that grew out of the dissertation and to co-editorship of the peer-reviewed journal, Music & Politics. She has been a long-time performer of the Philippine string ensemble called the rondalla and continues to work with community rondalla groups.
In April 2021, Christi-Anne Castro was awarded a John H. D’Arms Faculty Award for Distinguished Graduate Mentoring in the Humanities.
What is your focus of research and teaching at SMTD?
I teach a variety of courses in musicology from an ethnomusicological perspective, including ones on gender and sexuality, community, the body, and everyday music. I have been at U-M since 2005, and outside of SMTD, I served as the director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies for 6 years.
What projects are you currently working on?
I am currently writing a manuscript on music festivals, community, and identity politics. My recent work has included a chapter on queerness in ethnomusicology and articles on U.S. colonial music education in the Philippines and Western classical music under the Marcos dictatorship. I’m also continuing to do rondalla music projects with a community group in Massachusetts.
Have any of the social/political issues of the past few years influenced your work?
Most certainly! My interest in the interplay between music and identity politics has been long-standing, but the book manuscript I’m working on is directly related to the political climate of the last five years. Our sense of difference—one that permeates narratives about multiculturalism in the US and Canada—proven to be persistent and pervasive. While some criticize identity politics as societally fragmenting, strategies to be recognized, to feel safe in community, and to be heard through music deserve attention for the mechanisms of coping that they are.
What is special about Michigan?
The University of Michigan is outstanding in terms of the resources faculty and students have access to and its reputation as an institution. I very much like that SMTD is embedded within the University of Michigan and that it does not stand alone as a conservatory, because faculty can take advantage of so much that the university has to offer. I have found that musicology faculty have a lot of freedom to pursue the research of their choice and to teach classes with topics they desire. The level of students is high, which makes course discussions more fun and stimulating.
Share a favorite SMTD memory.
I think the premise of Ellen Rowe’s April Fool’s faculty concerts is hilarious, even if our actual execution was painful for the audience. I have also enjoyed getting to interact even a little bit with so many of the incoming SMTD music students for 15 years as the instructor of Musicology 139, a required core course.
What are you passionate about outside of your research and performance?
I love to travel. And to eat interesting foods. And to travel in order to eat interesting foods. If there is good bird/nature-watching where I’m traveling, even better. I also like hometown professional sports teams (which are the Patriots and the Red Sox). Related to that, I’m the commissioner of a fantasy baseball league. If you need more, I have been obsessed with my dogs over the years as well as chocolate and peanut butter together.
What is on your current (or recent) reading/ watch/ listen list?
During the school year, I mostly read for my classes, and during breaks, I read for my research or to prepare syllabi for classes. During the pandemic, I’ve been doing a gradual re-watch of the Marvel movies, but in chronological rather than cinema release order. As for music, 80s pop songs have been playing a lot in my home. Because music is so activating—prompts affect, evokes memories, and evinces other associations—I’m not surprised that this past year has stirred up a sense of nostalgia for a different time. I would echo the cliche that pop music can be a soundtrack of our formative years, but I would add that for me, hearing it right now isn’t so much about reliving those years as it is about accessing familiar positive emotions in a time when it is so easy to disassociate.