Rebecca Miller

Professor of Music
Hampshire College Professor Rebecca Miller
Contact Rebecca

Mail Code CS
Rebecca Miller
Adele Simmons Hall 208
413.559.5545

Rebecca (Becky) Miller, professor of music, received an A.B. from Bryn Mawr College, an M.A. from Wesleyan University and a Ph.D. from Brown University in ethnomusicology. She conducted dissertation research as a Fulbright Fellow on the Caribbean island of Carriacou (Grenada).

Professor Miller's book, Carriacou String Band Serenade: Performing Identity in the Eastern Caribbean (Wesleyan University Press, 2008) examines social and political change through the performance of traditional music, song, and dance in Carriacou. Miller also has conducted fieldwork in Ireland as a Whiting Fellow (2006-2009) on popular Irish showband music for an upcoming book length project. As a public sector folklorist, she has documented and presented the traditional arts from a number of immigrant and refugee communities throughout the United States. Her work has culminated in publications, recordings, festivals, radio, and video documentaries.

Miller is the producer of the award-winning public radio series "Old Traditions-New Sounds" and is the co-producer/writer of the documentary video "From Shore To Shore: Irish Traditional Music in New York City." A fiddler, she plays southern old-time string band music, French-Canadian music, Irish music, and klezmer, and she performs regularly throughout New England.

Recent and Upcoming Courses

  • The music of immigrant, refugee, and diasporic people in the United States ranges from traditional and folk genres to popular and rock styles, and often serves as a bridge between the old and new cultures. This course focuses on music from a number of immigrant/diasporic communities in the United States, including Irish, East European Jewish, Mexican, African-American, various parts of the Caribbean, Vietnam, and others. We will examine the many ways that identity is created and solidified in immigrant communities through music, song, and dance. This course will introduce students to theoretical models to better understand the dynamics of immigrant culture: subcultural theory, "creative" ethnicity, hybridity/musical syncretism, gender, and cultural appropriation. In addition to regular reading, writing, and listening assignments, students will conduct an oral history and help construct an oral history archive. Keywords: ethnomusicology, American studies, diaspora studies, oral history

  • A cranky is a storytelling device consisting of a box with two spindles and a hand-cranked illustrated scroll and accompanied by instrumental music, song or spoken word. Crankies arrived in the southern Appalachians with British immigrants beginning in the 1800s and served as entertainment as well as a means to record local, historical events. In this course, we will build crankies and create stories from folk ballads, original music, and songs that deal with contemporary issues. We will work independently and collaboratively as we experiment with image making, mechanical motion, simple lighting, shadows, music, and song. We will read and complete writing assignments about the role of crankies in folk culture, both historically and in contemporary practice. The class will conclude with an end-of-the-semester performance. It is open to students interested in making images and illustration, folk arts, and theater. Introverts and extroverts welcome! Keywords: Design, fabrication, American studies, folk arts, music

  • This course focuses on the broad fundamentals of western music and music theory, including music literacy (how to read western music notation). We will study concepts such as pitch, melody, timbre, and texture, and learn about rhythm, intervals, scales, chords, and harmony. We will also develop our musical understanding through composing music and through "deep listening" in classwork and concerts. Students are required to attend a once/week ear training class, either Monday or Thursday evening, from 7:00 to 8:30 pm. No prior music training or literacy is required. (keywords: music theory, listening, composition, ear training)

  • In this course, we will learn how to produce music pieces for public radio and podcasts. We will first learn the basics of radio journalism, including reporting, recording, scriptwriting, production, and the effective use of music and ambient sound. Students will then produce three music-related pieces -- a vox pop, a recording or song review, and a short documentary feature -- in a style consistent with public radio. Students will gain a working knowledge of sound editing techniques using Adobe Audition. In addition to regularly workshopping of students' projects in class, we will discuss weekly reading and listening assignments that introduce students to creative public radio pieces focusing on music. Students can borrow digital recorders, microphones, and other equipment from Media Services. (keywords: radio, podcasting, production, documentary making)

  • This course focuses on American southern old-time string band music, bluegrass, and early country song. We draw on cultural theory to explore the development of these musics throughout the 20th/21st centuries as well as the influences of African-American musical expression, class, gender, and music revivalism. We will consider old time and bluegrass both from an historical perspective and ethnographically as vital forms of folk expression in communities today. The course will include weekly reading/listening assignments, occasional film screenings, written assignments based on the reading, and midterm and final essays. If possible and depending on logistics, we will include an optional performance component: interested students will learn to play old time music by ear and develop a repertoire of traditional dance music. Prior experience with old time music is not necessary, but a working knowledge of one of the following acoustic instruments is required: fiddle (violin), cello, banjo, guitar, upright bass, mandolin, harmonica, ukulele, and others. (music, ethnomusicology, American studies, performance, race, class, gender)

  • Time and Narrative: Pandemics: Main Question: How do people, communities, and cultures understand, make sense of, and react to pandemics, both historically and now, given COVID-19? Course Description: The shock of suffering and death from the COVID-19 pandemic prompts many to speak of it as unprecedented. In fact, there have been many instances of global pandemics, from the Bubonic Plague of the Middle Ages to the Great Influenza of 1918 to the AIDS pandemic beginning in the 1980s. This class will examine historical, social, cultural, and scientific perspectives on how humans have understood and reacted to infectious disease across cultures and centuries and will provide insight as we seek to reconstruct our lives and societies. We will also investigate how our own particular identity and positionality lead to different consequences for each of us.This transdisciplinary course will involve research, hands-on investigation, and creative expression. We will focus on pandemics from multiple perspectives - biology, epidemiology, and public health policy, as well as history, politics, ethnography, oral history, literature, and other expressive arts. Students will undertake individualized study-analyze scientific data, conduct research in archives and via social media, interview pandemic survivors, and other projects -- and reflect on their own experiences and collectively share their findings through public forums, media, scholarship, creative writing, and journalism. Approaches: #epidemiology, #publicHealth, #history, #journalism, #ethnography