Meet the Fellows: 2019 Newcombe Fellow Jeffrey Dyer

The Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship is the nation’s largest and most prestigious award for Ph.D. candidates in the humanities and social sciences addressing questions of ethical and religious values. The 2019 class of Fellows includes Jeffrey Dyer, a doctoral candidate in musicology and ethnomusicology at Boston University. Jeffrey shares some of the personal roots of his work:

My Grandpa loved music, and he drew joy from the fact that I showed an interest in music at a young age. I still have vivid memories of him sitting quietly in my family’s living room, listening intently during some of my early piano lessons. Even though the music I now research is very different than the music my Grandpa cherished, I have always felt that my musical activities have managed to keep my Grandpa’s memory close. It may be no coincidence, then, that when I first arrived in Cambodia, I was struck by the ways Cambodian musicians hold the memories and spirits of their ancestors and teachers near at hand. Musicians are far from the only ones who do this: facilitated by ritualized music, gestures, and Buddhist chants, many Cambodians live with the feeling that they are accompanied by spirits, ghosts, and ancestors.

My dissertation is exploring the wealth of history and remembrance nestled in that companionship. My Grandpa was a Jewish man who came of age in Austria in the 1930s, and just as his life’s trajectory changed drastically due to war and genocide, the histories that emerge when talking with Cambodians involve violence, traverse national boundaries, and include mourning. But, for most of the people with whom I have worked, the past is a source of strength and sustenance. That is, although Cambodians have and continue to experience suffering, they are not defined by it. Instead, the histories emanating from rituals and habits, spirits and ancestors, and the ever-present songs and sounds are the foundation on which Cambodians build their present and future.

Jeffrey’s dissertation, titled Spectral Sounds, Spectral Time: Music and Sound, Ritual, and the Ethics of Historicity in Cambodia, explores the ways music and sound bring spirits, ghosts, and ancestors actively into Cambodians’ lives. For more information on the 2019 Newcombe Fellows, click here.



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