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The Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy

Music and the Culture of Democracy

Music & the culture of democracy poster image

Thursday, April 21, 2016
6:00 p.m.
Devlin Hall, Room 101


  • Edward Hirsch
  • Kim Kashkashian
  • Scott Poulson-Bryant
  • Elijah Wald

Part of "The Arts and the Culture of Democracy" Series.

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about the event


Music is considered the most accessible and democratic of the arts, yet many present-day venues struggle for audience, and critics and performers alike decry the commercial manipulation of the listener. Kim Kashkashian, Scott Poulson-Bryant, Elijah Wald and Edward Hirsch explore the principles that are expressed in a thriving musical language, from classical to hip-hop, and that inform music’s role within a flourishing democratic culture.

about the speakers


Ed Hirsch. Photo by Julie Dermansky.

Edward Hirsch is an American poet and critic. Hirsch is the recipient of an Academy of Arts and Letters Award, an Ingram Merrill Foundation Award, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, and the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome. In 2008, he was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. He currently serves as the president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Hirsch’s first collection of poems, For the Sleepwalkers (1981), received the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award from New York University and the Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets. His second collection, Wild Gratitude (1986), won the National Book Critics Award. Since then, he has published six additional books of poems: The Night Parade (1989), Earthly Measures (1994), On Love (1998), Lay Back the Darkness (2003), Special Orders (2008), and The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems (2010), which brings together thirty-five years of poems. Hirsch is also the author of five prose books, including A Poet’s Glossary (2014), Poet’s Choice (2006), How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry (1999); and is the editor of Theodore Roethke’s Selected Poems (2005) and co-editor of The Making of a Sonnet: A Norton Anthology (2008).

Hirsch has been was awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Hirsch taught for six years in the English department at Wayne State University and seventeen years in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston. Hirsch was educated at Grinnell College and the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a Ph.D. in Folklore.


Kim Kashkashian with violin

Kim Kashkashian is a Grammy-award winning Armenian- American violist. She won a 2013 Grammy Award for Best Classical Instrumental Solo for the 2012 album Kurtág/Ligeti: Music for Viola. As a soloist, she has appeared with the great orchestras of Berlin, London, Vienna, Milan, New York, and Cleveland, and in recital at the Metropolitan Museum of New York, Kaufmann Hall, New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall, as well as in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Frankfurt, Berlin, Paris, Athens, and Tokyo.

Kashkashian has been featured on over 30 albums and performs pieces from both classical and contemporary composers, working with Gidon Kremer, Yo Yo Ma, the Vienna Philharmonic, and Nikolaus Harnoncourt, among others. Kashkashian's recording, with Robert Levin of the Brahms Sonatas, won the Edison Prize in 1999. Her June 2000 recording of concertos by Bartók, Eötvös and Kurtág won the 2001 Cannes Classical Award for a premiere recording by soloist with orchestra. She currently teaches at the New England Conservatory. She won the 2nd Prize at the 1980 Loinel Tertis International Viola Competition and the 1980 ARD International Music Competition in Munich.

Kashkashian studied the viola with Karen Tuttle, and also studied at the Interlochen Center for the Arts. She received a B.M. at the Peabody Conservatory of Music and an M.M. at the New School of Music Philadelphia. She is a former faculty member of the University of Indiana and conservatories in Freiburg and Berlin in Germany. Kashkahian is a founding member of Music for Food, an initiative by musicians to fight hunger in their home countries.


Scott Poulson-Bryant headshot

Scott Poulson-Bryant is an award-winning American journalist and author. He is best known for covering trends in urban youth and popular culture. Poulson-Bryant’s journalism, profiles, reviews, and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Village VoiceRolling StoneSpinEssenceEbony, and The Source, among others. He is the author of HUNG: A Meditation on the Measure of Black Men in America (2006) and The VIPs: A Novel (2011). Poulson-Bryant’s short stories and articles have been anthologized inAnd It Don't Stop: The Best American Hip-Hop Journalism of the Last 25 Years, Kevin Powell's Step into a World: A Global Anthology of the New Black Literature, Marita Golden and E. Lynn Harris' GUMBO, and Rachel Kramer Bussell's Best Sex Writing 2008. His most recent essay, “Put Some Bass in Your Walk: Notes on Queerness, Hip Hop and the Spectacle of the Undoable,” was published byPalimpsest: A Journal on Women, Gender, and the Black International in 2013.

In 1992, Poulson-Bryant co-founded VIBE, a music and entertainment magazine which predominantly features R&B and hip-hop music artists and actors. He has also served as a staff writer of SPIN and as editorial director of GIANT magazine. Poulson-Bryant’s ground-breaking VIBE profiles of Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs (1992) and De La Soul (1993) won the ASCAP Deems Taylor Awards for Excellence in Music Journalism. His profiles also won the Best Feature Writing award from the New York chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists. 

Poulson-Bryant graduated from Brown University in 2008 and is currently working towards his Ph.D. in American Studies at Harvard University.


Elijah Wald headshot

Elijah Wald started playing guitar at age 7, went to New York at age 17 to study with Dave Van Ronk, and spent much of the next twenty years hitchhiking and performing all over North America and Europe, as well as much of Asia and Africa, including several months studying with the Congolese guitar masters Jean-Bosco Mwenda and Edouard Masengo. He has worked as an accompanist to Van Ronk, Eric Von Schmidt, and the African American string band master Howard Armstrong, and recorded two solo albums: Songster, Fingerpicker, Shirtmakerand Street Corner Cowboys.

In the early 1980s Elijah began writing on roots and world music for the Boston Globe, publishing over a thousand pieces before he left in 2000, his work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines. Wald has authored dozens of books, including: Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues; How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ’n’ Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music; Narcocorrido: A Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns, and Guerrillas; and The Mayor of MacDougal Street, a memoir with Dave Van Ronk that inspired the Coen Brothers' movie Inside Llewyn Davis. He has won a Grammy Award for his album notes to The Arhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Box, for which he was also nominated as a producer, and his books have won many awards, including an ASCAP-Deems Taylor award and an honorable mention for the American Musicological Society’s Otto Kinkeldey award. He has an interdisciplinary PhD in ethnomusicology and sociolinguistics, and taught for several years in the musicology department at UCLA. Wald is currently based near Boston, wrinting, traveling to speaking engagements around the US and abroad, and performing in a duo with his wife, clarinetist Sandrine Sheon.