Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Music



Major Professor

Rachel May Golden

Committee Members

Leslie C. Gay, Jr., Wesley Baldwin


This thesis examines classical music as a cultural practice and centers on my ethnographies of three musical ensembles in the United States: Alarm Will Sound, eighth blackbird, and Yarn/Wire. Each group is a non-profit performing arts organization formed by conservatory-trained members and each performs and promotes new classical music, or "new music" as it is commonly called. I draw also on my own experience performing and interacting in new music communities.

From these mixed domains, I demonstrate new music ensembles as dynamic and complex entities in which individuals negotiate between the elitist conventions of classical music and populist ideals. In particular, I argue that aesthetic differences correspond to political struggles for recognition. Groups perform musical works in certain styles that reflect their respective aesthetics. With such activities, new music ensembles endeavor to make a name for themselves and gain prominence in new music culture. They thus embody a struggle for prestige. The mechanism for these pursuits entails a circulation of symbolic capital and its conversion into real capital. I frame the activities of the three ensembles within an established history of practice and examine the documented tensions between classical composers and commercial musics, and between internal struggles of modernist and postmodern composers and performers. Finally, I problematize evolutionary concepts of modern and postmodern by portraying the older groups, Alarm Will Sound and eighth blackbird as postmodern, and the younger group, Yarn/Wire, as comparatively modernist.

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