I am an Associate Professor of Anthropology and Music at Bard College. I returned to Bard in 2022, after receiving tenure in Ethnomusicology at the University of California, Berkeley. My first book, Wild Music: Sound and Sovereignty in Ukraine was published in the Music/Cultures Series of Wesleyan University Press in late 2019, and was awarded the 2020 Lewis Lockwood First Book Prize from the American Musicological Society.
My second book is out now in the 33 1/3 Europe series. It’s about the breakout Ukrainian punk band Vopli Vidopliassova’s 1989 cassette release, Tantsi (Танці; or Dances). I’m especially thrilled that, due to a happy run of circumstances that accompanied my research in Kyiv in 2019, the Tantsi album has had its first official release in the spring of 2023, out on vinyl for Record Store Day on the wonderful label Org Music. Tantsi will be fully available in digital form in mid-June 2023.
My new book-length project, centered on the Soviet-era Kyiv Palace of Pioneers, is in process and tentatively titled Singing for Lenin in Soviet Ukraine: Children, Music, and the Communist Future. In 2023, I was awarded an NEH Fellowship to continue that work. I am also–slowly–developing a more personal book about my family’s history of fleeing Ukraine during WWII focused on the difficult passages that marked their story of migration, and my own upbringing as a hyphenated Ukrainian-American. (Need an editor.)
Other projects have explored folklore and nuclear experience after Chornobyl, writings on Russian Imperialism and 19th century opera, epistemic imperialism in the aftermath of the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine, vernacular discourses of Sovietized kitsch (i.e. sharovarshchyna), and Soviet musical evolutionism. My M.A. thesis was in critical organology, examining the piano accordion and how living New York City-based players negotiate its “cultural baggage” related to histories of immigration, class, and race. In 2012, I received my Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology from Columbia University. My dissertation, “‘Wild Music’: Ideologies of Exoticism in Two Ukrainian Borderlands,” was based on fieldwork that I conducted in Crimea and Western Ukraine in 2008-9. It was awarded distinction by the Columbia Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. My first book, Wild Music, fully re-theorized the dissertation to account for political upheavals that rocked Ukraine between 2004-2014.
Previously, in 2013-14, I was the Jacyk Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at the University of Toronto and, in the fall of 2012, I was a Mihaychuk Postdoctoral Fellow at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. I was also a Jacyk Visiting Instructor and Research Fellow at the Harriman Institute at Columbia University in 2013.
I’ve performed in a variety of acts over the years. My trio with Susan Hwang and Mia Pixley, which we conceived of as a twisted Andrews Sisters novelty group, is called The Debutante Hour. Starting in 2004, I played piano, accordion, and whatever else was needed with the new music mavericks of Anti-Social Music. I have sung Ukrainian village songs with Zozulka and produced an album called “The Chornobyl Songs Project” on Smithsonian Folkways in 2015 with Ensemble Hilka. I performed in the Yara Arts Group production “Scythian Stones,” which we performed in New York, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and Kyiv, Ukraine. In 2012, I did a six month US, European, and Trans-Siberian to China tour playing punk shows with my husband Franz Nicolay. (His acclaimed travelogue, The Humorless Ladies of Border Control, was published on The New Press in 2016 and features that tour.) I have been a faculty member at summer music camps including The Puget Sound Guitar Workshop, California Coast Music Camp, and August Heritage Festival Vocal Week, where I have taught Ukrainian village songs, piano accordion, and assorted other things.
I have two sweet kids, Lesia and Artem, with the aforementioned Franz.
I don’t mind being asked about the correct pronunciation of my last name, but I’ll try to clear it up here. It is spelled: SONEVYTSKY. It is pronounced: Sun+eh+vyt (like the “i” in “fit”)+ski (like the winter sport). Good luck!