I am an Assistant Professor of Music (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. I’m currently developing two new book projects. The first is a short book for the 33 1/3 Europe series on Vopli Vidopliassova’s first cassette release, Tantsi (Танці; or Dances). The second, a longer project, is on children’s music in the Soviet Union.
My projects have explored practices of sovereignty and what I call “wildness” in post-Soviet Ukrainian “ethno-music,” the legacy of Soviet cultural policies on music after socialism, folklore and nuclear experience after Chornobyl, Soviet constructions of childhood and the role of expressive culture in disciplining Soviet citizens, and the gray zones occupied by late Soviet punk culture. My M.A. thesis was in critical organology, examining the piano accordion and how players negotiate its “cultural baggage” in NYC. 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-theorizes the dissertation to account for political upheavals that rocked Ukraine between 2004-2014.
Before coming to Berkeley, I worked as an Assistant Professor of Music at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY. 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, was 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.
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 pronounced: Sun+eh+vyt (like the “i” in “fit”)+ski (like the winter sport). Good luck!