Department of Music

Professor Keith Howard

Key information

Department of Music Emeritus Professor of Music Centre of Korean Studies Academic Staff, Centre of Korean Studies
Department of Music
BA (CNAA), MA (Durham), PhD (Belf), PGCE, LTCL, FRSA
Email address


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Professor Keith Howard - The politics of music in Korea

Keith Howard is an ethnomusicologist, musicologist and anthropologist with regional interests primarily in Korea, but also Siberia, Nepal, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan and Zimbabwe. His disciplinary/sub-disciplinary interests are ethnomusicology, anthropology, studies of religion; composition, education, shamanism; early keyboard instruments, players and restorers. He is a qualified state teacher with BA and MA degrees in musicology, a PhD in anthropology, and a Licentiate from Trinity College of Music. He joined SOAS in 1991, has held visiting professorships from Monash University, Melbourne, Ewha Women’s University, Seoul, and Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Seoul, and has served as Associate Dean at Sydney Conservatorium of Music, University of Sydney.

Keith is particularly interested in how people use and talk about music, and his work explores music and religion, composition, education, preservation and sustainability, commodification and commercialisation, traditions, and musical futures.

 He is the author or editor of 16 books and more than 100 articles. He founded the SOASIS CD and DVD label and was founder and licensee of OpenAir Radio. He writes primarily about the music and culture of Korea, though he has also researched and published on the music of Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Siberia, Thailand, and Siberia.

He is editorial chair of the SOAS Musicology Series (Ashgate), and sits on advisory and editorial boards for OMNES (Sookmyung University), CRONEM (University of Surrey), ICKS (Korea University) and the Korean Dance Research Journal (Sungkyunkwan University). In 2010 and 2011 he served on the Australian Research Council’s College of Experts, and is a member of professional associations including the Society for Ethnomusicology, British Forum for Ethnomusicology, British Association for Korean Studies, Association for Korean Studies in Europe and Association for Korean Music Research.

Research interests

Keith Howard’s research on Korean music began with the aim to discover how people used music at a time of rapid change: his doctoral work was on the folk music of a geographically isolated island, and its preservation. He learnt to perform percussion and melodic instruments, working with celebrated musicians, and this led to two books exploring the construction, repertoire, and pedagogy of musical instruments. Work on shamanism and ‘comfort women’ led to further books, cementing his reputation as an anthropologist as well as an ethnomusicologist. More recently, he has worked extensively in North Korea as well as South Korea, and has published on composition, pop music, political ideology, and historical aspects. He has been concerned to develop practice-based research, and also to work collaboratively with musicians, and this has resulted in books and articles on Zimbabwean mbira (with Chartwell Dutiro), Nepali Tamu shamanism (with Yarjung Kromchai Tau), the Kyrgyz Manas epic (with Saparbek Kasmambetov), and Korean kayagum sanjo (with Chaesuk Lee). Current projects involve research on North Korean music and dance and, returning to his initial training in Western music, on early keyboard instruments. Areas of recent doctoral supervision include: Korean music (kugak fusion, composition, nongak/p’ungmul, folksong, literati song, p’ansori), practice-based research (Japanese shakuhachi, Congolese/Cuban music, Korean taegum flute, Balinese bamboo gamelan, music and cultural diplomacy), Korean dance, Khoisan dance, Korean anthropology, Czech Romani music, jazz, the piano.

Research students I supervise or have supervised (with recent institutional affiliations where available) include:

  • Nathan Hesselink (University of British Columbia), A tale of two drummers: percussion band music in North Cholla Province, Korea
  • Zhang Boyu (Beijing Chinese Conservatoire), Mathematical rhythmic structure of Chinese percussion music: an analytical study of shifan lougu co
  • Rachel Harris (SOAS), Music, Identity and Representation: Ethnic minority music in Xinjiang, China
  • Roald Maliangkay (Australian National University), Handling the Intangible: the protection of folksong traditions in Korea
  • Jang Yeon-ok (Keimyung University), Development and Change in Korean Narrative Song, P’ansori
  • Byeon Gye-won (Seoul National University of Education), Ch’angjak kugak: Writing new music for Korean traditional instruments
  • Rowan Pease (SOAS), Yanbian Songs: Musical Expressions of Identity amongst Chinese Koreans
    Francesca Tarocco (New York University), Attuning the Dharma: the cultural practices of modern Chinese Buddhism
  • Simon Mills (Durham University), The Ritual Music of South Korea’s East Coast Shamans: Inheritance, Training and Performance
  • Iain Foreman (Lisbon), The culture and poetics of jazz improvisation
  • Jean Johnson Jones (Surrey University), Nama Marks and Etchings: Employing movement analysis techniques to interpret the Nama Stap
  • Sandra Fahy (Sophia University), Tales from the Bottom of the Well:  Survivor Testimonies from the North Korea 1990s famine
  • Dorota Szawarska (Warsaw University), Kinship – an ambivalent relation: the case of Sakhalin Korean repatriates
  • Jung Rock Seo (Taiwan National University), Ancient Korean and Japanese court dance: historical relationship and transmission
  • SungHee Park (University of Oxford), Patronage and creativity in Seoul: the late 18th to late 19th century urban middle class and its vocal music
  • Kiku Day (Aarhus University), Remembrance of things past: creating a contemporary repertoire for the archaic jinashi shakuhachi
  • Simon Barker (University of Sydney), Scattering Rhythms: The Koreanization of the Western Drumset
  • Kevin Hunt (University of Sydney), Jazz and the Stuart and Sons Piano
  • Bob Walser (Minneapolis), Musical Difference and Cultural Identity: An African Musical Tradition in English Classrooms
  • Sabina Rakcheyeva, Music as Cultural Diplomacy: a personal journey using improvisation as a creative tool
  • Melissa Elliott, Music, Race and Diaspora: Romani Music Making in Ostrava, Czech Republic
  • Sara McGuinness (University of West London), Grupo Lokito: a practice-based investigation into contemporary links between Congolese and Cuban popular music
  • Eve Leung, Glocalisation in East Asian Popular Music
  • Cassandre Balasso, The Xeremies – The Majorcan Bagpipes: A study of an instrument in a post-dictatorship and mass tourism context
  • Ignacio Agrimbau, Gyilimbwere and Santoor Navazan: Before and After Difference
  • Hyelim Kim, From the Past to the Future: The Re-contextualization of the Taegŭm and its Music
  • Hyunseok Kwon, Cultural Globalization and Traditional Arts Promotion Policy: A Study of the Activating Plan for Traditional Arts in South Korea
  • Deirdre Morgan, Speaking in Tongues: music, identity, and representation in the international mouth harp community
  • Nan Ma, A Case Study of Chinese Music Industries’ Revenue Protection within the Digital Environment

PhD Supervision

Name Title
Ignacio Agrimbau Discourse about performance practice among Iranian santur players and Ghanaian gjyil players.
Mr Patrick Allen Excellence and Inclusion in Music Education: Working with Chagossian Teenagers in an English Comprehensive School
Michael Davidson Growing Through Music: Developing Teaching For Personal and Social Outcomes within Instrumental Music Teaching in UK
Taichi Imanishi Evaluate Takemitsu Approaches for Integrating World Music's - Portable Music & Non-Portable Music
Mrs Maya Youssef A Musical Intervention with Syrian Refugee Children at the Camps


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