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


Keith Howard is an ethnomusicologist, musicologist and anthropologist with regional interests primarily in Korea, but also Siberia, Nepal, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan and Zimbabwe. He also researches early keyboard instruments, pipe organs and bell ringing. He joined SOAS in 1991, and in 2017 became Professor Emeritus at SOAS. He was formerly Professor and Associate Dean at the University of Sydney and has held visiting professorships at Monash University, Ewha Women’s University, the University of Sydney, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, and Texas Tech University. After leaving full-time employment at SOAS in 2017, he was Kent R. Mullikin fellow at the National Humanities Center, North Carolina (2017–2018) and then Leverhulme Fellow at SOAS (2018–2022). He is a qualified state teacher, with BA an MA degrees in musicology, a PhD in anthropology, and a licentiate from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.

Keith works primarily as an ethnomusicologist and is known for his work on Korea although his interests extend to Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Siberia, Thailand, as well as European early keyboard instruments, pipe organs and bell ringing. He has written or edited 23 books, including, recently, Songs for “Great Leaders”: Ideology and Creativity in North Korean Music and Dance (Oxford University Press, 2020), Presence Through Sound: Music and Place in East Asia (Routledge, 2020), and Transcultural Fandom and the Globalization of Hallyu (Korea University, 2019). Over the last 40 years he has published 170 academic articles and 210 book/music reviews. He was director of the AHRC Research Centre for Cross-Cultural Music and Dance Performance (2002–2008) and editorial chair for the SOAS Musicology Series (Ashgate/Routledge, 2008–2017). At SOAS, Keith founded and managed the SOASIS CD and DVD series. He was founding director of OpenAir Radio (now SOAS Radio), which between 2007–2009 functioned as the UK partner within the EU-funded DISMARC consortium. He has served on the councils and editorial boards of the British Forum for Ethnomusicology, International Council for Traditional Music, British Association for Korean Studies, the Australian Research Council, CRONEM, Music Theory Spectrum, Asian Ethnology, Asian Musicology, European Journal of Korean Studies, OMNES, and more.

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.

He has supervised PhD students at SOAS, the University of Sydney, Texas Tech University, Columbia University, and the University of Cambridge, including Nathan Hesselink, Zhang Boyu, Rachel Harris, Roald Maliangkay, Jang Yeonok, Byeon Gye-won, Rowan Pease, Francesca Tarocco, Simon Mills, Iain Foreman, Jean Johnson Jones, Sandra Fahy, Dorota Szawarska, Jung Rock Seo, SungHee Park, Kiku Day, Simon Barker, Kevin Hunt, Lulu Liu, Bob Walser, Sabina Rakcheyeva, Melissa Elliott, Sara McGuinness, Eve Leung, Cassandre Balosso-Bardin, Ignacio Agrimbau, Hyelim Kim, Hyunseok Kwon, Deirdre Morgan, Nan Ma, Sebastian Lamp, Patrick Allen, Cheynne Gibbs-Singh, Zakiya Sapenova, Yang-Ming Teoh, Cholong Sung, Taichi Imanishi, Sara Selleri, Christopher Hepburn, Peter Moody and Alexandra Leonzini.


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