William & Mary

Interview with Professor Max Katz

As a South Asian myself, it is always wonderful to meet new people who are not only interested in my culture, but also make the added effort to learn more about it. I find myself extremely lucky to have come across one such individual here on campus, Professor Max Katz. Although new to our school, Professor Katz has effortlessly made himself a part of the William and Mary tribe. I congratulate the Music Department on their excellent choice. Professor Max Katz

Can you tell me a little about your background? Where and what did you do your undergrad and grad school in? Why you chose those particular subjects?
I did my undergrad (BA) at University of California, Santa Cruz, where I majored in music, focusing on both classical and jazz guitar performance.  I had already been deeply immersed in music studies for many years, and I knew I wanted to continue in that direction.  I had been fortunate to attend the Music Academy at Hamilton High, a Los Angeles County public school where my daily classes included group piano, and rehearsal with a renowned, prize-winning jazz big band.  Also, in my first year of high school, I began taking private guitar lessons with a legendary teacher, the late Ted Greene, a monumental musician who inspired me in many ways.  (Seriously, if you want to hear some of the finest guitar playing of all time, search his name on YouTube.)

How did you first develop an interest in Ethnomusicology?
By the time I graduated from UCSC, I had learned from many great musicians and teachers, including some who introduced me to non-Western music traditions.  One of these was the master tabla player, Zakir Hussain, who fired my interest in the music of India.  I had always been an adventurous traveler, and so after graduating I spent a year in India studying music, riding trains, and discovering all kinds of new delicious food!  Returning from India, I realized that I had barely scratched the surface of the musical and cultural treasures available there, and so I started looking into graduate programs that would allow me to keep on visiting, and keep on learning.  I knew I was on the right track when I met the celebrated ethnomusicologist, Scott Marcus, a musician and scholar who had himself spent many years in India studying sitar and Hindi language: he encouraged me to apply for the PhD program in Music/Ethnomusicology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he was a professor.  I had the great fortune to study under Professor Marcus and many other brilliant teachers at UCSB for eight years, meanwhile traveling to India nearly every summer to pursue music and language studies. 

What specifically do you research within Ethnomusicology? Where did your training take place? Places you visited and did research in?
Through my many visits to India, and my wonderful experiences with a great number of musicians there, I crafted a research agenda that focuses on a particular city, and on a particular family of musicians within it.  The city is the legendary 19th-century center of Urdu culture and classical music, Lucknow.  The musicians are the descendants of the most important and innovative musicians of 19th-century Lucknow.  In essence, my research is on the changes in social status that their family has experienced over the past 150 or so years.  It turns out that the living representatives of this tradition are no longer central to the world of classical music in North India.  My research tracks these changes, and interprets them within the context of social and political changes in Indian society at large.

How did you first hear about William and Mary?  And how is William and Mary different from the University of California?
I was fortunate to meet the renowned ethnomusicologist and William and Mary professor, Anne Rasmussen, at a meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University in 2008.   I told her about my research, and she encouraged me to apply for the position I now hold.  When I visited the campus for my job interview, I was taken with the warmth of the faculty and staff in the Music Department, and impressed by the students I encountered as a guest lecturer.  I was pursuing field research in a remote region of northeast India when I was offered the job, and did not have to think twice: my wife and I immediately began making plans to move across the country, and make a new home in Williamsburg. 

What classes are you teaching here? Do you plan on teaching something different next year?
During my graduate studies, I had the great privilege to work as a Teaching Assistant for four years in the Department of Black Studies at UCSB.  There I had the pleasure of assisting five different professors—including towering scholars in the field such as Cedric Robinson and George Lipsitz—in seven different courses.  Along with my own history of performance of jazz music, the education I received in the Department of Black Studies allowed me to develop a secondary area of teaching and research that focuses on issues of race and music in America.  Thus, in my first semester at William and Mary, I taught two newly-developed courses: one was a small Freshman Seminar on Race and Music, and the other a large course on the History of Jazz.
    This semester I have been teaching Worlds of Music, a course that introduces the field of ethnomusicology and surveys several different musical traditions, as well as a course specifically on the Music of India.  I am excited to say that next year I will be starting a sitar class, offering instruction in the great stringed instrument of North India.

And lastly, how has your first year been here at William and Mary?
It has been a great honor to join the community of scholars and teachers here at the College of William and Mary.  I am especially grateful that my colleagues in the Department of Music have gone out of their way to make both my wife and me feel at home here.  I have also been impressed and inspired by the many hard-working and energetic students I have had the pleasure to teach.  They keep me on my toes, and remind me why I chose to become a teacher in the first place.

बहुत बहुत धन्यवाद! Thank you so much!