Mary Channen Caldwell

Wolf Humanities Center Penn Faculty Fellow

20222023 Forum on Heritage

Mary Channen Caldwell

Assistant Professor of Music

Mary Channen Caldwell is an Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches courses on early music and dance. Her research focuses on song in medieval Europe and explores how and why people created, performed, and transmitted vocal music over time and place, with a focus on the cultural, social, ritual and material aspects of song and what the act of singing achieved for individuals or communities that cannot be achieved through different media. In addition to chapters in edited collections, she has published and forthcoming articles in Early Music History, Plainsong & Medieval Music, Journal of the Royal Musical Association, Journal of the American Musicological Society, Journal of Musicology, Revue de musicologie, Music & Letters, and Speculum. Her first book, Devotional Refrains in Medieval Latin Song, was published with Cambridge University Press (2022). Her second book project focuses on music for and about a contested figure in medieval popular devotional, St. Nicholas.

The Musical Politics of St. Nicholas: Sound, Power, and Hagiography from the Middle Ages to the 21st Century

The Musical Politics of St. Nicholas explores the role of music and sound in the cultural heritage of a medieval saint, Byzantine bishop Nicholas of Myra, from the Middle Ages and into the twenty-first century. Beginning with the theft of his bodily relics in the eleventh century, I trace the frequently contested construction of Nicholas’s cult through music and sound and connect the politicized formation of his medieval cult to the saint’s role in contemporary religiopolitical discourses. I show how music became the primary medium through which Nicholas’s cult was cultivated and spread beyond, yet always in reference to, physical objects and sacred spaces, first through liturgical chant in the Middle Ages and later through devotional song practices and rituals enacted by Christian communities worldwide.