TTU Home School of Music Faculty Christopher J. Smith

Christopher J. Smith

Dr Christopher J. Smith is Associate Professor and Chair of Musicology/Ethnomusicology and director of the Vernacular Music Center at the Texas Tech University School of Music. He holds the Bachelor of Arts (Music, Summa Cum Laude) from the University of Massachusetts at Boston, and a Master’s in Music (Jazz, Magna Cum Laude) and Ph.D. in Musicology (with high distinction) from the Indiana University School of Music. He is the 1997 recipient of the John H. Edwards Fellowship, the 1998 recipient of the Walter Kaufmann Musicology Prize from Indiana, a 2003 recipient of the Alumni Association’s New Faculty Award, in 2005 and 2009 was twice the recipient of the “Professing Excellence” award, in 2006 was elected to the Teaching Academy at Texas Tech, in 2010 was the recipient of the Texas Tech President’s Excellence in Teaching Award, and in 2011 was both elected to the TTU Institute for Inclusive Excellence and the recipient of TTU Office of International Affairs’ Study Abroad Award. He has taught at the University of Massachusetts at Boston and Indiana University and as a guest lecturer at University College Cork and the University of Limerick, in addition to Texas Tech, as well as leading roving field-trips for students in the West of Ireland, chairing the Vernacular Music Center Scholarship Committee, and directing the Roots Music Institute (a 501c3 organization). At Texas Tech, he serves as faculty advisor for the Tech Irish Set-Dancers, Caprock English Country Dancers, and Caprock Morris Border dance team. He serves as External Examiner for the BA program in Traditional Music and Dance at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick, as well as External Examiner for PhD dissertations at institutions in the USA, UK, and Ireland and for the Irish government’s music program accreditation bureau. In 2011 he began a two-year term as President of the American Musicological Society – Southwest regional chapter. 

He teaches courses in American, 20th century, and African Diasporic musics, as well as vernacular, world music, and ethnomusicology topics. His research interests are in American and African-American Music, 20th Century Music, Irish traditional music and other folk musics and cultures, improvisation, music and politics, performance practice, and historical performance. 

He is the author of Celtic Backup for All Instrumentalists, “The Celtic Guitar” (in The Cambridge Companion to the Guitar), “Miles Davis and the Semiotics of Improvised Performance” (in Improvisation: In the Course of Performance), “Trusting the Tradition: The Meaning of the Irish Session Workshop” (in Proceedings of the VIIth International Symposium on Cultural Diversity in Music Education: The Local and the Global), “Identities, Contexts, and Gender in the Irish Musical Landscape” (in Irish Studies: Geographies and Gender), “Gaelic and Continental Musical Interaction in Early Modern Ireland” (in The Renaissance in Ireland), “Cinematic Constructions of Irish Musical Identity” (in Popular Culture and Postmodern Ireland), “Papa Legba and the Liminal Spaces of the Blues” (in American Cinema and the Southern Imaginary), and Irish Session Tunes by Ear, and a variety of other essays and book chapters. 

He has published articles in College Music Symposium, New Hibernia Review, T.D.R. The Drama Review, R.P.M. (Journal of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music), Early Music America, Music in Art, Contemporary Music Review, the Journal of American Folklore, Southern Culture, the Bloomington Voice, Early Music (London), Irish Music, Lubbock Magazine, Historical Performance, Piping Today, The Journal of Music in Ireland and The Tallgrass Journal, reviews in the Journal of the American Musicological Society, and chapters on music in The World and Its Peoples for Brown Reference Group, the Encyclopedia of Franco-American Relations for ABC-Clio, and the Encyclopedia of Music in Ireland (Blackrock). 

He has presented papers at the national meetings of the Society for Ethnomusicology, the Society for American Music, the American Musicological Society, College Music Society, the International Society for the Study of Popular Music, the Narrative Society, the American Council for Irish Studies, the Film and History Society, the Stage and Screen Conference, the Southern American Studies Association, and the LYRICA Society for Text and Music Studies; has chaired sessions at University College Cork, Scoil Samraidh Willie Clancy in County Clare, and the Popular Culture Association; originated and chaired the First Annual Texas Tech Fine Arts Colloquium, and has presented papers internationally at the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Conference (Glasgow), the School of African and Oriental Studies (London), Texas Music Educators Association (San Antonio), Hearing Landscape Critically: Sense, Text, Ideology (Oxford), the North Atlantic Fiddle Conference (Derry), Dance Music Research Forum (Donegal), Music and Migration (Southampton, ENG), the Representing Ireland conference (Newcastle), the Society for Musicology in Ireland (Derry), the Council for Cultural Diversity in Music Education (Brisbane), the International Meetings of the Council for Irish Studies (Liverpool), the International Ballad Conference (Netherlands), the International Council for the Study of Traditional Music (Newfoundland), the North Atlantic Fiddle Conference (Derry-Donegal), Dance Music Research Forum (Limerick), and the UCCB Storytelling Symposium (Nova Scotia). 

He has designed and created World Wide Web content for Prentice-Hall’s music history textbook series, for the Buddy Holly Center, and for His current book project is Minstrelsy and the Creolization of American Culture (University of Illinois Press, in press), which explores the interaction of African-American and Irish-American musical styles before the Civil War.  

He is also a former nightclub bouncer, carpenter, lobster fisherman, and oil-rig roughneck, and a published poet. 

In addition, he records and tours internationally with Altramar medieval music ensemble (7 CDs to date on the Dorian Group label, with concerts throughout North America, Canada, Holland, Ireland, Germany, and Austria), leads the Irish traditional band Last Night’s Fun (with TTU Professor Angela Mariani) and the Juke Band (pre-WWII blues and jazz), directs the Texas Tech University Celtic Ensemble, has lectured or performed at hundreds of colloquia, concerts, workshops, and pub sessions across the Continent and in Europe, and on National Public Radio, Minnesota Public Radio, and the Fox Network nationwide, and in 2005 released a solo CD of Irish traditional music, which was selected for inclusion on a compilation disc by Global Rhythm magazine’s May 2006 Song Contest (distributed to over 130,000 readers). His latest disc with Last Night’s Fun is Johnny Faa, a program of songs and tunes in the Irish tradition. He has written liner notes for Dorian Group, Ltd., for Naxos World, and for independent CD releases and served as columnist for He was the traditional-music consultant for noted composer Dan Welcher’s Minstrels of the Kells and performed at its TTU premiere and on an Olympic tour of mainland China, directs the annual Caprock Celtic Christmas at Texas Tech, formerly served on the International Advisory Board for the Naxos World record label and currently serves on the boards of Supporters of Fine Arts, Flatlands Dance Theatre, and Caprock Early Music, as co-Director of the TTU Symposium of World Musics and Southwest Early Music, as informal consultant to the Society for Ethnomusicology and to the Buddy Holly Center educational program, and on the Steering Committee of the Buddy Holly Symposium, and is a founding staff member of ZoukFest, the world’s only music camp and festival for players of the Irish bouzouki. As an instrumentalist, he concertizes on Irish bouzouki, tenor banjo, button accordion, slide guitar, saz, lute, gittern, Turkish lavta, and percussion.

To contact Christopher Smith, email

Dr Smith directs the TTU Celtic Ensemble
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Dr Smith is the Executive Director of the Roots Music Institute: