Dr Kathleen Noss Van Buren

BMus, BA, MA, PhD

Department of Music

Honorary Research Fellow


Full contact details

Dr Kathleen Noss Van Buren
Department of Music
Jessop Building
Leavygreave Road
S3 7RD

I am an ethnomusicologist with special interests in medical and applied ethnomusicology, arts and social change, and musics of Africa. I have published and presented at conferences worldwide on a variety of topics, ranging from music and HIV/AIDS in Kenya to representing the Bible through African performing arts. I also have experience in music and dance of the African diaspora, specifically in Bolivia, Peru, and Haiti. I have received funding from a number of sources, including UCLA Dissertation Year and Research Mentorship Fellowships, the Thomas J. Watson Foundation, the British Academy, and the Knowledge Transfer Opportunities Fund. I have been an active member of SEM, ICTM and BFE, and am currently secretary of SEM’s SIG for Medical Ethnomusicology.

From 2006-2016, I was a Lecturer in Ethnomusicology in the Department of Music at the University of Sheffield. I taught a number of modules in ethnomusicology and, at various periods, served as Director of the MA in World Music Studies and Director of the MA in Ethnomusicology. In 2016, I left this role when I relocated to the US. I was appointed Honorary Research Fellow in October 2016.

Prior to working at the University of Sheffield, I received an MA (in 2002) and a PhD (in 2006) from the Department of Ethnomusicology at the University of California, Los Angeles. My PhD dissertation was entitled “Stealing Elephants, Creating Futures: Exploring Uses of Music and Other Arts for Community Education in Nairobi, Kenya.” I also hold a BA in English and a self-designed BM in ethnomusicology (1999) from Lawrence University and Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Most recently I have worked with Brian Schrag on Make Arts for a Better Life: A Guide for Working with Communities (OUP, 2018). The Guide presents an in-depth approach to researching artistic practices within communities and to developing arts-based projects that address locally defined needs. We include specific steps to take when developing arts-based projects, as well as sample case studies from around the world related to three broad categories of possible goals for community arts programs: identity and sustainability, health and well-being, and human rights. An accompanying website provides methodology “cheat sheets,” sample research documents, and specific suggestions for educators, researchers, and project leaders.

Research interests
  • Music and dance in Africa and the African diaspora
  • The efficacy of music and musicians in promoting social change
  • Applied ethnomusicology
  • Medical ethnomusicology
  • Individual studies