Sharp Notes, Sharp Thoughts

Music is a powerful force for social change. Our Sharp Notes, Sharp Thoughts project explored connections between music and social justice – past and present to build a better future.

Through the perspectives of scholars, musicians, journalists and others, we demonstrated how music has been – and can continue to be — a positive tool for social change.

The institute launched the Sharp Notes, Sharp Thoughts project in October 2020 as a series of monthly presentations and discussions that followed the format of academic conferences: We completed the series in May 2021 and presented our findings a few months later in October at the New York State Communication Association conference in Callicoon, New York.

The initiative gave birth to Sharp Notes Monday, a series of weekly posts highlighting a song related to current events and social justice. 


Click the links below to view archived recordings of our presentations and discussions.

Introductory Roundtable (Oct.19, 2020): How the pandemic affected music’s ability to be a part of social change.

Songs, Statues and Solutions (Nov. 16): “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” the iconic song from the Band’s self-titled 1969 album. 

Outrage, Protests and Passion 50 Years before BLM (Dec. 21, 2020): The Jazz and People’s Movement, an activist movement launched in 1970 to bring more attention to African American jazz musicians.

Prevention, Proliferation, and Prioritization: The Good You Can Do as a Fan (Feb. 15, 2021): The role that musicians’ fans can play in promoting social justice. 

Can Punk Music Influence Corporate Behavior? (March 15, 2021): Punk music’s ability to question corporate behavior.

Responsibility Beyond the Music (April 19, 2021): The role of corporate ticket companies in the music industry. 

Black Musical Protest and White Denial (May 17, 2021): Lawrence Gellert, a music collector who worked to introduce white audiences to a tradition of Black musical protest during the 1930s and 1940s.

In a digital and divided America, can music still be a force for social justice?: Presentation at the New York State Communication Association conference.

The ‘Sharp Notes, Sharp Thoughts’ Project Team

David Freeman: A musician, producer and cultural arts educator

David is a faculty member at Pace University’s Department of Media, Communication and Visual Arts and Director of Education for Brooklyn Raga Massive. He serves on the board of The Association of Teaching Artists. See full bio

Steven P. Garabedian: An associate professor of history at Marist College

Steve is the author of A Sound History: Lawrence Gellert, Black Musical Protest, and White Denial, tells the story of Lawrence Gellert, a music collector who worked to introduce white audiences to a tradition of Black musical protest during the 1930s and 1940s. The book chronicles Gellert’s rise in popularity and stature as a music collector, as well as the efforts of critics to dismiss him as a fraud. See full bio

Alex R Gillham: An assistant professor of philosophy at St. Bonaventure University

Alex’s research focuses on topics in ethics, ancient philosophy and philosophy of religion. He is particularly interested in the connection between music, identity, and morality. Alex has written about how being a fan of some musical groups ought to inspire individuals to undertake certain moral responsibilities. See full bio

Richard Lee: Executive director of the Jandoli Institute and an associate professor in the Jandoli School of Communication at St. Bonaventure University

Rich writes and comments regularly on the intersection of music and public policy. As a journalist, he covered rock’n’roll for several years before establishing himself a political reporter. See full bio

Stephen Wilt: An archivist at Media Transfer Service in Rochester, NY, and host of a weekly podcast, Street Corner Talking

Steve graduated from St. Bonaventure University in May with a B.A in Journalism. As Station Manager and Music Director at 88.3 WSBU-FM, he interviewed professional musicians, celebrities and athletes. They included Stephen Stills, Judy Collins, Louis Anderson, Doug Flute, Dr. Oz, Jimmy Page and many others. All have aired on his podcast. See full bio

Paul Ziek: Chair of the Department of Media, Communications, and Visual Arts at Pace University

Paul teaches strategic and organizational communication in both the undergraduate and graduate levels. See full bio

A Message About Diversity

We started this project after realizing that music has played a prominent role in various progressive movements. As scholars, musicians, historians and journalists interested in both music and social justice, we wanted to explore these connections in greater depth.

We worried that our perspective would be limited and privileged because our team consisted of white males. To the extent that one of our main aims was to promote social justice by figuring out how we can be better allies to the less privileged, we hoped that those who have faced unjust obstacles would join us to widen the perspectives developed in our sessions. 

At the same time, we hoped that the panel’s lack of diversity would not create among the less privileged a feeling of obligation to tune in and temper our views. Our aim was to become better allies. Creating further demands on the marginalized runs counter to this aim. We continue to welcome anyone interested in making our efforts more diverse to join this important and ongoing conversation.

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