New music professor says you should stop calling music you like ‘guilty pleasures’


Easton Thompson

Imani Mosley, a new assistant professor in WSU’s School of Music, is a musicologist and digital humanist with two master’s degrees and a Ph.D.

Imani Mosley is the second black person ever to graduate with a PhD in musicology from Duke University. Mosley has spent almost her entire life surrounded by music, and now, she’s continuing her musical journey at Wichita State.

As one of the new assistant professors in WSU’s School of Music, Mosley hopes to spread that knowledge and experience with her students.

While Mosley said her family did not push her to become a musician, she grew up surrounded by musical influences

“My father was a jazz pianist on the side,” Mosley said. “It was something that was very special to him.”

 Mosley herself started playing the piano when she was three. She was around 10 when she started playing the bassoon, which she would later go on to receive one of her master’s degrees in.

 Mosley also earned a master’s in Musicology —the study of music. She earned both degrees from Peabody University.

 She started working on her PhD at Columbia University, but eventually transferred and finished it at Duke.

 “I always knew that music was going to be the thing that I was doing in some capacity,” Mosley said.

 Her dissertation, titled “’The queer things he said’: British Identity, Social History, and Press Reception of Benjamin Britten’s Postwar Operas,” takes root in an artist who shaped much of her perceptions of music.

 Britten was an English composer, conductor, and pianist. He is one of the most notable figures of 20th-century British classical music, with works including opera, other vocal music, orchestral, and chamber pieces that touched on many of the social issues of the era.

 “My master’s thesis was also on Britten,” Mosley said. “My dissertation was a combination of all the things I really love [about Britten].”

 She said her decision to focus her studies on Britten and the history surrounding his work was based in the music itself.

 “It [Britten’s Serenade for Tenor and Strings] stopped me — cold,” Mosley said. “It was like I was hearing music for the first time. It was an immediate decision to find out everything I could about that particular composer.”

 On top of being an already-accomplished musicologist, Mosley is also a digital humanist — a growing field of study that looks at and establishes relationships between computational data and humanistic work.

 Mosley used digital humanism to expand her work in music even further. She worked at NPR, analyzing musical algorithms that companies like Spotify and Apple Music use to create playlists. She also worked in sonic mapping, which is the digital reconstruction of music.

 “Everything is data,” Mosley said. “People thinks it’s numbers or data points, but no, everything is data — and that’s not a bad thing.”

 She said her intense focus in musicology has caused her to see and perceive music differently than other people. She still finds time to enjoy music, but doesn’t agree that it should be seen as a “guilty pleasure.”

 “If you like it, you like it,” Mosley said. “I say lean into it. There was something about that music that spoke to you.”

 Mosley says she listens to music that others would call a guilty pleasure, but she affirmed that no one will stop her from enjoying it. When she has to have difficult discussions about certain artists and their work, she said it can be hard to sometimes fully enjoy music.

“I always try to reinsert that joy when I can,” Mosley said. “I still turn up the radio as loud as I can.”

 As a desire to reach out to more people who may be fluent in musicology, Mosley started her own personal profile on the platform Medium to write about different events that she feels relate to musicology in some way, including the recent fire at the Notre Dame in Paris.

 “It grew out of this desire to address more complicated issues through a musicological lens,” Mosley said. “I just kept encountering these things happening in the world that sort of touched on music and musicology in interesting ways.”

 She said she hopes that more people, not just musicologists, will continue challenging themselves when it comes to listening to music. She hopes they will explore new music rather than just bashing what’s on the radio, she said.

 “There’s really good music being made right now, everywhere, across the board,” Mosley said. “Talk to your friends, ask people you don’t normally talk to, listen to podcasts, read music magazines, go on Twitter.”

 Mosley is teaching the classes Music in Context, Introduction to Bibliography and Research, and Thesis Research in the School of Music this semester.