Gatepost Interview: Lisa Burke – Music Professor

By Steven Bonini

News Editor 

What is your role at FSU and what does your job entail?

My role at FSU is professor of music in the Art and Music Department. And as part of that job, I teach a variety of courses in music.

What is your professional and educational background?

I received a bachelor’s of music degree from the Boston Conservatory, now Boston Conservatory at Berkeley. And my majors there were music education and classical piano. Then I went on to graduate school, focusing on ethnomusicology and received a master’s and Ph.D. in music from Brown University in ethnomusicology. Some people might not recognize the field of ethnomusicology. It’s actually an interdisciplinary one, which is basically a mashup of music and anthropology. So, studying music, not just for the sound and the structure and all that kind of stuff, but the place of music in a certain society or subsection of society. So, I found that to be an exceptionally interesting field, and one that has really exploded over the past few decades. As part of that, I’ve spent maybe four-and-a-half years living in the Pacific Islands, in Papua New Guinea, where I was doing research, and I was teaching at an arts college, and then some time in the Marshall Islands, doing music research there. And then my actual geographical focus since the 1980s, has been on the music and dance in the culture of the Republic of Kiribati in the Central Pacific. So, those professional experiences have given me definitely a wider view on music in the world and what music means to various people in various cultures of the world.

What would you say your goals are as one of the professors in the music department?

Pretty much everybody likes and enjoys – whatever place music has in their lives. But very rarely, unless you’re in the field of exploring the depth of what music really means, you don’t really think about it in a conscious sense. So, I’m hoping through my classes that I can give students an awareness of not just, “Oh, I like music,” but, “Why do I like it?” “What does it mean to me?” “What about the music makes this speak to me?” Kind of thinking about the significance of music in your life. Then I teach Music Appreciation, which is basically a Reader’s Digest history of western music from the Middle Ages onward. And in that class, I just want students to become aware of the fact that they may actually enjoy classical music, even if it’s not something that they would chase after themselves. And it’s been kind of rewarding because I’ve had a number of students say to me, “I took this class. I didn’t realize it was going to be classical music! I felt disappointed on the first day of class.” But then, by the end of the semester, they’re saying things like, “This music is actually – I can put it on. It can make me relaxed!” “I like to have it on in the background when I’m doing my homework.” And so somehow, kinds of music they may not listen to all the time, have made their way into important places in their lives.

What would you say is the best part of your job?

The best part of my job, in addition to interacting with my colleagues at work, is simple – being in front of the students and interacting with them. And because we have had this little hiatus due to the COVID pandemic, this aspect of my job had a big hole in it during the whole year when I wasn’t at school. And so coming back now, it’s almost like a rebirth, I think you could say, of really getting to enjoy people in person versus people on a computer screen. It’s been very exciting.

What are some personal hobbies of yours? 

I enjoy photography. I like cross-country skiing. I like investigating different types of music. And also, one thing that has taken up quite a bit of time in my life for the past eight years or so is, I’m in a Doo-wop show band with my husband, and he’s the manager and I manage part of it. It’s a nine-piece group. We have five people who are in the band, and I play keyboard in the band. And then four guys, who are the singers who perform choreographed movements to the Doo-wop songs, and my husband is one of those. And that’s another thing that, unfortunately, we haven’t been able to do since the beginning of the pandemic. But that was a huge part of my life – going out and doing gigs at casinos, or community functions, and just seeing, not only the people who grew up with Doo-wop having fun with it, but also people of all ages and types who would come to these concerts and end up just dancing, and having a blast and saying, “Wow! I never knew this music was so much fun!” And it is fun music, positive energy music.

Do you have any advice for students?

My advice has always been just reaching outside of yourself as much as possible to take advantage of the opportunities – especially now as we’re getting back to campus more – for clubs, for meeting with different types of people you may not normally interact with, to spread yourselves out, take classes that you might not have thought anything about before, but to expand your world view. And you never know where a minor or a gen ed class might actually lead you to in your future.