Mari Jo Velasco is a historian of music, musical practices, and devotional cultures in France from the eighteenth century to the present. She studies regional histories of the French Revolution and is interested in how music played a role in defining and negotiating linguistic, religious, and political identities at local and regional levels in the face of hegemonic, centralizing pressures. She focuses her work on the southwest Pyrénées of France, where she has spent time researching Basque and Bearnese musical cultures, and draws on methodologies and frameworks from a variety of fields, including history, sociology, ethnomusicology, and religious studies.
At Princeton, Velasco is at work on her first book, titled “Songs to Move Mountains: Music, Revolution, and Devotion in the Western Pyrénées, 1789-1858.” Focussing on the experiences of the Basques and Bearnese, this study explores how musical practices helped reconstruct popular piety over the course of the turbulent revolutionary and imperial war years, up until the apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes, when the region became of national and international interest. She is also writing an article on Christmas time hymns, or noëls, in Basque and Bearnese, situating this regional tradition within the emerging folk music discourses emanating from Paris in the nineteenth century. Her research has been funded by a Fulbright IIE grant and more recently, Princeton’s University Committee on Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences.
Velasco has taught courses on western art music, American music, media aesthetics, sacred music, eighteenth-century music, and the chanson française. This fall at Princeton, she will teach a freshman seminar on revolutions and music, exploring the musical histories of the American and French revolutions. She is also a faculty fellow with the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning for the academic year, where she will facilitate faculty conversations about fostering student attention, listening, and productive discussion in the classroom.
Velasco earned her Ph.D. in Music History and Theory from the University of Chicago and holds Masters degrees in Musicology from the Université de Rennes II and in Human Rights Law from the Université Lumière, Lyon II, France. She received the American Musicological Society’s Alvin H. Johnson AMS 50 Dissertation fellowship in 2016. She has been a longtime alto singer in various choirs in both the U.S. and in France.