Dr Alexander M. Cannon

Dr Alexander M. Cannon

Department of Music
Senior Lecturer in Music

I am an ethnomusicologist of southern Vietnamese traditional music, creativity, and popular culture.


  • BA (Music and Mathematical Economics), Pomona College, Claremont, California, United States
  • MA and PhD (Musicology, emphasis in Ethnomusicology), University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States 


Dr Alexander M. Cannon is an ethnomusicologist with research expertise in Vietnamese music and creativity studies. He is Senior Lecturer in Music at the University of Birmingham, and serves as Co-Editor of the journal Ethnomusicology Forum and on the Executive Committee of the British Forum for Ethnomusicology. He previously taught at Western Michigan University, and served as Secretary of the Society for Asian Music Board and Book Reviews Editor for the Yearbook for Traditional Music. He holds an undergraduate degree in flute performance and mathematical economics from Pomona College (California) and a PhD from the University of Michigan.


Undergraduate modules:

  • Year 2 core module: Critical Musicology (with Dr Ben Earle)
  • Year 2/3 optional modules:
    • Black Music in Britain
    • Local Musicking in Asia
    • Music, Protest, and Social Activism

Postgraduate modules:

  • Fieldwork Methods
  • Introduction to Musicology

Postgraduate supervision

I welcome applications from research students interested in any of the following areas: Vietnamese music; traditional music of Asia and its diasporas; creativity theory; musical sustainability; intangible cultural heritage; semiotics; and queer ethnography.

Find out more - our Music postgraduate study  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.


Dr Cannon’s research over the past decade has investigated the changing nature of traditional music practice in southern Vietnam. He primarily studies the genre đờn ca tài tử, a ‘music for diversion’ also called the ‘music of talented amateurs’. He recently completed a monograph that examines notions of creativity used by Vietnamese musicians to sustain interest in traditional music and to rejuvenate debates concerning the Vietnamese identity in an increasingly cosmopolitan and globalised Vietnam. Titled Seeding the Tradition: Musical Creativity in Southern Vietnam, he argues that southern Vietnamese musicians draw from long-standing theories of Daoist creation while adopting strategically from and also reacting to a western neo-liberal model of creativity focused on the individual genius. These musicians play with metaphors of growth, development, and ruin to maintain their tradition and keep it vibrant in the rapidly-shifting context of modern Vietnam. His next research project examines  the impact of climate and environmental change on music practice among Vietnamese and Khmer Krom musicians of the Mekong Delta.

Other activities

External service

Recent conference presentations

2021. ‘Embracing a Decentred Approach in the Borderlands of Ethnomusicology’. Panel organiser and participant, International Council for Traditional Music Dialogues 2021, online.

  • 2021. ‘Rejecting Creativity, Repairing Creativities: Experimenting with Traditional Music in Contemporary Southern Vietnam’. Paper presented at the Transformations of Musical Creativity in the 21st Century Conference, Istanbul Technical University, online.
  • 2021. ‘Tradition Never Dies: “Lắng Nghe,” Active Listening, and Activism in Contemporary Vietnam’. Invited lecture, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, University of Michigan, online.
  • 2021. Roundtable participant, ‘Ethnomusicology Forum: 30th Birthday Celebration’, British Forum for Ethnomusicology Annual Conference, online.
  • 2021. Roundtable organiser, ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Workshop’, British Forum for Ethnomusicology Annual Conference, online.
  • 2021. Emcee and moderator, Roots and Resilience: A Musical Conversation with Vân-Ánh Võ, Center for World Music, San Diego, online.
  • 2019. Roundtable participant, ‘Decolonizing British and North American Ethnomusicologies’. Presented at the Society for Ethnomusicology Annual Conference, Bloomington, Indiana, USA.
  • 2019. Roundtable participant, President’s Roundtable, ‘Queering the Field: Sounding Out Ethnomusicology’. Presented at the Society for Ethnomusicology Annual Conference, Bloomington, Indiana, USA.
  • 2019. ‘Boundaries at the Water’s Edge: Maintaining Community through Nature and Sound in Vietnamese Music’. Paper presented at the American Musicological Society Annual Conference, Boston, USA.
  • 2019. ‘Development, Rupture and Loss in Southern Vietnamese Music Practice’. Paper presented at the International Council for Traditional Music Biennial Congress, Bangkok, Thailand.
  • 2018. ‘Theories of Water in Ethnographies of Asia’. Paper presented at the Third Forum of the International Council for Traditional Music, Central Conservatory of Music, Beijing, China.
  • 2018. ‘Development, Rupture and Loss in Southern Vietnamese Music Practice’. Paper presented at the British Forum for Ethnomusicology Annual Conference, Newcastle University, UK.
  • 2017. ‘Metaphor, Creativity, and Disruption in Southern Vietnamese Traditional Music’. Paper presented at the Society for Ethnomusicology Annual Conference, Denver, USA.


Recent publications


Cannon, AM 2022, Seeding the Tradition: Musical Creativity in Southern Vietnam. Wesleyan University Press. <https://www.weslpress.org/9780819580801/seeding-the-tradition/>


Cannon, AM 2021, 'Awakening the soul with the left hand: narration and healing in Vietnam’s diasporic traditional music', Ethnomusicology, vol. 65, no. 1, pp. 62-85. https://doi.org/10.5406/ethnomusicology.65.1.0062

Cannon, A 2016, 'From nameless to nomenclature: creating music genre in Southern Vietnam', Asian Music, vol. 47, no. 2, pp. 138-171. https://doi.org/10.1353/amu.2016.0009

Cannon, A 2016, 'Tradition, still remains: sustainability through ruin in Vietnamese music for diversion', Ethnomusicology Forum, vol. 25, no. 2, pp. 146-171. https://doi.org/10.1080/17411912.2016.1175313

Cannon, AM 2013, 'When Charisma Sustains Tradition: Deploying Musical Competence in Southern Vietnam', Ethnomusicology, pp. 87–114. https://doi.org/10.5406/ethnomusicology.57.1.0088

Cannon, AM 2012, 'Epic Directions for the Study of the Vietnamese Diaspora', Journal of Vietnamese Studies, vol. 7, no. 3, pp. 1–6. https://doi.org/10.1525/vs.2012.7.3.1

Cannon, AM 2012, 'Virtually Audible in Diaspora: The Transnational Negotiation of Vietnamese Traditional Music', Journal of Vietnamese Studies, pp. 122–156. https://doi.org/10.1525/vs.2012.7.3.122

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

Cannon, AM 2019, Outing the methodological no-no: translating queer space to field space. in G Barz & W Cheng (eds), Queering the field: Sounding out ethnomusicology. Oxford University Press, pp. 120–138. <https://global.oup.com/academic/product/queering-the-field-9780190458027?lang=en&cc=gb>

Cannon, A 2017, Laughter, Liquor, and Licentiousness: Preservation Through Play in Southern Vietnamese Traditional Music. in The Routledge Companion to the Study of Local Musicking. Routledge.


Cannon, A 2015, Căn phòng lưu giữ bao kỷ niệm. in TP Nguyễn (ed.), Nguyễn Vĩnh Bảo: Những giai điệu cuộc đời. Nhà xuất bản Hồng Đức, Hồ Chí Minh City, pp. 261-264.

Doctoral Thesis

Cannon, AM 2011, 'Making Tradition Charismatic: Music, Memory and Alliance in Contemporary Southern Vietnam', University of Michigan. <https://www.proquest.com/dissertations-theses/making-tradition-charismatic-music-memory/docview/895978783/se-2?accountid=8630>

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