Dr Alexander M. Cannon

Dr Alexander M. Cannon

Department of Music
Lecturer in Music

I am an ethnomusicologist of southern Vietnamese traditional music who lectures on Asian music, creativity, and music sustainability.


  • 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 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.


  • Year 1: Popular and World Musics (with Dr Christopher Haworth)
  • Year 2/3 option modules: Local Musicking in Asia; Music, Protest, and Social Activism
  • Postgraduate: Introduction to Global Popular Musics (with Dr Luis-Manuel Garcia)

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 imact 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

  • 2017. ‘Metaphor, Creativity, and Disruption in Southern Vietnamese Traditional Music’. Paper to be presented at the Society for Ethnomusicology Annual Conference, Denver, Colorado.
  • 2017. Participant, ‘Expanding Heritage Roundtable’, Endangered Heritage Conference, University of Michigan.
  • 2016. Roundtable Presenter and Organiser, ‘Legacies for Vietnamese Music Scholarship in the Smithsonian Archives’. Session held at the Society for Ethnomusicology Annual Conference, Washington, DC.
  • 2016. ‘Making Truth and Planting Flowers: Musical Creativity in Contemporary Southern Vietnam’. Paper presented at the Engaging with Vietnam Conference, University of Hawai’i at Manoa.
  • 2015. ‘Metaphors of Creative Practice: Navigating Roots and Foliage in Southern Vietnamese Traditional Music’. Paper presented at the Tracking the Creative Process Conference, IRCAM, Paris.
  • 2015. ‘Emergent Creativity and Cultural Heritage in Southern Vietnamese Traditional Music’. Paper presented at the International Council for Traditional Music World Congress, Astana, Kazakhstan.
  • 2015. ‘Về phương pháp nghiên cứu: Một số ý kiến’ [Regarding Methods of Conducting Research: A Few ideas]. Workshop, Ho Chi Minh City Conservatory, Vietnam.
  • 2014. ‘From Bản cà chía to Pan-Asian Experimentation: Chinese Music as Other in Southern Vietnamese Traditional Music’. Paper presented at the Association for Asian Studies Annual Conference, Philadelphia.
  • 2013. ‘Building “Soul”: The Transnational Negotiation of Vietnamese Traditional Music in Diaspora’. Paper presented at the Association for Asian Studies Annual Conference, San Diego.
  • 2012. ‘The Post-Socialist Self in Transnational Alliance: Negotiating Traditional Music in Contemporary Vietnam’. Paper presented at the American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, San Francisco.
  • 2012. ‘Emerging from the Ruin: The Production of Knowledge and Traditional Music in Southern Vietnam’. Paper presented at the Society for Ethnomusicology Annual Conference, New Orleans.
  • 2012. ‘French Colonialism, Modernity and Competence among Performers of Southern Vietnamese Traditional Music’. Paper presented at the Third International Symposium of the International Council on Traditional Music Study Group for the Musics of East Asia, Chinese University of Hong Kong.


Recent publications


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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