This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Singing for Peace: A Biographic-Narrative Study of Mary Cay Brass and Her Choir and Peacebuilding Work with the Vocal Music of the Former Yugoslav Countries




Sexton, Raymond Scott

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Curriculum and Teaching


The purpose of this biographic-narrative study was to examine the musical stories and lived experiences of Mary Cay Brass and her work with choral singing and peacebuilding within her choir programs in the United States and Balkan Europe. Mary Cay Brass’s choral singing and peacebuilding work is generally defined as her lifework in using Balkan choral music to promote peace and cultural understanding. Two overarching questions guided this study: (1) How did Balkan music experiences contribute to the development of Mary Cay Brass as a choral music educator and peacebuilding facilitator? (2) What are the key stories surrounding Mary Cay Brass’s singing and peacebuilding experiences in North America and Balkan Europe? This study utilized a qualitative research approach through the lens of biographic-narrative inquiry. I interviewed Mary Cay Brass and some of her closest colleagues and created a narrative life history of her peacebuilding work through Balkan music. This study also included an examination of personal field notes, her personal journal writings, choir concert programs, local newspaper, photos, and reel to reel recordings. As mentioned, the focus participant of my study was Mary Cay Brass, with specific examination of her peacebuilding work. Brass is a middle-aged, White woman currently living in Southeastern Vermont. She has over forty years of experiences as a teacher and performer. Through biographic-narrative analysis and structural hypotheses, strong interest in Balkan music, an affinity for teaching cultural understanding, and using music and peacebuilding emerged as reasons for the Brass’ career development. Finally, tenants of Gillian Howell’s (2021) harmonious relations music and peacebuilding framework helped discuss and highlight Brass’ most important singing and peacebuilding experiences.