Sean Williams was born and raised in Berkeley, California. As an undergraduate, she attended the University of California in Berkeley as well, earning a B.A. in classical guitar performance. After graduation she spent a year in Europe and the Near East, conducting ethnomusicological fieldwork, working as a ski lift operator in southern Bavaria, and getting a life outside of academia. She attended graduate school at the University of Washington in Seattle in the 1980s, got her MA and Ph.D. in ethnomusicology, then moved to New York to teach at Columbia University. She finally settled in Olympia, Washington in 1991, where she teaches at The Evergreen State College. She has traveled (and lived) extensively in Asia and Europe. Some of her interests include music, cultural studies, social justice, liminality, languages, and religion (particularly Buddhism and Islam) in connection with music. In her spare time she serves as Captain Grammar Pants on Facebook.


  • Ph.D. 1990 University of Washington (Ethnomusicology); Dissertation title: The Urbanization of Tembang Sunda, an Aristocratic Musical Genre of West Java, Indonesia
  • M.A. 1985 University of Washington (Ethnomusicology); Thesis title: Language, Melody and Ornamentation in the Traditional Irish Singing of Joe Heaney
  • B.A. 1981 University of California at Berkeley (Music); Major areas: Music, Anthropology, Celtic Studies


  • 1991-present Tenured Member of the Faculty, The Evergreen State College (Olympia, WA). To view a list of classes taught at Evergreen, see Teaching.
  • 2005 Visiting faculty, Semester at Sea (shipboard university now run by the University of Virginia). Voyage around the North Atlantic (Nova Scotia, Reykjavik, St. Petersburg, Gdansk, Antwerp, LeHavre, Dublin, and Bilbao). Courses taught include Music of the North Atlantic, and Music in Society.
  • 1990-91 Visiting Assistant Professor, Columbia University (New York)
  • 1983-90 various Teaching and Research Assistant jobs before and after fieldwork, University of Washington


  • Society for Ethnomusicology: member of the Board of Directors 02-04 and 14-16; Council member 90-92, 00-02, and 09-11; regional chair 85-86, 98-99, 02-03, 06-07, 16-17
  • Society for Asian Music: member of the Board of Directors 1996-2011
  • Sean-nós Northwest: member of the Board of Directors 2008-present
  • 2009-2015: Recording Recording Editor, Ethnomusicology Journal, issues 54/1 through 59/3.
  • 2008 Copyeditor and proofreader, The Concise Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Douglas Puchowski, editor. New York and London: Routledge.
  • 2002-2006 Speaker, Inquiring Mind Series (sponsored by the Washington Commission for the Humanities). Topics: “Islam and Music of the Islamic World,” and “Ireland, Living Between Worlds.”
  • 1996-2003 Managing Editor, Asian Music Journal, issues 28/1 through 34/2.
  • 1994-1998 Co-editor, with Dr. Terry Miller, of the Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, volume 4 (Southeast Asia). New York: Garland Publishing, Inc.
  • 1996-1997 Panel Member of Washington State Folk Arts Commission, judging applicants for the Folk Arts apprenticeship program
  • 1995 Panel Member of Oregon Folklife Program, judging applicants for the Traditional Arts apprenticeship program
  • 1992-1994 Programmer, KAOS Radio (The Evergreen State College), weekly show titled “Beyond the Silk Road”
  • 1987-89 Doctoral dissertation fieldwork in West Java, Indonesia
  • 1984-85 Research Assistant/Archives Assistant, Ethnomusicology Archives, School of Music, University of Washington
  • 1980-81 Research Assistant, development of a polyglossary for James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, University of California [French specialist]. Brendan Ó hÉithir, supervisor.



  • Faculty Summer Research Fellowship, The Evergreen State College (to participate in the Arabic Music Retreat at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts)


  • Faculty Summer Research Fellowship, The Evergreen State College (to work on my book The Performance of Liminality)


  • Faculty Foundation Grant, The Evergreen State College (to conduct fieldwork in Indonesia)
  • International Gugak Institute, Seoul, South Korea (to attend the institute and study the haegum)


  • Winner of the Alan P. Merriam Prize for Outstanding Book in Ethnomusicology, awarded for Bright Star of the West: Joe Heaney, Irish Song Man, co-authored with Dr. Lillis Ó Laoire, Oxford University Press.
  • Faculty Summer Research Fellowship, The Evergreen State College (to work on my book The Performance of Liminality)


  • Faculty Summer Research Fellowship, The Evergreen State College (to work on my book The Performance of Liminality)


  • Faculty Summer Research Fellowship, The Evergreen State College (to work on my book Bright Star of the West: Joe Heaney, Irish Song-Man, published 2011 by Oxford)


  • Faculty Summer Research Fellowship, The Evergreen State College (to complete transcriptions of the songs, stories and anecdotes of the Irish singer Joe Heaney)


  • Ford Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, University of Washington (to complete my dissertation on Indonesian music)


  • Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Award for doctoral research in Indonesia


  • C.O.T.I. Award to study Advanced Indonesian at IKIP University, Malang, East Java, Indonesia


  • F.L.A.S. Award to study Intermediate Indonesian at Northern Illinois University (Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute)


  • Tuition Award to Study Beginning Indonesian at the University of Michigan (Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute)


  • Boeing Award for Excellence, University of Washington
  • Nehamer Scholarship, University of Washington


  • Educational Fee Grant, University of California