Sean Williams (ethnomusicologist)

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Sean Williams (born 1959, Berkeley, California) is an ethnomusicologist who teaches at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.

Her primary areas of teaching include music, Irish studies, and Asian studies; she leads the Sundanese music ensembles Gamelan Degung Girijaya (Enduring Mountain Gamelan) and Angklung Buncis Sukahejo. She received a BA in classical guitar performance from UC Berkeley in 1981, and an MA (on Irish-language singing, 1985) and Ph.D. (on music in West Java, Indonesia, 1990) in ethnomusicology from the University of Washington (Seattle). Her first teaching jobs were part-time at the University of Washington, then she was hired as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Columbia University in New York City in 1990-1991. In 1991 she was hired at The Evergreen State College. She has also taught on the Semester at Sea, in a faculty exchange program through the University of Hyōgo, and at several adult music camps.



Williams has written numerous articles about music, and written or edited several books about music, food, and grammar:

  • 1998 The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music (Southeast Asia) (Routledge - with Terry Miller)
  • 2001 The Sound of the Ancestral Ship: Highland Music of West Java (Oxford University Press)
  • 2005 The Ethnomusicologists' Cookbook (Routledge)
  • 2008 The Garland Handbook of Southeast Asian Music (Routledge - with Terry Miller)
  • 2010 Focus: Irish Traditional Music (Routledge)
  • 2011 Bright Star of the West: Joe Heaney, Irish Song-Man (Oxford - with Lillis Ó Laoire)
  • 2015 The Ethnomusicologists' Cookbook, vol.2 (Routledge)
  • 2019 English Grammar: 100 Tragically Common Mistakes and How to Correct Them (Zephyros)
  • 2020 Focus: Irish Traditional Music, 2nd edition (Routledge)
  • 2021 Musics of the World (Oxford University Press)

She has served as a council and board member of the Society for Ethnomusicology, in which she served as Second Vice President, is a participant in the Special Interest Group on Celtic Music, and was formerly on the board of the Society for Asian Music;[1] she belongs to several other academic societies. As part of the Irish Cultural Society of the Pacific Northwest, she helps to host the Sean-nós Northwest Festival in Olympia, Washington every spring. She has a Facebook profile called Captain Grammar Pants, in which she posts tips on grammar, punctuation, capitalization, spelling, and etymology.

Sean Williams is also a musician; she plays numerous Irish, Indonesian, and Brazilian instruments along with the classical guitar, fiddle, and banjo. She sings in Irish, English, Portuguese, Indonesian, and Sundanese.


  1. ^ Asian music: Journal of the Society for Asian Music - Volume 37 - Page 163 Society for Asian Music - 2006 "A former editor of Asian Music, she also co-edited the Southeast Asia volume of the Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, and the two volumes of The Ethnomusicologists' Cookbook (Routledge)."