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An Ethnomusicologist at Sea: David Borgo

“When I was a senior (in high school), I was going to study computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon, but I started skipping calculus to practice Charlie Parker,” said David Borgo.  “That led me to think that I should take music more seriously.”

borgoBorgo, a professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of California San Diego, is traveling as a faculty member on the Fall 2016 voyage. Although this is his first voyage with the program, he is no stranger to life at sea.

“Some of my memories of working on cruise ships as a musician really planted the seed for my global interests,” said Borgo.  Traveling with Semester at Sea (SAS) as a faculty member seemed like a natural fit.

In his courses, he emphasizes a global approach to understanding musical practices and meanings.

“Ultimately, Ethnomusicology is like anthropology of music,” said Borgo. “What can music tell us about how people understand their place in the world?”

Ethnomusicology highlights the importance of accepting music as culture. This concept lays the foundation for the musical discipline as a whole, which he reinforces in his SAS courses.

“For me it’s great to have these kind of small classes of twenty or so folks,” he said.  


Smaller class sizes allow for more individualized interactions between Borgo and his students both on the ship and in port. While sailing, he occasionally plays his saxophone in class to better demonstrate concepts.

“As much as you can try to use audio and videos to introduce students to subjects, the ideal situation is experiencing a live performance together,” said Borgo. “Those are the kind of memories that stay with us forever.”

SAS students take 12-15 credits while on the ship and are also required to attend the corresponding Field Class in port. Field Classes are academic experiences that connect course curriculum on the ship with a learning opportunity in-country.

“They really have thought about how to make it an enriching experience and enjoyable at the same time,” Borgo said about the SAS academic format. “I was just upstairs grading papers on the back of the ship overlooking the ocean and seeing the coast of Africa. It’s a bit nicer than my normal office.”

Borgo grew up just outside of Washington, DC, in northern Virginia, where his love for music began with the saxophone as early as eight years old. By the time he was in middle school, he was a member of a jazz band with one of his instructors. He then went on to earn his Bachelor’s degree in Jazz Performance from Indiana University.

Borgo teaches Music of Black Americans and History of Jazz on the Fall 2016 voyage and is sailing with his wife, Sylvia, and their two sons, Diego and Joaquin. He will be instructing Field Classes in Spain, Brazil and Trinidad & Tobago, and performed a live jazz concert on Oct. 4 in Barcelona.

  • Culture
  • Life on Land

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