A rock-star PhD student

Daniel Stadnicki is a bona fide PhD rock star.

26 September 2014

Vanier scholar's research exploring the intersections between popular music, religion and politics recognized at Celebrate!

by Salena Kitteringham

Daniel Stadnicki is a bona fide PhD rock star.

As a recipient of the 2014 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, Stadnicki-whose research focuses on global drumming cultures, practices and technologies-puts the University of Alberta centre stage within the discipline of ethnomusicology.

Stadnicki was among top students, faculty and staff recognized at the U of A's Celebrate! Teaching. Learning. Research. event held Sept. 25 at the Myer Horowitz Theatre, but he's no stranger to the limelight.

As early as high school, the award-winning percussionist experienced success as a drummer for the hit Canadian rock band Serial Joe. The band's "Skidrow" won the MuchMusic Video Award for best independent video in 1998.

"Serial Joe was the first band I ever played in," Stadnicki says fondly, recalling how he formed the band with high-school friends in his hometown of Newmarket, Ont., at the age of 13.

"Through that band, we toured all over the country. We played Woodstock 1999. We had a Juno award nomination. A gold record. A MuchMusic award. All these things were great things, but in the back of my mind I had a feeling it wasn't a permanent thing."

Stadnicki reflects on being a young recording artist in the late 1990s, before the dawn of the MP3 digital music age. He says it was a different business model pre-iTunes. "It was a strange time. Napster didn't really exist yet, so there were still record labels that would throw money at artists. We were a young band, and the record company put us in some weird situations."

He says the rock 'n' roll lifestyle was fun but he had set his sights on other career goals, too.

"I enjoyed school. I always wanted to be a teacher-I didn't know if that would be teaching high school or kindergarten or post-secondary."

Stadnicki decided to pursue a music degree at York University. As an undergraduate student there, he studied Cuban and Caribbean hand percussion, dabbled in Brazilian drumming traditions and played with many world-music student ensembles.

He was jazzed by his introductory ethnomusicology courses. "I loved the research-exploring the intersections between religion, politics and popular music."

Initially drawn to graduate studies in ethnomusicology at the U of A by the reputation of the Canadian Centre for Ethnomusicology and music scholars Regula Qureshi and Michael Frishkopf, Stadnicki says his dissertation will explore the music of Iranian Baha'is in the Canadian diaspora.

Along with pursuing his research at the U of A, Stadnicki has also fulfilled his goal of becoming a teacher, instructing "Introduction to Popular Music" for the first time in the winter 2014 term and again in spring 2014.

"The course has a huge enrolment, 180 people, and it's open to non-music majors, which I think is great. In this class, you have people from political science, economics, the sciences. They all bring their personal connection to popular music, and we all practise thinking and writing about it."

Stadnicki says giving PhD students like him the opportunity to teach introductory courses enhances the research experience at the U of A.

"A lot of people graduate from a PhD program with no teaching experience, but I have a good amount of experience now, even just at the beginning of the third year of my PhD program."

He was delighted to discover in the Department of Music a network of support, with department chair Mary Ingraham designated as his teaching mentor.

The U of A's culture of service to the community has also rubbed off on Stadnicki.

He served as president of the Graduate Music Students' Association for the 2013-14 academic year, working on the association's organizing committee to host "Empowered Sounds, Musics, and People," a graduate student conference in the spring of 2014. The conference featured speakers presenting on themes of arts accessibility, empowerment and community engagement.

Stadnicki has volunteered to teach a drumming class for toddlers through his community league in his Edmonton neighbourhood of Idylwylde and regularly contributes as a writer for the not-for-profit Drummer's Journal.

Currently endorsed by Sabian Cymbals, Stadnicki continues to play drums professionally with The Opposite of Everything, a Toronto-based band with Stadnicki in Edmonton and other members working out of Vancouver and Toronto, as well as others based overseas in Sweden and Italy.

Stadnicki says the band is influenced by the late Canadian violinist Oliver Schroer, and describes it as "a mix of musicians who play everything from Klezmer style to African-Afro Beat, South Indian music and Canadian fiddle tunes."

The eclectic group has achieved critical acclaim, winning three 2013 Canadian Folk Music Awards including Instrumental Group of the Year, Producer of the Year (David Travers-Smith), and the Pushing the Boundaries award for their self-titled disc.

The Opposite of Everything operates as a festival band that comes together over the summer months. This past July and August they toured through Scandinavia, hit the stage at the Winnipeg Folk Festival and performed in Dawson City.

Stadnicki says the Vanier fund allowed him to purchase a good quality SLR video camera, "on the wish list for a long time," to document his band's practice sessions and performances on the road.

Valued at $150,000 over three years, the Vanier Scholarship will support Stadnicki's young family while he continues to teach, study and devote himself to his thesis.