Master of Arts in Music and Culture graduate student Kathy Armstrong has been selected as a recipient of a Senate Medal for Outstanding Academic Achievement.

This is a rare distinction for graduate students at Carleton University, awarded to top students who distinguish themselves for their academic performance. Kathy as one of our exceptional long-term contract instructors and director of the West African Rhythm Ensemble; she is also expanding her reputation as an impactful speaker, educator, and researcher in the area of music, health and well-being. She will receive the medal at the fall convocation on November 12.

Read our full interview with Kathy below:kathy5715

How long have you been a contractor instructor in Music and what brought you to Carleton University?

I have been teaching at Carleton in the Music Department since 1997. I grew up and went to university in Toronto but moved to this area just to get out of the big city…I love this region, it’s so beautiful, and access to the great outdoors is so close. I had already started to establish a career in freelance percussion and teaching and figured it could be done from anywhere that had an international airport and dial-up internet!

What prompted you to get your MA in Music & Culture?

I received a Bachelor of Music and a Master of Music from the University of Toronto back in the 1980s/1990s. Since that time I have been immersed in teaching and performing and did not keep up with academic reading and writing. I was eager for some new learning, and my area of interest was in the health benefits of participating in Ghanaian drumming and dancing, which I had seen up close in my students over the years, as well as experiencing them myself. A serendipitous conversation with my colleague Anna Hoefnagels gave me encouragement to start the MA in Music and Culture to specifically pursue those interests and conduct my own research. Since the program was right here at Carleton, it seemed like a good fit, so I applied!

It is difficult to limit the benefits of learning, but if you could single out one experience/feeling of significance that you learned from being part of the program, what would it be?

My earlier schooling was fantastic, but did not have a lot of focus on cultural theory, so Carleton’s program definitely filled in some of those gaps. Our faculty here offers a broad and in-depth look at how music fits into the larger world around us. Taking a step back from my twenty-five year career to examine some of the movements that I was actually a part of was really informative and has positively affected my teaching and research skills.

What is the principle area you concentrated in for your research? What would you like to see expanded on further?

My research focused on ways that participation in the Carleton West African Rhythm Ensemble (a group I founded and direct here in the music department) contributes to positive mental, social and physical health. In order to conduct that research I spent time immersed in several disciplines: medical ethnomusicology, psychology, neuroscience, music education and music therapy, among others. I have always been drawn to ideas from many sources so it was really interesting to see how these areas intersect to inform us about the ways in which music contributes to wellbeing. I was especially fascinated by the theory of rhythmic entrainment and ideas around participatory musics, both which apply to what happens in the West African Rhythm Ensemble. With more time and funding I would love to do some physiological testing (measuring heart rate, breathing, skin temperature etc.) to augment the research I have already done.

How did you manage life/work/school balance while studying for your Masters? And what advice would you give to incoming students that might prepare them for the work ahead?west african rhythm ensemble

I continued working while going to school fulltime, and I can say it was not easy. In fact, ramping up that first term was very challenging, even navigating the online registration, applications etc. My seventeen year-old daughter and I would both be doing lots of homework each evening and on weekends. I had incredible support at home from both her and my husband and could not have done it without them. I think the difference in going back to school later in life, is that if you are busy or have family commitments you figure out ways to be more efficient and productive with your time. It was also incredibly motivating to be able to study exactly what I was interested in. In my first master’s I did not write a thesis, as I had not really figured out my path yet. The program here at Carleton is a flexible program and I would encourage students to enroll in the self-directed reading courses and practicum courses in their areas of interest. Those courses can all feed into studies in this program and make the experience more integrated and meaningful.

What are you future plans for yourself in your field? And how do you plan on celebrating?

My career path has been unexpected all the way along and I don’t know for sure what the future holds. I’m always open! Currently there seems to be a lot of interest in the music and health area, so I am fielding requests for my drumming and dancing workshops along with both formal and informal speaking engagements about my research. I developed a new Special Topics course on Music and Wellbeing in a Global Context that I will teach next term. I also have some writing projects and work in social services and health settings. I definitely celebrated at the end of my thesis defence in September.  Receiving the Senate Medal for my work is really thrilling news! I have always believed in celebrating the big and small things in our lives, so that is on-going :)


Kathy Armstrong is a percussionist and educator who combines her training in classical percussion and music education with twenty-five years of studies in Ghanaian music and dance to offer an integrated and community based approach in her work. She is the founding director of Baobab Drum Dance Community and teaches at Carleton University. She received her BMus and MMus from the University of Toronto, and recently completed an MA in Music and Culture at Carleton. She received a Senate Medal for her work researching the links between drumming and health and wellbeing.