Published May 26, 2020
A doctoral music student whose research focuses on building community in restrictive political climates ─ and who now sees “eerie comparisons” to life under quarantine ─ is the latest UB student to receive the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship.
Nicholas Emmanuel, 31, received what is considered one of the country’s most prestigious scholarships for study abroad for his project “Challenging Identities: Studies in the Aesthetics of Hungarian Musical Modernism.”
Emmanuel is specifically interested in the ways Hungarian composers negotiated questions of cultural and national identity through their music in the 1970s and 1980s.
The grant gives him access to archival resources needed for his dissertation that can only be viewed at the collections housed at the Institute of Musicology at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest.
In the era of COVID-19 displacement, Emmanuel’s honor comes with what his adviser calls a “sad coda.” The Fulbright Program is now suspended, according to Patrick McDevitt, Fulbright program adviser, and associate professor in the Department of History. Current grantees were called home, and on May 15, the organization notified its winners for 2020-21 that the awards have been delayed until January.
If the situation improves and travel restrictions are lifted, the Fulbright fellowships will continue in a truncated time table, says Emmanuel, a native of Pittsburgh who earned his bachelor’s degree in music from the University at Pittsburgh and received a Presidential Scholarship from UB for his graduate study.
Despite the uncertainty, McDevitt and officials from UB’s Office of Fellowships and Scholarships say Emmanuel, as well as UB’s three alternates, deserve recognition for receiving this international honor.
“Although it is possible that the grantees for the 2020-21 award cycle will either have a shortened Fulbright experience ─ or even possibly canceled ─ it remains a great honor to have been awarded a Fulbright or named as an alternate,” says McDevitt.
“It has long been a tradition in academia for one to list grants or fellowships that were won, even if they were declined. Similarly, Fulbright winners this year will have every right to add their award to their CVs in the future.”
The three Fulbright applicants named alternates were:
Traditionally, alternates have good chances of receiving the awards because numerous Fulbright winners withdraw their names over the summer.
McDevitt says Emmanuel impressed the Fulbright faculty committee as a “nearly ideal candidate” for the award.
“He has an exceptionally strong background in both performance and music studies, as evidenced by his transcripts and long list of grants and awards,” he says. “The committee was convinced that Emmanuel will produce an important piece scholarship which will one day be a major contribution to Cold War music studies generally and Hungarian music studies in particular.”
Despite the disappointment, Emmanuel has a balanced and hopeful ─ but realistic ─ outlook for his chances of fulfilling his work as a Fulbright scholar.
“To be honest, I’m trying not to dwell too much on this,” he says. “It does kind of put my life on hold until I have clarity on this. It’s difficult to plan for any future if I don’t know if I’ll be leaving the country in a half-year.
“If I’m being realistic, it seems unlikely the situation with the coronavirus will improve enough for me to start my program in January. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for that. We’ll just wait and see,” he says.
“Part of the reason I’m not despairing too much about the Fulbright is basically everybody is in a situation of not knowing what next year ─ possibly the next two years ─ will hold for them.”
Samples of Emmanuel’s piano performances are accessible online, as well as a more detailed version of his research project ─ in particular his ideas about music’s role in building community, especially during this era of social distancing.