David Kirkland Garner writes music, plays banjo, studies fiddle, listens to jazz, hears everything, but suspects he knows nothing. Encompassing chamber, large ensemble, electroacoustic, and vocal works, his music reconfigures past sounds—from Bach to minimalism to bluegrass—into new sonic shapes and directions. He seeks to make time and history audible, particularly through an exploration of archival recordings documenting the musical traditions of the U.S. South.
His most recent piece Red hot sun turning over: on Southern monuments, myths, and histories is an 80-minute, multimedia piece for mezzo-soprano, wind ensemble, wind quintet, archival sound and film in which Garner uses music, sounds, and images from the Civil War era and the early 20th century to erect monuments and tear them down, write and re-write histories, expose the complex web of southern myths, and confront the nostalgia and pain surrounding Confederate monuments in the South. His approach is informed by research into Civil war history, the history of the South, African American history, and primarily through an exploration of the history of racism and constructions of whiteness, which are inextricably linked. 
Garner's first album Dark Holler was released in 2017 by New Focus Recordings. Reviewer Kevin Baldwin writes that "Garner’s voice as a composer is unmistakable; with a true passion and inspiration of the music of the South, Garner creates an engaging and lively listening experience."

He has worked with world-renowned ensembles including the Kronos Quartet, which commissioned a work based on the music of the Scottish diaspora. Awards include a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts & Letters, an ASCAP Young Composer Award, and first prizes in the OSSIA, Red Note, and NACUSA competitions. His music has been performed by the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, Contemporaneous, Imani Winds, Invoke string quartet, Ciompi Quartet, Vega Quartet, San Deigo Symphony, Locrian Chamber Ensemble, the Wet Ink Ensemble, the Boston New Music Initiative, Mallarmé Chamber Players, and the yMusic ensemble.


Garner is an Assistant Professor of Composition and Theory at the University of South Carolina, having previously taught at Duke, Kennesaw State, North Carolina State, and Elon Universities. He holds degrees from Duke University (PhD, 2014), University of Michigan (MM, 2007), and Rice University (BM 2005).


Garner’s research focuses on the rich history of early recordings of American roots music—the United States’ cultural fascination with, as Greil Marcus puts it, the “Old, Weird America”—Southern banjo styles, and Cape Breton traditional fiddle and piano music. His work on the banjo can be found on two websites that he co-created with scholars Laurent Dubois and Mary Caton Lingold. The first is titled “Banjology,” which showcases research on the history of the banjo in the Afro-Atlantic world, and includes historical documents, visual materials, images of material objects, and music transcription and analysis. Garner’s main contributions are in the transcription and analysis sections, which focus on the African American banjo songster traditions of North Carolina and Virginia.


The second website is an interactive educational resource titled “Musical Passage,” which tells the story of an important but little known record of early African diasporic music. Enslaved Africans and their descendants revolutionized global music, but historical records tell us far too little about their earliest practices. The site offers a careful interpretation of a single rare artifact—Hans Sloane’s 1707 volume, Voyage to the Islands of Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers and Jamaica. Tucked away in this centuries-old book are several notations of music that make it possible to hear echoes of performances long past. The website was peer-reviewed and featured on the Columbia University’s sx archipelagos platform from the Small Axe Project


Garner’s scholarship on Cape Breton fiddling centers on tempo in performances in the Cape Breton tradition. Garner measures the subtle shifts in tempo that fiddlers use to create large-scale forms and exciting structures. This research resulted in his article “That Driving Sound: Use of tempo in traditional Cape Breton fiddle performance,” recently published by MUSICultures, the journal of the Canadian Society for Traditional Music. He has presented his work on tempo and time in Cape Breton traditional music at the North Atlantic Fiddle Conference in Cape Breton and at the “Making Time in Music” conference at the University of Oxford. 

Digital Humanities Projects


  • Musical Passage: A Voyage to 1688 Jamaica, with Laurent Dubois and Mary Caton Lingold, sx archipelago: A Small Axe Journal of Digital Practice. Issue 1: June 2016.

  • Garner, David Kirkland. "That Driving Sound: Use of Tempo in Traditional Cape Breton Fiddling." MUSICULTURES Journal - Journal of The Canadian Society for Traditional Music. Volume 42, Number 2 (2015)

  • Alexander SC, Garner DK, Somoroff M, Gramling DJ, Norton SA, Gramling R. "Using music[al] knowledge to represent expressions of emotions." Patient Education and Counseling (May 12, 2015)


Conference Presentations

  • "AEIOU: a guide for listening and analysis" presented at the Seventh International Conference on Minimalist Music in Cardiff, Wales (August 2019)

  • "Tempo, Drive, and Identity in Cape Breton Jigs" presented at the Analytical Approaches to World Music Special Topics Symposium  (June, 2019)

  • "Tempo, Drive, and Identity in Cape Breton Jigs" presented at the Making Time in Music conference at the University of Oxford (September, 2016)

  • "Tempo in Cape Breton Jigs." Presented at the North Atlantic Fiddle Conference in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia (October, 2015)

  • "It's All in the Feet: Sound, Recording and Social Space in the Traditional Music of Cape Breton." Presented at the American Musicological Society - Southeast conference at Wake Forest University (2012)

  • Guest panel leader and composer in residence, "Making Connections: The Celtic Roots of Southern Music" at Emory University (2012)

  • Poster presentation. "ACTMAP: A Corpus Tool for the Study of Popular Music." Presented at the International Society for Gesture Studies Conference in Frankfurt (Oder) with Marcus Perlman and Ansley Post (2010)




Garner teaches composition, theory, aural skills, and traditional music. He is Assistant Professor of Composition and Theory at the University of South Carolina and previously taught at Elon, Duke, NC State, and Kennesaw State Universities. Garner’s current course offerings include “Transcription & Analysis,” which develops students’ transcription skills while investigating the history of transcription in music scholarship and examining the intersections of folk music and concert music (such as in the works of Béla Bartók and Aaron Copland). In 2014, as a recipient of Duke's Bass Undergraduate Instructional Program Fellowship, Garner taught a course of his own design that explored American folk music through Harry Smith’s landmark record compilation, the Anthology of American Folk Music. In the fall 2017 semester Garner will teach a course on minimalism and post-minimalism combining analysis, history, performance, and composition.

Recent courses

  • Composition lessons (2016-present), University of South Carolina

  • World Music Analysis (Fall 2019), graduate theory class, University of South Carolina

  • Performance & Analysis (Fall 2019, Spring 2016), graduate theory class, University of South Carolina

  • (post)Minimalism (Spring 2019, Fall 2017), graduate theory class, University of South Carolina

  • Contemporary Styles I (Spring 2019, Spring 2017), graduate theory class, University of South Carolina

  • Music Theory III (Fall 2017), undergraduate theory class, University of South Carolina

  • From Bach to Rock: A history of 20th century music (Summer 2017), taught at the Duke University TIP program for gifted middle and high school students

  • Transcription & Analysis (Spring 2017), graduate theory class, University of South Carolina

  • Music Theory III (Fall 2016), undergraduate theory class, University of South Carolina


Teaching Positions

  • Assistant Professor of Composition & Theory, University of South Carolina School of Music (Fall 2016-)

  • Adjunct Assistant Professor, Elon University (2015-2016)

  • Visiting Lecturer, Duke University (2015-2016)

  • Visiting Lecturer, North Carolina State University (2013)

  • Lecturer and teaching Assistant, Duke University (2009-2014)

  • Lecturer, Kennesaw State University (2007-2008)


  • PhD, Duke University (2014)

  • MA, Duke University (2010)

  • MM, University of Michigan (2007)

  • BM, Rice University (2005)