Dr. Jeffrey W. Cupchik (Ph.D., MA, B.Mus.)

Exploring music & wellbeing | Visualizing peace

Associate Member, Graduate Program in Music; Sessional Faculty

Department of Music | School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design | York University | Toronto, Canada




The Sound of Vultures' Wings: The Tibetan Buddhist Chöd Ritual Practice of the Female Buddha Machik Labdrön target="_blank">


Dr. Jeffrey W. Cupchik is an author, educator, composer, musician, and medical ethnomusicologist. His research is thematically centered around these intersecting fields: medical ethnomusicology, music and health studies, popular music, Buddhist studies, ritual studies, performance studies, ethnography, research methodology and ethics, anthropology of religion, and Buddhist ritual music.

He is an Associate Member, Graduate Program in Music as well as Sessional Faculty in the Department of Music, in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design at York University in Toronto.

He teaches the university course, "Music for Health and Wellness," through which student participants experience the ways music and sound can be utilized to augment wellbeing. He also offers workshops to illustrate the powerful ways that compassionate voice and compassionate listening can be cultivated to improve everyday performance and individual and social wellbeing. Students enroll from across the university, including those in STEAM fields -- clinical fields in healthcare, sciences, social sciences, medical humanities, and the arts.

New Publications

His book, The Sound of Vultures' Wings: The Tibetan Buddhist Chöd Ritual Practice of the Female Buddha Machik Labdrön (Albany, NY: SUNY series in Religious Studies), shares critical new insights about how internal meditative visualizations and external musical performance elements are designed to cohere in Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhist ritual practices as interrelated parts of a holistic experience.

This book illustrates the diverse ways that the inner and outer aspects of ritual performance intersect dynamically and, ultimately, enhance the contemplative art of meditation in Chöd ritual contexts. Utilizing techniques of "ritual mapping" combined with musical analysis, this work uncovers the performative architecture in Chöd rituals--the relationships between liturgical poetry, music, rhythm, and visualizations--and how they operate as a kind of "sonic iconography."

Symbolically articulated sound serves as a picturesque meditational aural aid for visualization in a manner closely akin to the intended visual function of Tibetan and Himalayan thangka paintings for Buddhist practitioners.

Since the online publication of this book's 30-page "preview" article, "Buddhism As Performing Art: Visualizing Music in the Tibetan Sacred Ritual Music Liturgies" in the inaugural issue of the Yale Journal of Music & Religion (published on February 5, 2015), the paper has over 10,000 downloads as of March 2023. Such widespread interest appears to reflect a broad, global, academic curiosity toward understanding the roles of sound and music in Buddhist meditation, the art of stillness, and the symbolic and sonic functions of drum-accompanied liturgical song-poetry in Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayana (tantric) Chöd meditation ritual practices.

Grounded in a multi-site ethnography with renowned Tibetan contemplatives, and a long-time apprenticeship under the tutelage of Chöd master pedagogue Venerable Pencho (Phuntsok) Rabgey MSC, this book illustrates the performative architecture that was designed and pioneered by the founder of Chöd, the Tibetan female ascetic Machik Labkyi Drönma (1055-1153), and subsequently developed by leading practitioners in her lineages.

Exploring the craftsmanship underlying Buddhist ritual music links to research in the contemplative sciences on the efficacy of symbolism in sound-guided meditations, and offers a new understanding of the role of sound symbolism in cognitive and somatic transformation within the context of Buddhist liturgical ritual.

Dr. Cupchik's additional research interests range from the Tibetan Buddhist liturgical ritual music of Varjayana (tantric) song-poetry, to musically-guided preventive health interventions, to the mega-concert genre of global popular music philanthropy. Published writings include an exploration into some of the prominent musicians in the creative constellation of artists around The Beatles. Fascinated by the ways symbolic sonorities in certain cultural contexts can lead to musical innovations, one article explores The Beatles' adaptation of a transnational symbolic musical language of spirituality into the popular music of the Sixties. The article "Polyvocality and Forgotten Proverbs (and Persons)" explores aspects of George Harrison’s adaptation of South Asian classical music sonorities into what music scholars have termed “raga rock.”

New Course Curricula in Qualitative Research Methods

Dr. Cupchik has innovated a unique curriculum in Qualitative (Ethnographic) Research Methods that combines Community-based Research with Service Learning. He has taught this curriculum in several different courses, university departments, and programs, to students in public health, legal anthroplogy, cultural anthropology, and ethnomusicology--mentoring students' fieldwork projects step-by-step to completion.

Two Fulbright Fellowships, full-time positions in public health organizations (including GlobeMed), acceptance into competitive graduate programs, and students' newfound confidence, have been part of the successful results of this new curriculum, which he describes as "Ethnography in the service of health."

Health & Well-Being Online | Courses During Covid-19

During Covid19, Dr. Cupchik designed a new online/hybrid interdisciplinary course "MUSI 3703 Music for Health and Wellness" and taught 70 upper-level undergraduate students in nursing, pre-med, psychology, kinesiology, and music at York University. Adapting his innovative curriculum in Qualitative Research Methods into the online context, students (in groups) proposed, designed, and conducted original exploratory pilot studies online to investigate the efficacy of 25 music interventions and their effect on human health and wellness (e.g., ASMR, binaural beats, analgesic effects, etc). Their studies collectively uncovered fascinating preliminary findings: preferred music listening, under certain conditions, appears to offer patients, caregivers, and laypersons a safe, non-pharmacological, and non-invasive method that can effectively augment health and wellness by reducing stress, increasing sleep, reducing pain and discomfort, and bolstering study focus, among other preventive and curative benefits.

He has designed three new university courses in music and health incuding "Music, Healing and Ritual in Cultural Contexts" (Eastman School of Music) and "Music Therapies in Contemporary Cultures." These courses bring together the latest findings in the medical humanities, social sciences, and evidence-based scientific research, with a focus on the practical benefits of music on well-being.

Dr. Cupchik's research and teaching in music, health, and wellness is part of an important focus in the new field of Medical Ethnomusicology. As the former Co-Chair of the Medical Ethnomusicology Special Interest Group within the Society for Ethnomusicology, over the course of three years he collaborated with faculty colleagues on fostering the growth of this new field among undergraduate and graduate students.

Research Grants and Fellowships

Dr. Jeffrey Cupchik's academic research has been supported by national and international grants and fellowships, including a Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council Doctoral Research Fellowship, Trudeau Fellowship (at York University), Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute Research Fellowship, and a Commonwealth Scholarship, as well as a Canada Council for the Arts Music Grant.  He has been an invited speaker at the University of California-Berkeley, Harvard University, University of British Columbia, University of Toronto, Yale University, University of Denver, University of Rochester, and Rangjung Yeshe Institute of Kathmandu University, among others. He was also a Research Fellow at the Mind and Life Summer Research Institute at the Garrison Institute in New York.

Empowering Himalayan Students with Qualitative Research Methods Training

Since 2017, Dr. Cupchik has been mentoring Himalayan and Tibetan graduate and undergraduate students in India in how to design and conduct community-based research using qualitative research methods.

"Empowering students with the tools to research the challenges in their own communities simply makes good sense, given that they already have access to understanding the nuances of local languages and dialects. With modern research skills, including training in structuring narrative, they are able to directly assist their own communities through accurate reporting and data-rich storytelling. Guiding these enthusiastic students has been a logical step as an educator concerned about cultural continuity amid forces agitating for rapid global change. Moreover, sharing knowledge-based skills has been very rewarding personally, as it is a way of giving back to communities whose musical, cultural, and spiritual legacies have taught me so much." - Dr. Jeffrey Cupchik

Music Composition and Live Performance

Jeffrey is a composer and performer, a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, and plays piano, guitar, the Tibetan Chöd damaru drum, Tibetan folk lute (dranyen), as well as other instruments.  He is an active composer and singer-songwriter and has written for the stage, film, and chamber works. During the pandemic he has turned toward his original love of improvisation, and is creating musical meditations. With a bent for comedy, he played the role of "The Grinch" in How the Grinch Stole the Wetlands in an environmental education musical theatre program as a Provincial Park Interpreter in Western Canada. To listen to a few of Jeff's compositions and improvisations, please go to the music tab or click here: https://jeffreycupchik.com/music.htm



The Sound of Vultures' Wings: The Tibetan Buddhist Chöd Ritual Practice of the Female Buddha Machik Labdrön. Albany NY: SUNY Series in Religious Studies. (February 1, 2024).

Journal Articles (peer-reviewed)

"Mandela’s Inaugural 46664 Mega-Concert – A Second Long Walk To Freedom – Sounding Out Narratives of Empowerment, Religion and Public Health at Queen, Bono, and Nelson Mandela’s Campaign Launch Concert to Combat HIV/AIDS," Echo: A Music-Centered Journal, Vol.15, No.1 (April, 2019): 1-32.

"Buddhism As Performing Art: Visualizing Music in the Tibetan Sacred Ritual Music Liturgies," Yale Journal of Music & Religion, Vol.1, Iss.1 (Feb 5, 2015): 61-91.

"The Tibetan gCod Damaru Drum--A Reprise: Symbolism, Function, and Difference in a Tibetan Adept's Interpretive Community." Asian Music, Vol.44, No.1 (Winter/Spring 2013): 113-139.

"Polyvocality and Forgotten Proverbs (and Persons): Ravi Shankar, George Harrison and Shambhu Das." Popular Music History, Vol.8, No.1 (April 2013): 68-90.

Book Review Essay

"Chanting the Medicine Buddha Sutra: A Musical Transcription and English Translation of the Medicine Buddha Service of the Liberation Rite of Water and Land at Fo Guang Shan Monastery. (Book Review Essay). " Yale Journal of Music & Religion, Vol.8, No.1 (2022): 52-62.


"Buddhism and Popular Music." The Bloomsbury Handbook of Religion and Popular Music, edited by C. Partridge & M. Moberg. London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017, pps. 144-159.

"Mapping the Performative Architecture of Chöd Rituals: How External Musical Performance Elements Cohere With Internal Meditation Practices." TIPA 60, Conference Proceedings of the 60th Anniversary of the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (forthcoming 2021 Spring).

Works In Progress: 

Journal Articles (accepted, pending requested revisions)

"George Harrison: South Asian Music, Subjectivity and Bricolage in the Era of Psychedelia." Journal of Popular Music and Society

“Melodies for Dissolving the Self: Tibetan Songs of Meditative Experience.” Journal of Musicological Research.

"Representing Tibetan Subjectivity in Travel Writing: Voicing the Self in 1920's Tibet. (Currently under review)" 


“Tibetan Performing Arts in Exile: Preserving Cultural Memory through Music and Dance Performances in Ladakh.” In Music and Dance as Everyday Life in South Asia, edited by Z. Sherinian & S. Morelli, New York: Oxford University Press (under review).