Kamala Sankaram

Adjunct, Department of Music and Theater

Praised as “strikingly original” (NY Times), Kamala Sankaram has received commissions from Beth Morrison Projects, HERE Arts Center, and Anthony Braxton’s Tri-Centric Orchestra, among others. She is the recipient of a Jonathan Larson Award from the American Theater Wing, and has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, MAP Fund, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, Meet the Composer, the Anna Sosenko Trust and the Asian Women’s Giving Circle, as well as residencies from the MacDowell Colony, the Watermill Center, Con Edison/Exploring the Metropolis, the Hermitage, and American Lyric Theater. As a resident artist at HERE Arts Center, Kamala created MIRANDA, a steampunk murder mystery, which was the winner of the New York Innovative Theatre Award for Outstanding Production of a Musical. Her second opera, THUMBPRINT, premiered in the 2014 PROTOTYPE Festival, and was featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition, Agence French Presse, and over 25 media outlets around the world. 

Kamala currently holds a residency with CAP21, where she is collaborating with Christine Toy Johnson to develop a new musical inspired by Phoolan Devi, India’s “Bandit Queen.” She is also a member of the Civilians’s Research and Development group, in collaboration with playwright Rob Handel.

As a performer, Kamala has been hailed as “an impassioned soprano with blazing high notes” (Wall Street Journal). She has performed with and premiered pieces by Anthony Braxton, Beth Morrison Projects, the Philip Glass Ensemble, the Wooster Group, Anti-Social Music, and Petr Kotik, among others. She is the frontwoman for world music ensemble, Bombay Rickey, and appears regularly with Opera on Tap.

 In addition to her musical pursuits, Kamala has been a voice actor on Comedy Central’s Superjail and Cartoon Network’s Golden Age, and holds a PhD in Cognitive Psychology from the New School for Social Research.

Courses Taught

  • The Psychology of Music
  • Fundamentals in Music Theory: Lab
  • Beginning Voice
  • Advanced Voice
  • Research

    I am very interested in how culture and the human mind are intertwined, particularly with regard to new technologies. My research blurs the lines between cognitive psychology, political theory, and human-computer interaction. I am currently focused on exploring how new technologies affect the way that we read. As more and more people turn to the Internet as their platform for social interaction and news, it is important for us to understand how these new technologies are changing the processes by which we interact with and comprehend information. Reading online allows the reader to assume a more complex role than reading offline. Online readers who are empowered to comment on a website have the opportunity to actively engage in dialogue with other readers, and often with the author of the original text. Despite this ability to comment, most people don’t, becoming what are known as lurkers.

    ­My dissertation looked specifically at the way that interactive and non-interactive readers differ in terms of the navigation and comprehension of the text on a political website. For my dissertation, I also created a new methodology to study lurkers. Studying lurkers is difficult in that they are defined by behaviors that they choose not to engage in, which means that you can’t simply assign a participant to be a lurker. For my study, participants were invited to visit a website dedicated to the 2012 presidential election. They were then randomly assigned to be either interactive (able to comment) or non-interactive readers. The interactive readers further self-selected into lurkers and posters by either commenting on the website or choosing not to. The website tracked what participants did while they were on the site, and I used an Inference Verification Task to measure comprehension.

    The study showed that interactive readers spent longer on the site and demonstrated better comprehension than non-interactive readers, despite having equivalent levels of interest in and prior knowledge of politics. The lurkers were somewhere in between the posters and readers, suggesting that simply empowering a reader to comment may change the way that they read. I am currently expanding the study to look at whether the effect will extend to non-political websites and posts appearing on Facebook.

  • Publications and Scholarly Activities


    • 2014               Research Consultant, Internet Rights Unit, Ford Foundation, New York
    • 2005                Usability Consultant, Morgan Stanley, New York


    • Sankaram, K. & Schober, M.F.  (2014). Online reading of a political blog by lurkers, posters, and non-interactive readers. Paper presented at 24th annual meeting of Society for Text and Discourse, Chicago, IL.
    • Sankaram, K. (2014). On Art and Activism. Presented at the 2014 US Conference of UN Women, Washington D.C.
    • Sankaram, K. (2012). Thumbprint: On the intersection of Indian and Western classical music. Presented as part of “Artists of Our Time” at the Historic Asolo Theater, Sarasota, FL. 


    •  Sankaram, K. & Schober, M.F.  (2014). Online reading by lurkers, posters, and non-interactive readers. Manuscript submitted for publication.
  • Professional Experience and Memberships

    Select Performances: Soprano soloist


    • 2014                Gertrude Stein, “Masterpieces,” World Premiere, NODO Festival, Czech Republic
    • 2014                Sundance, “Trillium J,” World Premiere, Roulette
    • 2014                Mukhtar, “Thumbprint,” World Premiere, PROTOTYPE Festival
    • 2013                Dot, “Tesla in New York,” American Opera Projects/Dartmouth      
    • 2012                The Queen of Hearts, “Wonderglass,” American Opera Projects     
    • 2012                Ola Serafinski, “A Blessing on the Moon,” Chutzpah Festival, Vancouver, CA        
    • 2012                Miranda, “Miranda,” World Premiere, HERE Arts Center              
    • 2010                Helena , “Trillium E,” World Premiere, Issue Project Room                       
    • 2010                Dido, “Dido and Aeneas,” Abrons Art Center, NY               
    • 2007-2009       Juno, Anna, Ascanius  La Didone (Cavalli), RedCAT, St. Ann’s Warehouse, Luxembourg, Edinburgh, Rotterdam, Brussels
    • 2007                Chorus, Einstein on the Beach, Carnegie Hall            


    Concert Solo (Orchestra and Chamber Music)

    • 2013                Cage: Aria, Jiri Myron National Moravian Theater                             
    • 2013                Feldman: Rothko Chapel, St. Wenceslas Church, Czech Republic     
    • 2013                Free: Amplified, Lincoln Center Out of Doors                       
    • 2013                Sankaram: Khmer III, Guggenheim Works-in-Process                     
    • 2012                Mazzoli: Victoire, River to River Festival                                            
    • 2012                Greenstein: The Yehudim, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry at BAM
    • 2011                Reich: Music for 18 Musicians (with eighth blackbird), Park Avenue Armory Tune-In Festival                    
    • 2010                Zorn: Frammenti del Sappho (with John Zorn), Bard College
    • 2009                Reich: Music for 18 Musicians (with Mantra Percussion), Le Poisson Rouge, NY                           
    • 2008                Svane: Mass,Salzburg Music Festival- Dom, Salzburg                      
    • 2007                Goode: Critical Mass, Jewish Cultural Festival, Krakow                                                         


    • 2014                Bombay Rickey: Cinefonia, Cowboys & Indian
    • 2014                Anthony Braxton: Trillium J, Braxton House
    • 2012                Positive Catastrophe: Dibrujo, dibrujo, dibrujo, Cuneiform
    • 2011                Anti-Social Music: The Future of Everything, Peacock Records        
    • 2010                Anthony Braxton: Trillium E, Braxton House                        
    • 2005                Phil Kline: Around the World in a Daze, Starkland Records                                      


    • 2014    Devi, commissioned by Opera on Tap. First performance at Barbés, Brooklyn
    • 2014    Enchantress, commissioned by American Lyric Theater. First performance at
    • Symphony Space, NYC
    • 2014    The Far Shore, commissioned by Sing for Hope. Recorded for Sing for Hope’s Sonic AIDS Quilt
    • 2014    60 Words, First performance at the National Opera Center, NY
    • 2014    Kivalina, First performance at the Stone, NYC
    • 2014    Thumbprint, commissioned by Beth Morrison Projects and HERE Arts Center for the PROTOTYPE Festival. First performance at Baruch College, NY
    • 2014    The Prayer of St. Francis, Commissioned by Kyler Brown and the
    • Virgin Consort. First performance at Eglise St. Jean Baptiste, NYC
    • 2013    John-John, Commissioned by The Hermitage for “The Day Before.” First performance at Symphony Space NYC
    • 2013    Free: Amplified, commissioned by MAPP Productions for Lincoln Center
    • Out of Doors. First performance at David Rubenstein Atrium, NYC
    • 2013    Khmer III, commissioned by Manou Phuon. First performance at Works in Process at the Guggenheim Museum
    • 2013    Dark Flow, commissioned by the Tri-Centric Foundation. First performance at Roulette, Brooklyn
    • 2012    The New Normal, commissioned by Two Sides Sounding. First performance at Greenwich House Music School, NYC
    • 2012    Baby, commissioned by Delea Shand. First performance at The Composer’s Voice, NYC
    • 2012    Bruja-Ha! Commissioned by Anti-Social Music. First performance at Galapagos Art Space, Brooklyn
    • 2012    Miranda, First performance at HERE Arts Center, NYC
    • 2011    Second Moon, commissioned by the Flexible Orchestra and Guy
    • Klucevsek. First Performance at Roulette, Brooklyn
    • 2011    Tuco’s Last Stand, First performance at The Stone, NYC
    • 2011    Bombay 5-0, First performance at The Stone, NYC
    • 2011    Cavity Creeps, First performance at The Stone, NYC
    • 2011    boxesBoxesBOXES!, First performance at The Stone, NYC
    • 2010    Balkanization, First performance at Union Pool, NYC
    • 2010    All Mashed Up, commissioned by Opera on Tap. First performance at City Winery, NYC
    • 2010    Pilgrim, First performance at Make Music New York, NYC
    • 2010    Six years later, First performance at Space on White, NYC
    • 2010    Mirror, commissioned by Margaret Lancaster. First performance at Greenwich House Music
    • 2010    Music for SOUNDING, First performance at HERE Arts Center, NYC
    • 2009    A Stalk of Wheat, commissioned by Beth Morrison Projects and Vision
    • into Art. First Performance at Galapagos Art Space, NYC
    • 2009    Ghosts, commissioned by the Flexible Orchestra. First performance at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, NYC
    • 2009    SLAM, First performance at Space on White, NYC
    • 2009    Gavagai, commissioned by Steven Parker. First performance at the Santa Fe New Music Festival
    • 2008    The Bitter Suite, commissioned by Anti-Social Music. First performance at the Nuyorican Poets Café, NYC
    • 2008    Biffbamboom, First performance at FONT (the Festival of New Trumpet Music), NYC
    • 2008    Music for Can I Help You? First performance at the Bushwick Starr, NYC
    • 2007    Music for The Nose, First performance at Collective Unconscious, NYC
    • 2007    Bloodletting, First performance at the Tank, NYC
    • 2005    Dentist, score for animated short film
    • 2005    Five Infomercials for Dentists, score for animated short film
    • 2005    Noir, First performance at Barbés, Brooklyn



    • Society for Text and Discourse
    • American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers
    • Screen Actors Guild
  • Honors, Awards, and Grants


    • 2014                Irvin Rock Memorial Award in Psychology (for Outstanding Dissertation), New School for Social   Research
    • 2013-2014       Resident Composer, American Lyric Theater, New York
    • 2013                Fellow, The Watermill Center
    • 2013                Jonathan Larson Award, American Theatre Wing      
    • 2013                Fellow, The MacDowell Colony
    • 2012-               Fellow, The Hermitage
    • 2012                Award: Outstanding Production of a Musical, New York Innovative Theatre Awards
    • 2012                Honorable Mention, Al Quds Composition Competition       
    • 2011                Fellow, Con Edison/Exploring the Metropolis
    • 2011                Fellow, NYFA Boot Camp
    • 2011                Composer-in-Residence, Eugene O’Neill Theater
    • 2011                Finalist: Greenfield Prize        


    • 2008-2012       Resident Artist, HERE Arts Center
    • 2003-2004       Teaching Fellow, Eugene Lang
    • 1996                Mary Miller Davidoff Award, Sarah Lawrence College
    • 1995                Robert C. Byrd Foundation Scholarship Award



    • 2013                “Thumbprint, ”Art Works, National Foundation for the Arts Grant ($10,000)         
    • 2013                “Thumbprint,” Augustine Foundation Grant ($20,000)
    • 2012                “Thumbprint,” Asian Women Giving Circle  ($5000)
    • 2012                “Thumbprint,” MAP Fund ($28,000)
    • 2011               “Miranda,” Foundation for Contemporary Arts ($6000)