Public Musicology as Connectivity

The ethnomusicology advisory board of the College Music Society has sponsored a panel at the 2015 CMS meeting about “public musicology.” As previously noted, I suggested that an approach to public musicology must explore the ways in which such an approach could and would develop and explore new connections.

What sorts of connections might a “public musicology” explore? From the scholarly and performance perspectives, it might recombine what some describe as the Cartesian split – the ideological distinction of mind and body; if a “public musicology” is a connective one, then we would want to join together theory and practice. We may want to join education audiences with broader public service opportunities. Connections between music and other academic spheres (sociology, anthropology We may want to connect the aural expressions we often describe as “music” to the social and cultural worlds we inhabit in other spheres of life. It would also connect research approaches, educational approaches, and performance in an integrative way. It would connect internal and external audiences. In short, a connection to audiences, and a focus on broad audiences, toward an engaged musicking in the public sphere. (Or, to be musically engaged in the public sphere.)

Thinking Public Musicology

On Thursday, a few colleagues and I will present a panel discussion on “public musicology” at the 2015 College Music Society meeting in Indianapolis. Here are my initial thoughts on what we might mean by “public musicology”:

I ended our panel abstract [see below] with a quote from the novelist E.M. Forster, “Only connect.” The phrase serves as an epigram to his novel Howard’s End (1910). In the novel, the characters living in the late Victorian era struggle with making and maintaining connections. The epigraph appears to place a positive value on making connections – at one point in the novel, Forster describes the phrase as a “sermon” to connect the prose of life with the passion so as to “live in fragments no longer.” However, the novel also explores the despair and difficulty of making such connections while the characters struggle with different issues of class, wealth, taste, and social convention. As we were discussing a potential theme for this panel, sponsored by the Ethnomusicology Advisory Council of the College Music Society, it seemed a fitting metaphor. All members of the society are doing creative outreach, diligently devoted to their performances, teaching, and other aspects of their work, and it is sometimes difficult to see where and the connections between the exceedingly rich and varied activities of our CMS can be made. We therefore wanted to join together some of the recent insights, from the Task Force on the Undergraduate Music Major, to the challenges of dialogue between the various disciplines that come together in CMS, and also to the currently vibrant work in public scholarship, including work happening at the National Endowment for the Humanities as well as others engaged in what some have described as “alt-ac” careers.

You may know that this is not unexplored territory, so the job of the panel is not to define what public musicology might be but rather to explore and elucidate various approaches that might fall within this rubric. Feedback and thoughts are welcome!

The panel is described as follows:

From folk festivals to orchestra concerts, music is inescapably a social and public phenomenon; and from music bloggers to popular performers, musicians are public figures. Yet, the voice of scholars and musicians has often not connected beyond the academy. This panel discussion will explore approaches to “public musicology” – that is, making musical knowledge open, accessible, and available beyond the academic and classroom spheres – from perspectives of scholars, performers, and teachers.  Music is more present than ever – via digital delivery to personal music players; from greater diversity of musical styles and crossovers pushed by increasing global flows of culture, trade, and media; and through massive, open, online courses with lengthy menus of musical offerings. We consider the promise of these avenues while acknowledging some of the difficulties and accompanying challenges.  We ask: How can we train our students to be active in more public spaces through engaging scholarship and performances?  What is our role making musical knowledge, understanding, and appreciation more accessible and open to new audiences and what are the best techniques for doing so? What venues, formats, and spaces, including digital platforms, provide the most compelling “interfaces” for engagement? How can we make our music studies resonate with the musical and cultural realities beyond academia?   We follow Forster’s injunction to “only connect” by bringing together these varied voices and encouraging dialogue among the audience to share related projects and commentary.

Terry Riley’s moonshine dervishes

Originally posted on Bibliolore:


The title of Terry Riley’s improvisation template Descending moonshine dervishes  is rooted in several sources.

“Moonshine” may be considered a triple entendre referring to the mysticism of the shining moon, the ecstasy associated with U.S. moonshine liquor, and Riley’s property on Moonshine Road in the Yuba River country of California’s Sierra foothills, which he has dubbed Shri Moonshine Ranch.

Dervishes are adherents of Sufism, and although Riley subscribes to a general spirituality rather than any formal religious orientation the Sufi tradition has clearly been important to him, as evinced by his performances in mosques and with musicians more closely involved with Sufism. Riley has also used the word dervish in reference to his Hindustani music teacher, Pran Nath.

This according to “Terry Riley in the 70s” by Mark Alburger (21st-century music XI/3 [March 2004] pp. 4–7).

Today is Riley’s 80th birthday! Above, the…

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Preservation Week 2015

All you cultural heritage information workers out there, it’s the end of preservation week!

For those not in a library, archive, museum, or other such organization, there are many resources online that can help you to find out more about preservation. Preserving family treasures, keepsakes, or just a few things in the attic? Here’s a few resources where you can find more information:

Ewan MacColl and the BBC

Originally posted on Bibliolore:

Ewan MacColl

Many aficionados of Scottish traditional music regard Ewan MacColl as one of the foremost singers of his generation; fewer know of his pioneering radio work.

The ballad of John Axon was recorded and broadcast by the BBC in 1958 as the first of a group of programs known collectively as  Radio Ballads. It tells the story of a railway accident in which the driver John Axon died heroically while attempting to avert disaster.

In the program, four actual ballads carry the narrative, supplemented by several self-contained songs that illustrate the story rather than tell it, sections of recitative that provide insight into the minds of Axton and his fellow railwaymen, and the recorded speech of Axon’s widow and workmates. Although MacColl and Charles Parker are often credited jointly with the authorship of the program, strong evidence suggests that MacColl wrote it in response to an idea suggested by…

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Crunching ballads

Originally posted on Bibliolore:

punch cards

In the 1940s Bertrand Harris Bronson became one of the first scholars to use computers for musicological work.

For one of his projects he encoded melodic characteristics of hundreds of tunes collected for the traditional ballad Barbara Allen on punch cards, so a computer could ferret out similarities. His project resulted in four groups of tunes, members of which came from both sides of the Atlantic with varying frequency.

This according to “All this for a song?” an essay by Bronson reprinted in his collection The ballad as song (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969, pp. 224–242).

Above, an illustration from the article (click to enlarge); below, the classic recording of the song by Jean Ritchie, a singer Bronson deeply admired.

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Listening to and through “Need”: Sound Studies and Civic Engagement

Originally posted on Sounding Out!:

ActsofSonicInterventionThis April forum, Acts of Sonic Intervention, explores what we over here at Sounding Out! are calling “Sound Studies 2.0”–the movement of the field beyond the initial excitement for and indexing of sound toward new applications and challenges to the status quo.

Two years ago at the first meeting of the European Sound Studies Association, I was inspired by the work of scholar and sound artist Linda O’Keeffe and her compelling application of the theories and methodologies of sound studies to immediate community issues.  In what would later become a post for SO!, “(Sound)Walking Through Smithfield Square in Dublin,” O’Keeffe discussed her Smithfield Square project and how she taught local Dublin high school students field recording methodologies and  then tasked them with documenting how they heard the space of the recently square and the displacement of their lives within it.  For me, the idea was electrifying, and I worked to enact a public praxis of my…

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