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.)

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Why Michigan’s Gamelan Matters

You may remember that in February, graduate students at University of Michigan began a social media campaign to raise awareness about the impending closure and potentially unsure future of the Javanese gamelan at the university’s School of Music, Theatre, and Dance. Along with a social media hashtag, #saveUMgamelan, the students organized an online petition that within a month has garnered over 2,500 signatures from concerned students and faculty at Michigan, as well as educators, students, and artists from around the world who care for the gamelan’s future and its significance for the study of ethnomusicology in the United States. (For a fuller recapping, check out a collection of related social media items here.)

I have sent a letter to the Dean of music and since I see it as an important testimonial to the importance of the ensemble, I will share part of it here. Most of the letter is devoted to my personal experiences playing in and teaching the gamelan ensemble while I myself was a student in Ann Arbor. However, I have also made some clear suggestions to the Dean about how the situation might be addressed:

Let me thank you for your recent statement that made clear your support for the gamelan. I was pleased to hear that the ensemble will remain a part of the academic and performance schedules at the university for the next academic year. In your “greetings” on the school’s website, you suggest that Michigan is a place where students (and audiences) will have “unparalleled opportunities to intersect with the whole world of the arts.” The gamelan has been a primary vehicle for such artistic intersections as well as global arts opportunities on the Michigan campus for nearly 50 years, and I presume that it is one of the many paths that you see converging at this “intersection” of the world of the arts. . . .

[Unfortunately] your actions and those of the school over the years throw into doubt the school’s long-term commitments to the gamelan. During my time as a student, the gamelan faced previous semesters when the instruments were placed in temporary storage with no clear strategic plans for the ensemble’s future. As a GSI, I was directly involved in responding to these situations. (The past few years, which have witnessed the instruments being moved out of their permanent rehearsal room at various times, confirm that you either do not understand the importance of or do not value a permanent space for the ensemble. In contrast, ensembles at UCLA, UT–Austin, and Wesleyan have dedicated spaces.) Moreover, your failure to appoint a full-time, tenured faculty member who will shepherd, if not teach, the ensemble, shows a true disregard for the importance of the gamelan to the school and the university. To indicate that the gamelan ensemble is a serious priority, you need to make a clear commitment to a permanent space and provide clear faculty support through a full-time faculty member of the school for the UM Javanese gamelan. Without those clear steps, the school’s commitment to the ensemble remains doubtful.

My full letter is online at http://goo.gl/4rMaef. Even though a month has passed since the announcement, it is still important to let the school know about your concerns. If you support the continuation of gamelan in any form at the university, make sure that you show your support by getting in touch with the school administrators. Share your concerns with the hashtag campaign.

Related
Save the UMich Gamelan
UMich Gamelan Update

Sound Matters Debut

The Society for Ethnomusicology announced today the inauguration of its official blog, Sound Matters. I guess that ethnomusicology has reached 2005? But seriously, it’s great to see a more quick-moving, vibrant, and publicly-accessible avenue for publishing engaging materials about music in all its forms. We’re seeing more public, digital music projects like this that have scholarly imprimatur but lean to the accessible, like “From the Field” and “Blogging Ethnomusicology.” I’m glad to see SEM’s continuing support for this sort of work.

Music word cloud by EJ Poselius, generated by Wordle

Here’s the announcement circulated on the SEM listservs:

The Society for Ethnomusicology is pleased to announce the launch of Sound Matters: The SEM Blog. Hosted on the SEM website, the blog offers content on a variety of subjects related to music, sound, and ethnomusicology. SEM seeks lively and accessible posts that provide both stimulating short-form reading for ethnomusicologists and outreach to readers beyond the academy. We encourage authors to consider this forum a unique opportunity to transcend the boundaries of traditional print journals with brief works that integrate hyperlinks and multimedia examples. All content will be peer-reviewed.

The inaugural post for Sound Matters is “From Scholarship to Activism in Zimbabwe,” by Jennifer Kyker of the University of Rochester. In this multimedia document, Professor Kyker examines how music and dance are critical to the work of a non-profit organization in Zimbabwe called Tariro, which supports education for teenaged girls and HIV/AIDS prevention.

One can’t help a very brief review: they could have devised a prettier URL pattern, I don’t see any prominent space to track pingbacks or other sharing (though comments appear to be allowed), and the ShareThis widget’s buttons at the bottom of the posts could use a bit of tweaking (currently no tumblr, wordpress, or other share options appear immediately when I viewed the page, but this could be influenced by my cookies). Otherwise, this looks like a great project off to an auspicious start under the able advisement of a great team of editorial advisors including a representative from RILM’s Bibliolore.

Bon voyage!

UMich Gamelan Update

Thanks to the generous and passionate outpouring of support for the Javanese gamelan at the University of Michigan, the School of Music, Theater, and Dance has decided to maintain a graudate student who will provide teaching support to the ensemble in the next academic year!

There has still not been a clear statement from the School on whether it truly supports this ensemble, emblematic of international arts performance and cultural exchange, over the long term. The Dean issued a statement that has not addressed the question of the ensemble’s long-term future. The statement also offers an ambiguous (though presumably critical) response to the article that appeared in the campus newspaper.

What Can You Do?

So you want to help? Here’s a few things to do:

  1. It seems clear that the only way to secure a permanent space and teaching plan for the gamelan at Michigan will be for as many people as possible to contact the Dean directly to voice their perspectives and provide advice on this situation. Also let other administrators and decision-makers (e.g., faculty) at the University know of your concerns.
  2. You can make a public comment on Facebook at the SoMTD’s post regarding the Dean’s statement at https://www.facebook.com/umichsmtd/posts/10151991335763253.
  3. If you voice your concerns on social media like Facebook and Twitter, use the #saveUMgamelan hashtag!
  4. You can still sign the petition!

If you haven’t been following the story to this point, check out my earlier post, which chronicles the petition: Save the UM Gamelan.

This post was updated! Please leave a comment on Facebook!

Save the UMich Gamelan

If this post motivates you to do one thing, let it be to sign the petition!

The University of Michigan gamelan faces an uncertain future, despite its nearly 50-year history of vibrant educational opportunities and performances with many world-renowned artists. While the School of Music, Theater & Dance has just broke ground for a new addition, it can’t seem to find a place in its priorities (nor its facilities) for a permanent commitment to this venerable ensemble! The Michigan Daily has chimed in with this feature story, which offers a good overview of the history of the ensemble, how it arrived in Ann Arbor, and it’s history at the University. Current concerned students have created a petition to gather signatures. If you’re reading this, you can voice your support and sign it, too!

And of course, go to the concert on February 15, 2014 at Stamps Auditorium to show your support!

You can also contact university administrators directly, including the dean of the School of Music, the Provost, and the University President. And of course, go to the concert on February 15, 2014 at Stamps Auditorium to show your support!

Here is some of the social media buzz from the first 48 hours of the petition going live here on storify, and here’s some of the tweets so far:

Update: nearing 2,000 signatures on the petition, in 48 hours.

Nearly 2,000 signatures in 2 days!

University of Michigan students play on the Javanese gamelan ensemble next to the pond near the Moore Building.

Computational ethnomusicology

RILM features computational ethnomusicology!

Bibliolore

Block diagram

The June 2013 issue of Journal of new music research (XLII/2) is a special issue devoted to computational ethnomusicology.

The editors, Emilia Gómez, Perfecto Herrera, and Francisco Gómez-Martin, explain that the term computational ethnomusicology is over 30 years old, but it has recently been redefined as “the design, development, and usage of computer tools that have the potential to assist in ethnomusicological research.”

Above, a diagram of the Tarsos platform from “Tarsos, a modular platform for precise pitch analysis of Western and non-Western music” by Joren Six, Olmo Cornelis, and Marc Leman (pp. 113–29). Below, a vintage computer cover of The house of the rising sun.

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First From the Field

Bibliolore links to the first “From the Field” feature produced by the Society for Ethnomusicology and Smithsonian Folkways. The first installment of the series, by Jonathan Ritter, discusses protest songs and memory at a carnival in the Peruvian Andes. Read it in full here.

Photo by Jonathan Ritter

Photo by Jonathan Ritter

The post is first in a series, as Bibliolore writes, which will present “recent ethnomusicological field research to a general audience. Reports combine audio and video recordings, photographs, and narrative to explore music-making and social issues at locales around the world.”

I look forward to future installments!