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.

Support the Center for Black Music Research

A recent report that ironically proposes to “increase resources” at Columbia College in Chicago actually proposes to lower the quality of research and academic infrastructure at the College by eliminating funding for the world-renowned Center for Black Music Research (CBMR). The news was publicized in a Chicago Tribune article earlier this week, and many in the sound archives and musicology communities are gathering support for the Center. Here is an excerpt of a blog post by musicologist Fredara Mareva, “Help Save the Center for Black Music Research”:

Yesterday, Howard Reich (@howardreich) wrote an Chicago Tribune article that informed us that the CBMR at Columbia College in Chicago is slated for elimination as a part of a plan to “increase resources.” Dr. Louise Love, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Interim Provost, is responsible for proposing a cost-saving plan that will help offset the school’s decreasing enrollment. The irony is that enrollment in Columbia College’s music program is increasing while the rub is that the CBMR is not housed in its music department, but in its Office of Academic Research. A final decision about the CBMR’s future will not be made until June 2012, but now is the time to voice your support for its important work. . . .

I fervently encourage you to join us in a letter writing campaign to show support for the work of the CBMR. Please take a moment to send a note of support for the CBMR and the Chicago Jazz Ensemble to the following:

Dear President Carter:

This is my letter in support of the preservation of the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College. I am gravely concerned about the proposed plan to eliminate the CBMR, which would eliminate access to invaluable resource that document the evolution of African American music. Its contribution to knowledge includes on campus Columbia College students and extends to all of us who appreciate the history of African-derived music from around the world. There is no other organization that provides the comprehensive level of research and programming that CBMR does. I believe that the access they provide to rare recordings and collections is an important cultural service that needs to be preserved.

Sincerely,

Please send to:

Dr. Warrick Carter, Ph.D.
President of Columbia College
wcarter@colum.edu

Prioritization Team responsible for making recommendations to the President: blueprint@colum.edu

Read Mareva’s full post here and Howard Reich’s article here.

#occupyelsevier?

In what might be a growing “grassroots” movement (in the sense that it may be individually rather than corporately organized), there seems to be some interest among academics in protesting the high costs of journal publishers through boycotting Elsevier. An early call came from Timothy Gowers. This was mentioned by Michael Nielsen, who gives some more context:

Elsevier is the world’s largest and most profitable scientific publisher, making a profit of 1.1 billion dollars on revenue of 3.2 billion dollars in 2009. Elsevier have also been involved in many dubious practices, including the publishing of fake medical journals sponsored by pharmaceutical companies, and the publication of what are most kindly described as extraordinarily shoddy journals. Until 2009, parent company Reed Elsevier helped facilitate the international arms trade.

Much earlier than this was Robert Darnton’s “The Library: Three Jeremiads,” which points out a “vicious circle” of the rising cost of academic journals:

the escalation in the price of periodicals forces libraries to cut back on their purchase of monographs; the drop in the demand for monographs makes university presses reduce their publication of them; and the difficulty in getting them published creates barriers to careers among graduate students.

The Elsevier boycott thread was recently picked up on Crooked Timber, as well as in a Chronicle piece by Gowers.

Here’s the most recent development at University of Michigan, where the library reports

A boycott launched on January 21st has (as of February 2nd) obtained a commitment by 11 members of the U-M community and 3044 people in total to refuse to publish, referee, or do editorial work for Elsevier journals “unless they radically change how they operate.” (Read more)

Go Blue!