Ethnomusicology

graf sharonSharon Graf, University of Illinois Springfield
CMS Board Member for Ethnomusicology

The 2014 St. Louis National Conference of The College Music Society included a wide variety of presentations that addressed issues of concern to ethnomusicologists. The theme of the St. Louis conference was “Confluences” and this made space for showcasing local music practices in the St. Louis area confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois Rivers, but also for discussing confluence of disciplines. Both CMS members and ethnomusicologists value the interdisciplinary approach to scholarship, and the 2014 St. Louis conference showcased this value well by enhancing in participants an awareness of skills, methods, and resources used in interdisciplinary studies.

In St. Louis there were a good number of papers devoted to local music traditions (a topic near and dear to ethnomusicologists) including Jazz Central: Modern Jazz in St. Louis 1957–1961 presented by Robert L. Hughes (St. Louis University), Steamboat in a Cornfield: Banjos, Fiddles, and Mississippi Riverboats in the Songs of John Hartford presented by myself, St. Louis and the Inception of Scott Joplin's Operas given by Edward A. Berlin (Miller Place, New York), and Sounding Slavery in St. Louis presented by Elizabeth Whittenburg Ozment (Georgia Gwinnett College), as well as a poster Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll: Chuck Berry the Innovator given by Lisa M. Scrivani-Tidd (State University of New York–Jefferson). There were also three Lunchtime Sessions featuring St. Louis musicians: Thursday—Billy Peek, Blues Guitarist; Friday—Dave Majchrzak, Ragtime Pianist; and a Saturday performance by New Sunny Mount Missionary Baptist Church Chancel Choir.  Our CMS President, Patricia Shehan Campbell (University of Washington), an ethnomusicologist, worked hard to arrange two special events for this year’s conference: The President’s Dance - Missouri-Style Contradance featuring St. Louis old-time fiddler Geoff Seitz and caller Mac McKeever, and the Robert M. Trotter Lecture Rolling on a River of Sound: Making American Routes along the Mississippi by anthropologist Nick Spitzer (Tulane University).  

This year there was a range of papers that addressed music as culture, world traditions, globalization, and the teaching of these concepts, also topics regularly discussed by ethnomusicologists. These included the lecture-recital Confluence of Chinese and Western Cultures: Chen Yi’s “Ba Ban” for solo piano by Kiu Tung Poon (University of Macau); the paper World Music or Musical Globalization? A Quanto-Historical Analysis of Selected World Music Textbooks from the 1980s to 2010 by Jui-Ching Wang (Northern Illinois University); the poster Can You Teach Us Notes?: Musical Pedagogies in the Marshallese Diaspora by Jessica Schwartz (University of California–Los Angeles); a student research presentation Back to Square One: Utilizing Spanish Folk Music as an Introduction to World Music and Cultural Studies by Katie Fernstrom (Youngstown State University) and Andrew Stamp (Youngstown State University) [one of their mentors was the CMS incoming president Betty Anne Younker (University of Western Ontario)]; the panel on study abroad learning Is My Passport Still Current? Taking a Student Group Abroad moderated by David Nelson (University of North Carolina–Greensboro), and a panel on using music examples to teach ontology and epistemology in an university honors curriculum No Woman No Cry, To Kill Mockingbird and a “Married Life” (from Up), moderated by myself. 

While there is not space to list all of the offerings of interest to ethnomusicologists at the St. Louis conference, I will note that the program included additional posters papers that shared information on Brazilian, Mexican-American, Irish, and Native American, Welsh, and Hip-Hop musics. There were two participatory “Musiking” sessions, one of which was a Swedish and Finnish Choral Sing-along. Finally, Patricia Shehan Campbell held a special session with Bruno Nettl called Wisdom of the Elder: Armchair Studio Exchange, which provided an excellent opportunity for everyone to learn more about the field of ethnomusicology from one of its iconic scholars.

During the national St. Louis CMS conference, I met with the CMS Ethnomusicology Advisory Council, consisting of Jesse Johnston (National Endowment for the Humanities [NEH] Division of Preservation and Access), Jennifer Johnstone (Kent State University), Andrew Shahriari (Kent State University), and Yona Stamatis (University of Illinois Springfield). While the St. Louis conference summary demonstrates that there is healthy activity regarding issues of interest to ethnomusicologists, we were surprised to learn that currently only 6% of CMS members identify themselves as Ethnomusicologists. We think this could be a higher number and discussed ways in which we could make ethnomusicologists aware of opportunities presented by CMS. For example, we are especially excited about the work done by the Task Force on the Undergraduate Music Major. Their report recommended learning strategies that centered on creativity, diversity, and integration, and that included discussions of musical culture and history from a “bottom up” perspective alongside or in place of the traditional “top down” model. These strategies are central to the ethnomusicologist’s toolkit, and we have a lot to offer those wanting to learn more about implementing what the Task Force has recommended. We have proposed two panels for the 2015 National Conference in Indianapolis that address pedagogy and applied ethnomusicology that we think will contribute to this important dialogue.  

I look forward continuing work with my colleagues on maintaining and expanding the presence and contributions of ethnomusicologists to CMS in my second year as Board Member for Ethnomusicology.