Saturday, February 14, 2015

Public Musicology, cont'd.

by Amanda Sewell

Musicologists and music scholars from around the world convened at Westminster Choir College of Rider University for a conference called The Past, Present, and Future of Public Musicology, held January 30February 1, 2015. If you wonder what public musicology is, be assured that not all of us who identify as public musicologists are entirely certain. The talks presented at the conference addressed some of the myriad ways public musicology is conceptualized. Herewith a very brief précis of what went on.

A number of presenters spoke about how they use their university affiliations to bring music and musicology to the public. Felicia Sandler (New England Conservatory) had organized a concert and pre-concert talk honoring the Ghanaian composer Ephraim Amu (February 2014), and reported how the event snowballed, ultimately including (among other activities) a lecture by Kofi Agawu, a symposium, a drumming and dance workshop, jam sessions, and the involvement of members of the Ghanaian community. Jennifer Kelly (Lafayette College) spoke of a new commissioned work from composer Gabriela Lena Frank (January 2014), with artist residencies, a composer concert, the premiere concert, and a score published by G. Schirmer, as well as interdisciplinary, campus-wide involvement of students. Rebecca Jemian (University of Louisville) described the conception and role of the Grawemeyer Award, noting that the winner is selected by a panel of laypeople, not by musicologists or other academics.
Jason Hanley, Felicia Miyakawa, Amanda Sewell, Christine Kypranides
“Going Public: Some Tough Questions of Public Musicology”

Another theme that emerged was the ways musicologists engage in music outside their professional affiliations. Rebecca Dirksen (Indiana University) helped start a record label in post-earthquake Haiti, with Boulo Valcourt as its first signee. Carl Leafstedt (Trinity University) encouraged musicologists to become involved in non-profit and community arts leadership boards. Elissa Harbert (Macalester College) teaches hour-long music appreciation courses in a local elder care community, focusing on such themes as Romanticism and Music and Spirituality. Honey Meconi (Eastman School of Music) runs a website called The Choral Singer’s Companion, which includes information for conductors and choral singers about several choral masterworks. Dorothy de Val (York University) and Susanna McCleary (soprano and violinist) performed a lecture-recital of music from Jane Austen’s era, music they frequently play at Jane Austen balls in the greater Toronto area.

Pedagogy was another thread running throughout the conference. Su Yin Mak (Chinese University of Hong Kong) demonstrated how she “stages” pieces in a narrative style for audiences of various levels of understanding. Jessica Stanislawczyk and Katherine Caughlin, undergraduate students at Westminster Choir College, presented excerpts from the final projects they had developed in a public musicology course taught by Eric Hung (and supported in part by the American Musicological Society's teaching fund). Felicia Miyakawa (academic consultant) and Michael Fauver (W. W. Norton) promoted The Avid Listener, a blog featuring weekly topical posts by musicologists, each ending with discussion questions.

Not all presenters had university affiliations. Several speakers hold PhDs in musicology but are employed outside academic institutions. Naomi Barrettara (Metropolitan Opera Guild) coordinates and teaches classes in the series offered by the Guild. Christine Kyprianides (IndyBaroque) uses her dual skills as a performer and a musicologist to assist non-profits with grant writing and program notes. Durrell Bowman (independent scholar) spoke of the challenges he has faced in the decade-long search for an academic position in musicology. Felicia Miyakawa (academic consultant) explained why she left a tenured position and chose to pursue public musicology. I discussed how academia and musicology prepared me for a career as a professional academic editor and entrepreneur (at Nola Knouse (Moravian Music Foundation) works to preserve, share, and celebrate the musical culture of the Moravians. Susan Key of the Star Spangled Music Foundation presented the keynote address, focused on the conference theme of the past, present, and future of public musicology. Key urged musicologists to embrace social responsibility, public visibility, and inclusivity in their pursuits.

A number of conference participants  represented the pairing of musicology and curation. Allison Portnow (Ackland Art Museum, UNC) organizes gallery concerts, sonic installations, and partnerships with local ensembles. Thomas Patteson (Bowerbird) curates new music programming in a Philadelphia arts non-profit organization. Michael Alan Anderson (Eastman) and Nancy Norwood (Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester) spoke of the many ways their two institutions have successfully dovetailed music and art.

Undergraduate Student Poster
from Eric Hung's public musicology course
Finally, as it was a musicology conference, some presenters offered historical perspectives of public musicology. Frederick Reece (Harvard) spoke of the conflicts that can arise between antiquarians and musicologists, using as a case study the Haydn piano sonatas that were “newly discovered” in 1994 (and later proved to be forgeries). Christian Thorau (University of Potsdam) gave a brief history of musical tourism, noting parallels between 19th-century travel guides and program notes. Phil Gentry (University of Delaware) analyzed the role of music in Cold War-era promotional films from Colonial Williamsburg. Christine Kyprianides (IndyBaroque) shed light on John Hullah, a librettist, teacher, conductor, and concert organizer in 19th-century London. Kate Galloway presented two case studies about technology and local soundscapes in Vancouver. Jonathan Waxman (Hofstra University) discussed the changing role of program notes in the last century, noting the increasing role of new media and the decreasing role of musicologists as writers of program notes.

The conference offered a unique opportunity for self-identified public musicologists to convene and discuss issues not always at the forefront of other musicology conferences. The informal conversations between the paper sessions gave participants the chance to network, ask questions, and share stories and advice. Eric Hung’s expert organization of the conference is particularly to be  commended.

Amanda Sewell holds a Ph.D. in musicology from Indiana University, and she works as a professional academic editor. Her scholarship has appeared in the Journal of Popular Music Studies, the Journal of the Society for American Music, and the Cambridge Companion to Hip-Hop.

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