Thursday, December 22, 2016

Not Another Music History Blog! Public Musicology on the Internet

by Linda Shaver-Gleason

Its like looking into a mirror.

It seems like one of the favorite things for musicologists to do on social media is to point out when someone is wrong on the internet, which happens frequently with a subject as goofily misrepresented in the press as classical music. We share the link, quote the offending passage, skewer the cliché or diagnose the anachronism, and wait for our friends to congratulate us for possessing more knowledge than the poor sap who blundered.

But last spring it occurred to me that such posts and the often-enlightening conversations that ensue were confined to our own virtual ivory tower. Maybe one of us comments on the original link to point out the errors, or—in the case of a major publication—pens a letter to the editor to set things right. Most often, though, we’re content to snark behind the author’s back, letting them persist in ignorance, along with any other non-historian who stumbles upon the link.

So, I started my own blog, Not Another Music History Cliché!, aiming for it to become a classical music version of Snopes. I saw the need for a trustworthy resource for people who want to confirm whether something they read in a review or program notes is true. I debunked perennial legends like Salieri murdering Mozart and Tchaikovsky committing suicide, but from the beginning I also wanted to go deeper, and address writing that was not “wrong,” but sloppily conventional, digging beyond the stock phrases writers use to describe famous composers. As a Mendelssohn scholar, I get irate when people describe him as “superficial,” a criticism that casual classical music lovers accept without realizing that it is rooted in anti-Semitism. My first post disputed a festival preview that claimed, “Dvorák’s music never tried to be progressive.” I felt it necessary to call reviewers out for relying on these tired tropes to meet their word counts.

Presenting myself as a Music Scholar on The Internet means that I officially do “public musicology.” This phrase has been bandied about a lot lately, even though we haven’t completely settled on what it means. In any case, most of us feel that public musicology is a Good Thing and we need to being doing more of it. Yet how we do scholarship in public is still largely unregulated, and this is an issue that extends beyond our own discipline. As Mark Greif wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

When [academics] contemplated writing for the “public,” it seemed they merrily left difficulty at home, leapt into colloquial language with both feet, added unnatural (and frankly unfunny) jokes, talked about TV, took on a tone chummy and unctuous. They dumbed down, in short—even with the most innocent intentions. The public, even the “general reader,” seemed to mean someone less adept, ingenious, and critical than themselves.

          I’ve encountered similar elitism from fellow musicologists, wondering why I quibble over some problematic phrase appearing on a blog or in an online review. After all, anyone can publish on the internet, right? We try to teach our students to be wary of online sources, that Wikipedia is fickle by nature, and now, more urgently than ever, how to spot propaganda posing as news. Still, I find the blanket dismissal of internet writing on music indicative of someone who does not grasp the potential of this relatively young (though no longer “new”) medium.

I agree, musicology blogs should not be held to the same standard as a scholarly journal; they should be held to different high standards. 

But what should those standards and practices be? I’d like to take a few moments as a self-appointed Senior Music Blogger (well, senior to the newest incarnation of Musicology Now, at least) to share some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past seven months, to map a little bit of this new world of musical writing and, perhaps, to encourage others to participate.

• Realize that you have no control over who reads your posts. One of the exciting things about blogging is that we do not limit our potential audience. You could argue that this has always been the case, since the earliest days of publishing—we never know who will pick up a book or scan a journal. But access to scholarly books and journals is itself a limiting force. A musicology blog can now reach people who are curious about music but have never been to a research library or logged into JSTOR. That often means that readers are jumping into the middle of a long conversation, unaware of context, potentially getting their first impressions with each post.

That should affect how we present our work online. If we want our reader to understand that our post is part of a larger discussion, the responsibility is on us to provide the context. In scholarly publication, such digressions are usually there to prove to the reader that you’ve done your research and you know your stuff. When blogging for a general audience, however, there’s no standard checklist of sources you must include to be taken seriously. On the other hand, you can easily use hyperlinks to give readers the option to explore related topics without disrupting the flow of your writing. The medium is ideal for these kinds of tangents, and they’re much more convenient than footnotes.

• You also have no control over your reception. This is particularly unnerving. Many musicologists are also teachers, accustomed to steering discussions and correcting misinterpretations in our classrooms. When we post something online, however, our authority extends only as far as the comments section of our own sites. Most of the discussion will occur off-site, on social media and in forums that may be unfriendly to critical thought.

When music critic Norman Lebrecht shared a description of musicologist William Cheng’s Just Vibrations on his blog, it led to a confrontation between Cheng and a crowd of classical music fans openly hostile toward recent academic approaches to music. I’ve seen my blog posts misconstrued on Reddit, but advice from a blogging medievalist helped me realize that there’s little to be gained by attempting to make clarifications on that message board.  I have no authority over there, only on my own blog.

• Even though your work is available, you must cultivate the audience you want. I just got finished telling you that anyone can find your work on the internet, but the truth is that not everyone will. I’m constantly concerned about reaching my intended audience. I am grateful for my blog’s circulation among musicologists, and I am honored whenever someone tells me that they’re assigning one of my posts in class. I’m of course pleased that I’ve been generally well-received by my own people, but I’m concerned that I’m still talking inside the echo chamber that I’d been hoping to escape. I honestly don’t know how many non-musicologists read my blog, outside of my own family.

Yes, that is my family. No, that was not our wallpaper.

I do my best to make my blog accessible in all senses of the word. I try to write clearly without using too much jargon (and, if I need a specialized term, I define it) or getting caught up in a major philosophical debate that isn’t central to my topic (again, hyperlinks are great for indicating broader context). I also make sure that my blog is friendly to search engines, placing plenty of keyword tags on each post. The people I want to reach may not be reading every new post as I publish, but the information on my blog remains available and can be found via Google search. So, when someone years from now wonders whether Bach hated the piano, they will find a clear answer without having to post a query to Yahoo Answers or Reddit or StackOverflow.

Unlike publishing in scholarly journals or with university presses, it is possible to actively seek out your audience with a few well-placed clicks. I do promote my posts on social media with tags like #publicmusicology, as a signal to my colleagues—but to reach non-musicologists, I tag the composers’ names and #classicalmusic. I follow the online presence of orchestras and music critics and see what tags they’re using. I tag non-scholars whenever applicable. Sometimes, I get lucky: Alex Ross retweeted a simple post on the existence of Buxtehude, and I am forever grateful for the response I got. I recently started paying for ads on Facebook and Twitter to target classical music fans; it’s too early to say whether it’s made an impact, but I am trying.

• You absolutely have a scholarly duty to be accurate. Again, you can publish anything on the internet. That doesn’t mean you should. The absence of any formal standards in blogging has given me the freedom to develop my own standards, among them a friendlier form of peer review. Nearly every post I write receives feedback from other musicologists before I post it, with a final read-through from my non-musicologist husband after the facts are established. Though I know more about music than most of the “general public,” I’m still not an expert on every subfield, so I rely on the expertise of others to keep me accurate. Musicology is a small and very tight-knit field, which means that each of us is at most only two degrees away from an expert. Friends and friends-of-friends are valuable resources.

• Your job is to stimulate enthusiasm, not quash it. Since I threw myself into the business of debunking myths, I’m at risk of being the pedant who derails an interesting conversation with, “Well, actually…” Sometimes I worry I’m so caught up in correcting misconceptions about music that I give the impression I don’t actually like it. That’s motivated me to write more than just corrections, to explain why the history matters and hopefully replace the warm fuzzies of a feel-good false narrative with an awed appreciation for history.

From the very beginning, I decided that I wouldn’t go after personal blogs. My target isn’t the millennial who posts, “Listening to Beethoven because he’s so dark and angry all the time, which makes for the best music.” Even if it’s not based on solid history, that’s an attitude I want to encourage. Having more people listening to the widest range of music is a good thing.

I do go after “people who should know better,” as I nebulously define it. This includes journalists and other people who are being paid to write about music, or who have at least some illusion of editorial oversight. (I mean, I hope Garrett Harris isn’t getting paid!) Your blog should make people feel excited about being better-informed, not defensive about their lack of cultural capital.

• Embrace mission drift. My blog started metamorphosing almost as soon as I started writing. Even though I had envisioned producing short articles with simple refutations, I started writing more about how the myths and stereotypes came to be and why they persist. In so doing, I had the opportunity to show my specialty within musicology, which is reception. My blog demonstrates that musicology means more than tabulating a composer’s birth date, death date, and a few anecdotes in between; it’s a distinct approach to thinking about art, history, and society. My goal became more than correcting errors; I want my readers to feel the reality of L.P. Hartley’s famous observation—itself dangerously close to becoming an empty cliché—that “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” I want them to appreciate contexts for music beyond their own, and the more I write in this vein, the more I develop my own scholarly identity and learn how to articulate it.

• Have something (intersubjectively) interesting to say. I suspect that people who are of the, “It’s just a blog” mentality still think of blogs predominantly as personal journals. Yes, they can be, but the most successful blogs tend to be ones that find a hook that interests other people and even fills an intellectual need. Mine is musical mythbusting. Trax on the Trail explores the use of music in politics, from the 2016 election and beyond. The Avid Listener aims at fostering classroom discussions, complete with provocative questions. Brooks Kuykendall’s Settling Scores examines minute textual differences between different editions of pieces—a splendid example of how a very traditional-seeming kind of musicology does not have to be “dumbed down” at all to be interesting to outsiders. Each blog has a distinctive voice as the writers reach out from their specialties to inform and entertain.

Blogging is an opportunity to display the variety of musicology. Our field is doubly embattled, as our neoliberal society devalues both what we study (art) and how we study it (the humanities). Blogging allows us to make our case for existence directly to the public. We must challenge the narrow perception of our work by revealing how vast and versatile it can be. The medium is ideal for proving our relevance by showing how we’re connected to the “real issues” facing our society—indeed, how musicological inquiries are those “real issues"—in contexts our readers may not have considered yet. 

Linda Shaver-Gleason earned her PhD in musicology from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2016. She has presented her research on Mendelssohn reception and British music culture at several conferences in the US and UK, including national meetings of the American Musicological Society. Her blog, Not Another Music History Cliché, debunks musical myths and explores current classical music reception. In the Awful Family Photo above, she is the girl in front with her eyes closed.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Theodore Drury and the Dilemmas of Race, Class, and Music at the Opera House

by Kristen Turner

picture of Drury as Faust taken from a program for the May 5, 1902 performance of Faust by the Theodore Drury Grand Opera Company, Harvard Theatre Collection 

Few African-American operatic singers had the opportunity to perform in a full opera production in early twentieth-century America. Instead, they sang arias, opera scenes, or abbreviated adaptations as part of vaudeville shows or in recitals with concert companies—traveling groups that generally included several vocalists, an elocutionist, a pianist, and perhaps other instrumentalists. As no white opera company would hire black singers in this period, African-American performers had limited options if they harbored operatic aspirations.

Theodore Drury (1867–c.1943), however, chose to work around the institutions that refused to open their doors to him. Born in Kentucky, the African-American baritone, entrepreneur, and teacher moved to New York City in the mid-1880s and later to Boston (in 1907), then Philadelphia. He began his career touring with all-black concert companies, often appearing in African-American churches. Along with performing, he cobbled together an income by teaching voice, elocution, piano, and German. During the summer of 1894, he even passed as a “Hindoo barytone” in a vaudeville show at a New York City roof garden. But he soon announced the deception in the press and vowed to start his own opera company in the future (“Woes of Koh-I-Baba: the ‘Hindoo Barytone’ Acknowledges Himself a Kentucky Negro,” Courier-Journal, Feb. 23, 1895).

By 1900, he fulfilled that promise by organizing the Theodore Drury Grand Opera Company. The company’s first production was a full staging of Carmen conducted by Harry T. Burleigh, starring Drury and Desseria Plato. It was the first all-black performance of a serious opera in the United States. The high point of Drury’s operatic career came in 1906 when his company presented three operas (Aida, Carmen, and Faust) during one week in May at the Lexington Avenue Theater in New York City. After 1909 until at least 1941, his productions (previously yearly) became more infrequent and the casts more likely to be his students or amateurs. It is unclear how he financed these performances, although it must have been difficult, as he told an interviewer towards the end of his life that funding his opera productions was the most challenging aspect of his career.

Performances by the Drury Opera Company between 1900 and 1906 were the social event of the season for the upper crust of black society, not just in New York, but along the entire East Coast. Wearing expensive clothing and their finest jewelry, the audience (some of whom came from as far away as Washington D. C. and Cleveland) reportedly filled the house “to suffocation” (“Carmen sung by Negroes,” New York Dramatic Mirror, May 26, 1900). Although segregated seating was the norm in New York, Drury’s performances welcomed a fully integrated audience. African-American critics such as Robert W. Carter praised the company for the singers’ skill and as a site of uplift—proof that black musicians could excel in a difficult European genre such as opera, and black audiences possessed the sophistication to enjoy the productions. White critics were complimentary but less fulsome in their praise of the performers. They framed the company as a chance for cultural “elevation,” evoking the rhetoric of the civilizing mission that positioned opera and art music as both a signal of respectability and a path to moral improvement.

Theodore Drury as Escamillo – c. 1905, Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin

Drury is an elusive figure. He left no personal documentation: no letters, diaries, or financial records. All that remains are his press coverage and several essays he wrote about pedagogy and the importance of opera to racial and musical progress. Drury’s writing shows that he understood classical musicians as part of W. E. B. Du Bois’s “talented tenth,” who could lead the way into a future in which racial prejudice had been conquered. Through his work he connected African Americans with the institutions and pedigree of classical music. For example, he used pictures of his own hands to demonstrate proper piano technique in his self-published Method of Piano Playing (1904), and explicitly positioned his advice within the lineage of European pianists and pedagogues such as Louis Plaidy and Ignaz Moscheles.

Other African-American classical musicians shared Drury’s faith that excellence in art music could promote racial progress. In the pages of the Negro Music Journal, writers condemned popular music such as ragtime and “coon” songs as racist entertainment that perpetuated white America’s worst stereotypes. They pointed to the hard work and accomplishments of classical musicians as the proper model for young black artists to follow, and celebrated the potential of art music to uplift the race. Unlike many other musicians, however, Drury never publically criticized popular music, perhaps because he was part of the Marshall Group (also known as Black Bohemia). This vibrant network of black entertainers, musicians, and writers lived and worked in New York City at the turn of the twentieth century in the area around 53rd Street between 7th and 9th Avenues. James Weldon Johnson (at that time a songwriter working with his brother Rosamond and Bob Cole, but later the Secretary of the NAACP) held court in the dining room of the Marshall Hotel. Impresarios visited to hire the best ragtime musicians, such as James Reece Europe and his band, and African-American actors and comedians such as Bert Williams and his partner George Walker. Drury was part of the debate within the Marshall Group over the role of the arts in general, and popular entertainment in particular, in achieving political and social equality at a time when Jim Crow legislation was being passed and the races were becoming more separated than ever. While Johnson and others sometimes critiqued the snobbishness of the black upper class in their work, Drury embraced this audience and provided them with an opportunity to publically proclaim their sophistication by attending his opera productions.

Drury stands at the intersection of race, class, and music in the early twentieth century. His opera company’s appeal to the top of the African-American social and political hierarchy perpetuated a vision of respectability and uplift that sought to demand an equal place in American society through a demonstration of education and refinement. His persistent creation of performing opportunities for himself, his students, and other African-American musicians helped to nurture a generation of performers that later populated organizations such as the Harlem Opera Society (founded by his nephew) and the National Negro Opera Company.

Even today, black opera singers are all too often limited to roles for which they “look” the part. In a 2012 essay, African-American tenor George Shirley condemns the smallness of operatic vision that insists on casting based upon physical characteristics and hide-bound tradition, writing that “We cannot afford to waste the riches that constitute the allness of this nation” (George Shirley, “Il Rodolfo Nero, or the Masque of Blackness,” in Blackness in Opera, ed. by Naomi André, Karen M. Bryan, Eric Saylor, 272). Although Drury’s conception of opera as a site of racial uplift is dated, his fundamental dream—that opera should be open to everyone—has yet to be realized.

Kristen M. Turner received her doctorate in musicology in 2015 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where her dissertation, “Opera in English: Class and Culture in America, 1880–1910,” received the Glen Haydon Award for an Outstanding Dissertation in Musicology. Her work on opera and American musical culture at the turn of the twentieth century has been published in the Journal of the Society for American Music and the collected edition, Gender and the Representation of Evil forthcoming in 2017. This essay is based upon a longer article published in the Journal of Musicological Research.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Thoughts on "The Thought of Music"

by Lawrence Kramer

The Thought of Music (2016) is the third volume in a trilogy of books on musical understanding that began with Interpreting Music (2010) and continued with Expression and Truth: On the Music of Knowledge (2012), all published by University of California Press.  The title of the new volume refers both to thought about music and to the thought embedded within music in all of music’s many dimensions: composition, performance, listening, usage, adaptation, recollection, remediation—the list goes on.  The first sense of the title alludes to the series of transformations in musical understanding that began with the cultural turn of the 1990s and has continued with more recent investigations of performance, affect, and embodiment.  The second sense reflects my conviction that music, as well as being a source of pleasure and community, is also, and fundamentally, one of the primary means by which we make sense of the world. 

One source of that conviction is unapologetically personal.  I cannot separate my experience of music—for me, classical music, but any music qualifies—from the texture and sense of experience in the round, and from the understanding I take away from that experience both in everyday life and at the removes of reflection and writing.  Partly, perhaps, because I also compose, I habitually think in music.  But the stakes of the thought of music run deeper yet, and those are the stakes that this book and its predecessors are most concerned to address.

The conceptual transformations I referred to earlier have established that musical understanding can be enhanced by conceptions from elsewhere, ideas drawn from the broad spectrum of humanistic thought—which, once brought to bear on musical topics, reveal that they were not really from “elsewhere” at all.  There is no elsewhere; music is everywhere.  But to say so, though it is certainly to say much, and more than it had been customary to say for much of the previous century, is not enough.  Music, I want to say, with all the many senses of the term in mind, is a form of thinking, sometimes of thinking through feeling or sensation, but sometimes just of thinking in itself.  This does not mean, emphatically not, that by regarding music in this way we banish its immediacy and render it abstract or abstracted.  We should know by now that thinking is embedded and embodied, sometimes sensuous, even erotic.  Thinking, too, is everywhere: in material as well as conceptual venues, in practice as well as reflection, in perception as well as memory.  And as a form of thinking, music has the capacity to contribute to, not just to mirror, the enterprise of humanist thought in general, the creatively inflected knowledge of what we make and do.

More still, because of the familiar uncertainties that attend any knowledge of music not conveyed with a “strictly” musical vocabulary (which is really no more certain, nor more strict, than other kinds), musical understanding is the best available paradigm for humanistic understanding.  Music has epistemological weight as well as ontological depth.  The Thought of Music and its companions, and my earlier work, too, though perhaps less explicitly, aim to show how that marriage of dimensions works and why it matters that it should.

In the process, the book aims to show how the cultural and hermeneutic orientation that characterized the first series of recent conceptual transformations can productively be coordinated with the subsequent interests in affect, performance, and embodiment.  Lines of argument that put these orientations at odds with each other miss the point of both.  Such one-sided thinking is too committed to the magic of the elsewhere, the lure of a beyond that is essentially a metaphysical sublime even if it goes by other names.  But it is one thing to say that the multiple dimensions of musical experience work with one another more than they work against one another (saying it is easy), and quite another thing to theorize how and show why they work.  The Thought of Music tries to do both, whether its concern is with how people behave when they unexpectedly encounter pianos on the street, or with how virtuosity in the nineteenth century became a form of authorship, or with what it really means to claim that music is ineffable (it’s not what we usually suppose), or with how performance becomes conceptual and embodiment links music to cultural practice—and vice versa. 

These issues are especially timely in my view because the status of humanistic understanding is at serious risk nowadays.  Genuine advances in certain areas, including information technology and cognitive science, have too often fed the resurgence of an empiricism that wants to be more than “just” empirical, as if being empirical were somehow not robust enough.  As Willard van Orman Quine reminded us long ago, empiricism has its dogmas, and the ascendant neo-empiricism aspires to the condition of dogma.  The task of the modern humanities has long included providing a counterweight to such scientism.  Not, I should add at once, to science: the old “two cultures” idea of C. P. Snow is probably good and dead, thanks in part to the work of thinkers such as Bruno Latour, who have shown that the borders separating scientific and humanistic thought have been much exaggerated, and that no arena of thought can escape either sociocultural influence or the need for invention, imagination, and speculation—guesswork at its best.  Fully reckoning with this realization is hard to do, and we are all still working on it.

But Latour, like so many of the thinkers whose work can readily combine with the thought of music, pays music no mind.  (Some of the others who do, Slavoj Žižek, for example, tend to annex cliché rather than to read up-to-date musicology.)  This lack of enterprise, which masks itself as lack of expertise, suggests a need to extend to the academic community at large the work of the public musicology that has become so important of late.  The Thought of Music seeks to show what might follow if we do mind the music.  The ultimate goal of the book, and of the trilogy, is to exemplify what the thought of music can do both for musical understanding narrowly conceived, and for a more inclusive humanistic understanding that is robust in part precisely because part of it is musical.

Lawrence Kramer is Distinguished Professor of English and Music at Fordham University, editor (since 1992) of 19th-Century Music, and a prizewinning composer whose works have been performed on three continents. He is the author of twelve books on music, most recently including Interpreting Music (University of California Press, 2010), and Expression and Truth: On the Music of Knowledge (California, 2012), and The Thought of Music (California, 2016).  His work has been translated into ten languages and been the subject of conferences and session meetings of scholarly societies in the Americas, Europe, and China. A retrospective collection selected from over a hundred published articles, Song Acts: Writings on Words and Music will be brought out by Brill Academic Publishers (Leiden and Boston) in spring, 2017.  Mosaics, his String Quartet no. 7, premiered in New York in December (2016) and a cycle of six songs for mezzo and piano to poems by Emily Dickinson will follow in April.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Politics Invades the Theater? It's Always Been There

By Elizabeth T. Craft

[Ed Note.  A version of the following Op-Ed originally appeared in the Salt Lake City Tribune on December 3, 2016.  It is presented here for the readers of Musicology Now with permission of the author.]

Screen capture of video tweet shared by @HamiltonMusical

When the cast of Hamilton delivered a message to VicePresident-elect Mike Pence after their performance on November 18, 2016 the Internet went wild. Tweet-happy President-elect Donald Trump jumped in with his indignation early the following morning, posting, “The Theater must always be a safe and special place. The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!”
Set aside for a moment the irony of President-elect Trump basically calling for a safe space. Because while theater is special, it has never, even in the realm of musical theater, been devoid of politics or controversy. To give just a few examples: In the 1930s, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt attended Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson’s Knickerbocker Holiday, a show that poked fun at him and satirized the New Deal. According to a report the next day in the New York Times, he “laughed heartily” at the production. In the 1940s, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II ignored advice to cut South Pacific’s anti-racist song “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” insisting that its message was the core reason for the show. In 1970, long before the cast of Hamilton performed at the Obama White House, the cast of the musical 1776 performed at the Nixon White House. The cast and production team felt decidedly mixed about being associated with conservatism, and they took out a full-page ad in the New York Times advocating the end of the Vietnam War. And today, should Trump attend the off-Broadway production Avenue Q, he can hear the puppet characters sing that “Donald Trump is only for now,” a line that initially referred to George Bush when the show opened in 2003.
Hamilton itself has become a kind of political lodestone in highly partisan times while dramatizing the equally contentious politics of our early republic using hip hop and a multiracial cast. Contemporary politics aren’t ignored; in one of the show’s most cheered lines, Alexander Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette are described as “immigrants” who “get the job done.” Nonetheless, the musical has won acclaim across party lines, from the Cheneys to the Obamas. A bipartisan group of Utah politicians joined forces to make a “Carpool Karaoke” Hamiltonvideo, and the recent documentary about the musical, Hamilton’s America, featured President Obama, former President George W. Bush, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Senator Elizabeth Warren. It’s hard to imagine this group being able to agree on anything, perhaps least of all a work of art about political history. This is one of Hamilton’s most remarkable accomplishments.
To my knowledge (and I queried a slew of fellow musical theater scholars as well), this is the first Broadway musical cast to directly address a politician, while out of character, from the stage. It was an extraordinary move in an extraordinary time, when an almost all-minority cast performed for the Vice President of a President-elect who has made offensive, often untruthful comments about immigrants, Latino Americans, Muslims, and women. Pence himself has opposed same-sex marriage and has advocated for anti-LGBT legislation, and it did not go overlooked by the press that Hamilton’s current leading man Javier Muñoz is openly gay and HIV-positive.
After all, Hamilton uses a minority cast to tell a history of white “founding fathers” using the predominantly white art form of musical theater not by chance but to claim their belonging, to say that U.S. history and Broadway musicals are their heritage too. This message is not a break from the history of musical theater. Musicals have long addressed the contested grounds of “Americanness,” pushing audiences to engage with controversial political issues – and even politicians themselves – outside of their “safe” zone.

Elizabeth T. Craft is an assistant professor of music at the University of Utah. Her article on the marketing of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first Broadway musical In the Heights appears in Studies in Musical Theatre, and she will present as part of a panel dedicated to Hamilton at the Society for American Music conference in March. Her current book project, which has been supported by a Society for American Music Virgil Thomson Fellowship and the University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center, examines the early twentieth-century musicals and cultural impact of George M. Cohan. She thanks Dr. Naomi Graber and Dr. Elissa Harbert for their comments during the preparation of this piece.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Queen is a Doctor of Musicology?

by Elina Hamilton

After a long day of classes, preparing lectures, and grading assignments, I snuggled into my sofa with a glass of red wine in one hand and turned to the newest Netflix series, The Crown. Indulging in the beautiful costumes and exquisite acting by Claire Foy, whose impeccable Queen’s diction brings a smile to my face with every word, would be a nice change of pace. And who doesn’t like watching the charming Matt Smith as Prince Philip?

Post episode, I wandered onto Facebook to find out what the rest of the world had been up to. One Suggested Post caught my attention: Brie Dyas’ collection of 101 photographs in her “What the British Royal Family Looked Like the Year You were Born” from Town and Country Magazine. The enticing title promised a photographic rendezvous of the fashionable family over the course of a century. Yes please! I sat there scrolling through the photographs, admiring the beautiful dresses, uniforms, and hats, happy to spot some familiar, and some not so familiar, photographs in the mix.

At photograph #34, I paused, puzzled at what I saw. In the black and white image, a youthful Prince Philip leads a procession in regalia, the train of his robe being held above ground by an even younger assistant. Following closely behind him is Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen, in full academic regalia. Several other members in the procession resemble the unmistakable scene of academic festivities. They process in front of a sandstone building with distinct arched doorways and a beautiful lamppost. The caption provided in Town and Country read: “Prince Philip, who was appointed Chancellor of the University of Wales, presents an honorary diploma in musicology to his wife, Princess Elizabeth.” – a more or less direct translation from the French description (un diplome de musicologie) provided on Getty Images.

The sandstone building in the photograph is unmistakably the entrance of the Main Arts building of my alma mater, Bangor University, part of the University of Wales until 2010. In six years of living and working within this institution I had never heard of this event nor of the Queen’s honorary diploma in musicology. Doubly puzzled, I quickly posted the image onto Facebook wondering if I had missed something that was common knowledge to the Welsh.

Astonishingly, my colleagues at the School of Music at Bangor University confirmed in succession that they too had never encountered any reference to this event in all the years that worked at the university. They too, could not believe that such an event would have gone unnoticed by the School of Music for all of this time. In disbelief we scrambled to assemble as much information as possible.

On April 28, 1949, Princess Elizabeth was conferred an honorary Doctorate in Music by Prince Philip, the newly celebrated Chancellor of the university. On this, their first day of a Royal Tour to North Wales, a ceremony was held to place Prince Phillip as the first Chancellor of the University of Wales, which also had branches in Cardiff and Aberystwyth. Described as an “interesting” event by a news broadcast segment of the event, the ceremony was accompanied by the college choir, who in the reel are singing an arrangement of Llwyn Onn (The Ash Grove), conducted by Professor D.E. Parry-Williams, head of music at the then University College of North Wales, Bangor.

According to The Conwy and North Wales Weekly News reporting on the event a few days later, there was also a string quartet present who entertained the assembly that day. Prince Philip confessed that it was odd indeed that he, who had never studied for any degree, would be the one initiating the degree to his wife that day, evidently troubled by his own lack of education to carry out such a task. Others perhaps felt the same, given the tone of the reports which circulated after this event.

In 1946, Princess Elizabeth had already received an honorary Bachelor of Music from the University of London and it seems her keenness for music has generally been overlooked. Classic FM’s set of photographs in honor of Her Majesty’s 90th birthday provides a glimpse into her enthusiasm for music. Among the set of images, mostly of the Queen visiting musical events, there is one image where she confers a doctorate of music from the Royal College of Music, to her mother in 1973. 

Pryfysgol Bangor University, as the institution is known today, is a fully bilingual university, providing instruction in both Welsh and English. Reasons why the ceremony at Bangor remained forgotten for so long are complicated. According to Professor Chris Collins, the current head of the School of Music, music certificates had been issued from the institution since 1921, but it was only after the Second World War that full degrees in music were granted. The degree for a Doctor of Musicology seems to have never existed. The English language report that she has a Doctor of Music, however, stand. The year 1949 could have been the first year that any official degree in music would have been awarded, making this, the Queen’s honorary doctorate from the University of Wales, one of the earliest issued at Bangor. Answers to the subsequent silence in institutional memory are likely to be found in the complicated history of the university and region: during the 60s and 70s, growth pains within and without the university brought turmoil to the identity of this institution, who sought agreeable means to maintain its Welsh status while finding ways to be relevant as a modern university. Was forgetting this event an act of airbrushing away a moment of institutional embarrassment to Welsh pride?

Institutional histories are not merely collections of facts. They tell the story that those who write them most want to be heard. This is one picture that was not relevant to the story. Perhaps today, given the interest in all things related to the Corgie-loving, hat-wearing, internationally adored Queen, my Welsh colleagues will feel differently. It is for them to decide. As for me, I only made it to photograph #34. There are 67 more photos of research material. Better get another glass of wine!

*With thanks to the faculty at the School of Music, especially Chris Collins and Stephen Rees, who confirmed my findings, and to Twila Bakker who shared the process of investigation with me. And with thanks to Brie Dyas who originally compiled these images and has since provided corrections for the title of the Queen from Doctor in Musicology to a Doctor in Music in her column.

Dr. Elina G. Hamilton is a musicologist at The Boston Conservatory at Berklee. She received her doctorate in music from Bangor University in 2015 where she was the recipient of the 125th Anniversary Doctoral Fellowship. In 2012, she received The Draper Company Medal for Outstanding Postgraduate Work from the London-based Guild. Her main area of research is on intellectual institutions and their musical contributions in 14th-century England.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Nicht diese Töne: What If a Black Lives Matter Protest Had Silenced Vancouver's AMS Business Meeting?

By Naomi André and William Cheng 

Here is a collaborative, co-imaginative piece responding to the Special Session on Race, Ethnicity, and the Profession,” which took place during November’s AMS/SMT conference in Vancouver. In this post, we speak to urgent issues of inclusion, accessibility, and justice in the AMS and in society more broadly. The purpose of this exercise in radical imagination—radical listening—is to bend our mind’s ear to what the AMS can become beyond what’s merely considered realistic, practicable, or convenient.

We thank Ellen Harris, Martha Feldman, and the AMS Board of Directors for their various recent statements on fair practice and for initiating this important AMS Special Session. We also thank session chairs George Lewis and Judy Tsou, as well as panelists Mark Burford, Bonnie Gordon, and Ellie Hisama, for their powerful and moving contributions.

William Cheng: Exactly one month ago—around 6:00pm on Saturday, November 5, smack in the middle of the AMS Business Meeting and Awards Presentation in the Grand Ballroom at the Sheraton Wall Centre in Vancouver—hundreds of people rose from their seats in unison. Not to applaud. Not to cheer. Instead: to protest. With ferocious grace (with a degree of discipline that we demand daily of musicians and musicologists), these AMS members began to shout, to seethe, to organize. Expressions of shock, contempt, and bemusement variously drenched the faces of colleagues who remained seated. But some who were seated began standing up in kind. Voices pierced. Limbs and muscles became weirdly mobile and mobilized, improvising new choreographies and breaking chains of habit. The Business Meeting screeched to a halt. The protesters eventually outlasted their witnesses, as people began trickling out of the room, several fuming at how such demonstrations have a time and a place; how such a disruption is disrespectful towards the AMS leadership, the honorary members, the recipients of awards, the individuals in memoriam; and how things in the AMS are not so bad—certainly not as bad and retrograde as the United States’ political climate writ large—to merit this outrageous noisemaking.
We know none of this happened, of course. The above is an exercise in imagination. For we, as musicologists, should be experts in imagination. We hear homecoming narratives in sonata forms, see cryptic patterns in scores, find queerness and disability in aesthetic curiosities, sense intimate bonds with bygone artists, and suspect that words can’t do music justice. So readers, if you’ll indulge us: what if a protest at AMS, in the name of justice, had prevented the show from going on? Can you imagine? No? Are we therefore saying that we, as musicologists, can virtually hear the vocal exhortation of “nicht diese Töne” in Beethoven’s cellos and basses, but that we somehow cannot imagine raised voices and tones cutting into AMS business as usual? If so, something’s out of whack.

Naomi André: An AMS protest? What a novel idea! In my years here in the Society (since the early 1990s), this has been pretty much unthinkable. It feels to me that we’re not yet in the protest stage at the AMS. We do not have the critical mass, the energy, or the political capital. The few people of color who come to the AMS are usually too worn out and exhausted to be politically rebellious. Many of us feel that our presence alone is a political act for the AMS. My personal sense—which might be true for others: I feel too broken and vulnerable to organize and then participate in a protest. For so many people, I’m already invisible; why anger the few people who see me?

WC: Jumping off Naomi’s point, another thing to consider is that many people have silently protested the AMS and its Business Meetings simply by opting out of memberships, no longer attending conferences, or leaving the field altogether. If you’re not aware that a disproportionate number of musicologists of color have left the field, that doesn’t mean they’re nonexistent. It means that when people leave the field, they tend to do so quietly, without sending each of us a handwritten farewell card. Their names are not read at the Business Meeting. Their discharge is not honored. They just don’t come anymore. For many dearly departed, it’s because they feel like that’s the message the AMS has sent them: just don’t come anymore.

NA: Yes—this is more of the AMS I recognize. This is the situation that resonates with me. It can be thought of as a “self-preservation dishonorable discharge.” We disappear quietly, frequently limping along and ultimately left behind. Usually it starts by missing one year that turns into two years and then more. A very few of us might come back to haunt (spook) the edges.
I find a useful analogy in the V-formation of geese. When geese migrate, they adapt a V-shaped formation that helps them conserve energy and protect each other. Each bird flies slightly higher than the one ahead of it, which results in a reduction of wind resistance. Birds take turns being in front and can fall back when the front position, the one facing the roughest wind resistance, gets to be too much. With so few numbers, and being one of the first and only people of color (also weave in other frequent intersections of being a woman, a person with a non-heterosexual identity, and a first-generation university-educated person in the family), it can feel like we’re the leading goose without a deep V-formation behind us. The person of color who speaks up at sessions, introduces themselves to white colleagues, and begins to become “visible”—this person is particularly vulnerable to a “self-preservation dishonorable discharge.”

WC: At the Friday AMS “Special Session: Race, Ethnicity, and the Profession,” lots of ideas and feelings came out. This open forum was a terrific first step. But perhaps some of you who were there felt the way I did: emotionally, psychologically, physically exhausted. When panelist Mark Burford, during the open portion of the session, asked the audience to articulate the precise “issues” at stake, my colleague Steve Swayne stood up and said: “Invisibility.” And then Steve sat back down. Just one word. Because he was probably drained, like many attendees were.  
And some attendees gasped loudly when panelist Ellie Hisama recounted how a senior member of a search committee had once asked her if she, the interviewee, knew how to make sushi. But this gasping symptomized the problem (white tears, white gasps): if you’ve already listened to enough of such stories, they shouldn’t shock you anymore. (For they obviously don’t shock the actual people to whom these offenses happen on a regular basis.) Gasp once? Great. Gasp twice, three times, ten times? Then maybe you haven’t yet absorbed the mundanity—shocklessness—of such stories.

NA:  Yes—these stories abound. If you don’t yet notice them happening, I urge you to listen more analytically and start paying attention. Here is another example. So frequently I have stood in the restaurant line of a conference hotel, waiting for a table, only to be approached by fellow conference members with their request for a table (because I was mistaken for the hostess).
            I like the concept of “white tears” and “white gasps.” I’m almost getting used to them as I begin to share more stories about my negative racialized and gendered encounters, which I’ve experienced since (and before) graduate school. I’ve kept these stories hidden because they are painful and embarrassing. Yet they might be helpful since many AMS members do not realize that these things are happening. Maybe by learning about these experiences, it will make more sense why this “thought exercise” of a Black Lives Matter protest can be a liberating idea.

WC: In the end, most of us probably still can’t imagine a Black Lives Matter protest happening at an AMS Business Meeting. I feel like imagination is the leitmotif that ties together all of my research, and yet I personally can’t imagine this. An AMS BLM protest? It’d be like something from a movie or an alternate world! Like…the real world, I guess—where BLM demonstrations erupt all the time. Yes, it would have been a terrible inconvenience. Yet this is precisely what protests are meant to do. Sure, people could have accused these protesters of being ungrateful or ineffectual: Look at what the AMS has already afforded you! Why can’t you be satisfied with what you have? We’re all intelligent, reasonable, cultured scholars here. Music binds us all. Why can’t we have a rational discussion once everyone calms down and lowers their voices?

NA: As we close this co-imaginative piece, I need to mention the elephant (and donkey) in the room—the recent United States presidential election. Here are a few stories of my first days after the election. These experiences are also true for many of my friends of color. Yes, these are true stories (no thought experiments here).

1) As we watched the results come in on election night—results that challenged the so-called expected and predicted victory of Hillary Clinton—none of us were that surprised. Disappointed—yes. Surprised—NO. Instead, the Trump victory confirmed our worst fears about our nation, fears that we have long felt in our daily, lived experiences.

2) As people of color, we have had white students who “confide” in us that they voted for Trump, and now they fear that they can’t admit this to others because they might be seen as being “racist” (however they configure/define that). I sense that there might be important lessons to learn about the wide swath of Trump voters who might not consider themselves “racists.” Yet why do these white folks feel that I—as a person of color—want to help them “process” this right now? Is this a Mammy thing where I’m seen as always “required” to take care of them around these damn issues?

3) On the day after the election, two little African American girls at my daughter’s elementary school (K–2nd grade) whispered audibly to each other, “Trump is now going to send us back to Africa.”

4) A helpful guide I’ve seen for talking about the possible trauma caused by the election in our college classrooms says (1) reassure your students that you do not support hate speech and you greatly value students from all backgrounds, and (2) now more than ever, it is important to take a stand about what you believe is right whenever you see that someone else’s rights are being violated. 

WC: In solidarity, with love.

NA: Solidarity and love.

Naomi André is Associate Professor in Women’s Studies and in the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, and is the Associate Director for Faculty at the Residential College at the University of Michigan. Her books, Voicing Gender: Castrati, Travesti, and the Second Woman in Early Nineteenth-Century Italian Opera (2006) and Blackness in Opera (2012, edited collection), focus on opera from the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries and explore constructions of gender, race and identity. She is also the author of Engaging Black Experience in Opera: Studies in the US and South Africa (forthcoming from University of Illinois Press).

William Cheng is Assistant Professor of Music at Dartmouth College. He is the author of Sound Play: Video Games and the Musical Imagination (Oxford 2014) and Just Vibrations: The Purpose of Sounding Good (Michigan 2016). His current projects include All the Beautiful Musicians (Oxford), Touching Pitch: Dirt, Debt, Color (Michigan), Queering the Field: Sounding Out Ethnomusicology (Oxford, coedited with Greg Barz), and a new book series on public musicology and social justice (University of Michigan Press with coeditor Andrew Dell’Antonio). He has written pieces for Musicology Now, Slate, Washington Post, Huffington Post, TIME, and Pacific Standard.