Tag Archives: ethnomusicology

A Post-Election View From DC Ethnomusicology

I’m at the Library of Congress, deep within the serpentine recesses of the mighty James Madison Building. The occasion? “Sounds: Public Second Ethnomusicology (SEM) in the 21st Century,” a daylong Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM) pre-conference at the American Folklife Center. The event consists of a series of talks and conversations around people doing ethnomusicology outside of the traditional professorial route. Think public sector folklorists, non-profits arts directors, musical instrument curators, museologists, performers, archivists—even medical doctors and cemetery directors—reflecting on their experiences both inside, outside, and next to the discipline.

For those of you not familiar with ethnomusicology, it can be defined as the study of musics in cultures (or the study of cultures in musics), more or less. It’s grounded in an egalitarian understanding of all peoples, one that embraces and works to promote diversity, be it sonic, expressive, cultural, ritualistic, symbolic, functional, and etc.

The ethnomusicologists here are unflagging in their commitment to these values. Today, however, there is a somber sense of foreboding among the group. Being in DC on the day after the election, and in a field where difference is lauded, we cannot avoid being reminded of what transpired. As SEM President Anne Rasmussen noted, the SEM conference will be opened tomorrow by a female Quranic reciter, exactly the kind of folk who have been targeted in the recent campaign. What’s more, many of the people here today are employed either directly, or indirectly (grants), by the federal govt. In short, our work appears to be at odds with a zeitgeist bent on erecting walls and closing agencies.

However, nihilism is never the answer. Isn’t it time to re-double our efforts to do our work, to promote/interpret/preserve/provide access to everybody’s music? Isn’t it time to reach out to those who are celebrating today? What are the roots of their musics? What values are communicated through their sounds? And how different are they really from our own?




“Sound-recording equipment John and Alan Lomax transported in the trunk of their car during their fieldwork expeditions” (from http://www.loc.gov/folklife/fieldwork/howto.html).

For class tomorrow we are going to be covering a lot of ground: “Segregating Sounds (1910s – 20s) and Archival Acquisition/Fieldwork.” For the music related readings please consider the following:


  • Why does Armbruster characterize the 20s as a “paradoxical age”?
  • What is a “blue law”?
  • What was Local 76’s attitude towards jazz?
  • Why was Local 458 reconstituted into Local 493 in 1922?
  • What impact did the advent of cinema have on the local music scene?
  • Did women receive the same pay as men in Local 76?
  • What did the New York Times say about Cornish?

De Barros

  • According to De Barros, what was Seattle’s early “contradiction in the city’s psychology”?
  • What do you think would have happened had black musicians tried to join Local 76 in 1909?
  • What role do minstrel shows play in the development of jazz?
  • How would you characterize The Seattle Times’ turn of the century characterization of black entertainers?
  • When and where was Seattle’s first jazz performance?

And for the archive/fieldwork related portion of the readings, consider….


  • What are some of the ways in which sound and audiovisual archives acquire their collections?
  • What should be a person’s paramount responsibility when making a new recording for an archive?
  • What should we do with recordings that were made w/out the knowledge or permission of performers?

And we will be applying Bartis’ guide to an activity during the latter half of the class.

See you tomorrow!

Puget Sounds discussion questions for October 2, 2014

Erich von Hornbostel (from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/uk/a/a9/Erich_Moritz_von_Hornbostel.jpg)

Some questions to think about when reading this week’s articles for our Puget Sounds seminars (http://guides.lib.washington.edu/ps-honors14 and http://guides.lib.washington.edu/ps-collegiate14)


  • What do you think motivated early comparative musicologists to record the music of so-called “primitive” people?
  • What was one of the primary differences between the Vienna and Berlin archives?
  • By what means did the Vienna archive collect “exotic music”?
  • What does it mean to, as Stump noted, “hear with European ears”?
  • What does Ames mean by the following: “As ‘participant observer,’ the scientist became a kind of impresario in his own right”?


  • From what you can tell so far, where do you think the Puget Sounds project fits w/in Nettl’s definitions of ethnomusicology (pp 4-5)?
  • How would you define ethnomusicology? Fieldwork?
  • What is your opinion of Nettl’s stated “truism” on page 10?
  • Is ethnomusicology doomed by the apparent contradiction between searching for “unitary phenomenon” and never ceasing to “marvel at the incredible variety of manifestations of music”?
  • Is musical egalitarianism possible?

And while you read, listen to early EM von Hornbostel recordings here: http://offcampus.lib.washington.edu/login?url=http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/71672