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Halloo! When I found out I could go to med school with a Humanities degree with an Ethnomusicology emphasis, I almost peed myself. Here's to me holding it in.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Annotated Source

Practice Makes Perfect: Lessons in Active Ethnomusicology
Author(s): Bess Lomax Hawes
Source: Ethnomusicology, Vol. 36, No. 3, Special Issue: Music and the Public Interest (Autumn,1992), pp. 337-343
Published by: University of Illinois Press on behalf of Society for EthnomusicologyStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/851867 .
Accessed: 07/03/2012 17:53

Hawes' article in Ethnomusicology is mostly about what constitutes "success" or "value" in an ethnomusicological undertaking, especially as it concerns board reviews and external funding. She uses a case study to explore the issue and make a few points. The basic story is that a passionate scholar of black quartet music from the middle part of last century wanted to put together a concert of all the living singers from the era he studied. He received funding, had positive responses from all the performers, and booked a hall. The hall's capacity was 3000 souls, and only about 200 people showed up. By this figure, the performance seemed to be a failure. But, to the performers and their families, it was a complete success. Later on, the booklet that had been distributed to the attendees took on a life of its own and became an introductory text to black quartet music for many in the area, and, to make a long story short, five years of percolation after the initial concert saw a dramatically increased general interest in the music and the performers, and a whole tradition was revived. Hawes stresses the point that an initial failure was the starting point for a very successful venture. 

Here is a copy of five main points she made:

1. The tradition celebrated had real historical depth and real cultural significance and meaning-and it was intrinsically gorgeous. It was important.

2. The research into the tradition had been done with great thorough-ness and scholarly care, resulting-among other things-in the logical selection of Birmingham, Alabama, a major center in the development of quartet singing, as the concert site. (Other centers could have been chosen, of course, but this was one of theimportant ones. The concert was not staged in Hollywood, Washington, DC, New York City, or other more fashionable venues.)

3. Again, as the result of intensive research, the right singers had been invited, the right ones in this case being allthe groups that had participated in the development of the Birmingham style. Not everyone was still alive or could participate, but all the singers present knew that a serious attempt had been made to include everybody who should have been included. And that made for an atmosphere of joyful relaxation amongst the singers. They were having a reunion-who cared about anything else?

4. The actual research was presented back to the researched community in an inexpensive, profusely illustrated, interesting, verifiable form. It is impossible to look at that program booklet and not be impressed by the extraordinary story of the development of quartet singing in Birmingham. The availability of solid, painstaking scholarship empowers the community studied, allowing the development of legitimate pride. It can form a bridge, too, for contact across caste and class lines. But it has to be made available, and that requires major effort.

5. And then there was a concert. The living singers came together, and they opened their throats and poured their passion and skill and liveliness and humor out over the empty hall, and no one who heard them could ever be convinced that this was a dying art. I am in favor of books, publications of all kinds, musical transcriptions, tapes, records, and films, but in spite of all the technological and electronic gadgetry in the world, the primary gestating act of music, I believe, only happens when musicians and listeners assemble.

From the standpoint of someone who had sought funding and also been involved with committees who decide what gets funded, she described what she saw as important and impactful. She ends with a plea for all ethnomusicologists and funding board members to be simultaneously more critical and more generous when evaluating projects, especially when those projects are one's own. In a world where money issues are real, but where passion for art, beauty, and people is more important, the onus rests squarely on the researchers and funding committees to make sure that activities of true value happen.

My big takeaway were the factors for success that she defined. I will summarize (if you haven't noticed by now, the long quotes I put on the blog are for my benefit only, so I don't have to go and find the quotes again when I want to use them in a paper).

1. The research was on an important topic. Importance includes historical depth, cultural significance and meaning, and intrinsic beauty.
2. The background research was thorough and careful.
3. The right people were invited to be involved.
4. The research was made easily available for consumption and dissemination. 
5. The musical event/goal of the research was carried out.

Because all of these were in place, it was only a matter of time before the fruits of the project came into being, no matter the initial "failure." This makes me feel good and, again, puts me in the mind of re-evaluating parts of my project. If I can get 1-4 solid, and make 5 happen, then I will be successful. I like her definition, and hope to focus on her points in the future more than on GPA or paper scores.

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