“What I Do in Musicology”
Thoughts from the Field

In recent years the AMS leadership has been promoting public musicology, an important concept that impacts all members of our Society and indeed the very future of our discipline. This new column, an outgrowth of discussions within the Committee on Communications, features essays from musicologists engaged in activities or careers outside the traditional tenure-track faculty line. Our goal is to inspire AMS members to pursue public musicology, as well as to educate our membership—in particular graduate students eyeing the academic job market with trepidation—about the many possibilities available to musicologists.

If you are interested in contributing to this column in a future issue, please contact AMS Newsletter editor James Parsons (jamesparsons@missouristate.edu) with a brief description of your contributions to public musicology.

Amanda Sewell

Amanda Sewell

AMS Newsletter, February 2016

I completed my Ph.D. in musicology at Indiana University in May of 2013. I applied for over 50 tenure-track, one-year, and postdoc positions for the 2013-14 academic year, and although I had some nibbles, nothing materialized in the form of a job offer. I was a strong candidate, with teaching experience outside my home institution, forthcoming peer-reviewed publications (including a piece in the Cambridge Companion to Hip-Hop), and a definitive dissertation defense date, but, of course, there were probably 50 other applicants with similar credentials. I evaluated my financial situation and my professional abilities, and I chose to become a self-employed academic editor. Read more . . .

My career requires entrepreneurial as well as musicological and academic skills. Many of the skills I possess naturally or have learned in academia are not skills that all people have. Entrepreneurship means offering a particular service to a person who needs it and who is willing to pay for it, and I have chosen to sell my skills as an editor to fellow academics who need assistance with their writing. My clients include graduate students, professors, and academic and university publishers in nearly every specialty within the humanities and social sciences. When starting new musicological research, I learn everything I can about the topic. I then assess what angles other scholars have already taken and what remains to be addressed about the topic. As an entrepreneur, I identify what types of services have already saturated the market and what services are in great demand. For example, reviewers for journals and scholarly presses will recommend that the author work with a developmental editor, but the author may not know exactly what a developmental editor is or how to find a reputable one. In response, I have heavily promoted my developmental editing services, making sure to explain what the process entails.

As I work entirely on a freelance basis, I am constantly in pursuit of the next client or project. At the most recent AMS, my friend and colleague Mark Katz saw me handing out my business cards to representatives from various presses, and he teased me about "hustling." Although my hustle is quite different from that of many hip-hop artists about whom Mark and I have both written, it is true that I must constantly sell my services, knowing that not every pitch will yield a client. I am familiar with this type of rejection from my own research. I have sent hundreds of emails to musicians in hopes of interviewing them, and perhaps one in fifty responded. From an entrepreneurial perspective, not every business card I hand out will become a project, but I have to keep trying"that is, "hustling." On that note, please visit my website at http://in-the-write.com or email info@in-the-write.com if you need an editor.

Although my editing career may have started as a Plan B, I have fallen in love with it and have no intention of returning to the academic job market. My professorial impulses are satisfied by the ten hours a week I spend hosting classical music programs on Interlochen Public Radio (an adventure that requires an entirely separate essay).

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Jason Hanley

Jason Hanley

AMS Newsletter, August 2015

As musicologists, one of our greatest challenges is developing and sustaining a meaningful dialogue with diverse listeners and learners. While public musicology is a step in the right direction, we need to establish what we mean when we say "public," over and above the word simply signaling "not employed in academia." Every day for the past eleven years, as Director of Education at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, I have engaged a wide-ranging and changing audience through public musicology. Read more . . .

As musicologists, one of our greatest challenges is developing and sustaining a meaningful dialogue with diverse listeners and learners. While public musicology is a step in the right direction, we need to establish what we mean when we say "public," over and above the word simply signaling "not employed in academia." Every day for the past eleven years, as Director of Education at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, I have engaged a wide-ranging and changing audience through public musicology. The Hall's mission is to "engage, teach, and inspire through the power of rock and roll." In the Education Department, we fulfill this mission through a variety of programs for both students and adults, while always keeping rock and roll at the core. These include numeracy- and literacy-building programs for toddlers, multi-disciplinary classes for K-12 students, free lecture series for college students and adults, as well as numerous public and community events. All reach a diverse array of learners while fostering artful critical-thinking skills. This requires finding multiple pathways to learning while maintaining analytical rigor and being mindful to keep important musical and historical issues at the forefront of the rock and roll story.

This rigor informs the work I do when working directly with artists, especially those inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Artists are interviewed in front of a live audience, and the footage is archived for later use at the Rock Hall's Library and Archives. These interviews become a way of digging deeper into the history of rock and roll and preserving it for the future. A few examples include Peter Hook of New Order discussing the use of step-time recording in the song "Blue Monday"; Spooner Oldham talking about writing and performing as a session musician at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals; and Alan Parsons explaining how he worked to effectively translate live music into the studio while recording Dark Side of the Moon with Pink Floyd.

For me, public musicology extends beyond my work at the Rock Hall. This year I published a book on rock music history, Music Lab: We Rock! A Fun Family Guide for Exploring Rock Music History (Quarry, 2015). From the start, I envisioned the book as a work of public musicology using aspects of the pedagogy I helped design at the Rock Hall. Each of the book's fifty-two labs contains a full listening guide for a specific song. The School Library Journal wrote: "Though books introducing pop and rock and roll artists to the younger generation are legion, this attractive volume, aimed at families, sets itself apart through its focus on the music itself." I was happy to read this, given that focusing on the music was my primary goal in writing the book.

I chose to work outside academe, even though, when I did, it seemed like walking into the great unknown. I'm glad I did. I'm also glad the AMS promotes public musicology. I hope this will lead to a time when such work is central to our field.

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Janie Cole

Janie Cole

AMS Newsletter, August 2014

I inadvertently now find myself in a brave new world of public musicology with a challenging mission in cultural heritage preservation and developing new mediums for musicological research. I also fully intend to continue to straddle both public and academic spheres through papers, publications, and teaching in the hope of captivating wider audiences, raising interdisciplinary awareness, and inspiring and fostering a new generation of musicologists who will carry forward our discipline. Read more . . .

I am the founder/executive director of Music Beyond Borders (MBB), an organization that focuses on research, cultural-heritage preservation through oral-history archives, publications, and film documentaries of contemporary music history where crimes against humanity and socio-political conditions of repression, violence, protest, and freedom are critical. MBB seeks to uncover how those suffering oppressive regimes use music to protest human-rights violations and advance social justice globally. MBB aims to capture the rich cultural and musical heritage and diversity of the human experience by transforming real stories into instruments that promote public awareness and incite civic engagement to defend humanitarian values and human rights on a global level.

My move into the realm of public musicology was sparked by a new research project upon which I embarked after being awarded the 2010 Janet Levy Prize from the AMS for travel to South Africa. Having spent the previous fifteen years working on late renaissance and early baroque Italian music and cultural history and lecturing at various American universities in Florence, I had begun to explore new research interests in the field of music and human rights. This evolved into a book project about music during the anti-apartheid struggle and its critical role as a tool for resistance, survival, and propelling social justice by political prisoners, especially at the notorious Robben Island prison (which held Nelson Mandela for eighteen years) and the women’s jails. In South Africa, I worked on various archival collections of liberation-struggle materials and started to record oral testimonies and music by surviving political prisoners of the apartheid prisons.

The importance of recording the oral histories of unknown foot soldiers of the struggle and crimes against humanity before time runs out (struggle veterans are aging) led to the founding of Music Beyond Borders as a platform for reaching a wider audience through different media, for building a board of scholars and advisors, for fundraising, and for developing social media. My transition from writing academic books to being an activist in music and cultural-heritage preservation has developed the project into various other mediums for scholarly research and teaching, which will include a documentary film, multimedia museum exhibitions, and a unique digital oral-history archive. These auxiliary outcomes provide the potential for the preservation of rare historical evidence in different formats and for future musicological research and development. The processes of filmmaking and production, for example—involving shooting, scripting, editing, securing rights, post-production, social media, and affiliated web sites—become important components that transform the nature of musicological research.

Through public musicology, a wider following can be reached, and a difference can be made. Recording oral histories acts as catharsis and creates positive change in the survivors’ lives and communities. Future screenings of our powerful visual narratives at international film festivals, higher-educational institutions, and academic conferences and seminars can ultimately stimulate social engagement and create a learning tool for future generations, while preserving a unique cultural heritage.

To conclude, I inadvertently now find myself in a brave new world of public musicology with a challenging mission in cultural heritage preservation and developing new mediums for musicological research. I also fully intend to continue to straddle both public and academic spheres through papers, publications, and teaching in the hope of captivating wider audiences, raising interdisciplinary awareness, and inspiring and fostering a new generation of musicologists who will carry forward our discipline.

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Laurence Libin

Laurence Libin

AMS Newsletter, February 2014

Beyond the immediate gratification music affords, listeners at all levels of sophistication seek deeper understanding of how music works and why it affects us—witness enthusiastic stories of the “Mozart effect” on child development. Research in music cognition is only in its infancy, but popular interest is growing, as shown by the eager reception accorded the insights of Oliver Sacks and other neuroscientists who are also able musicians. Read more . . .

Beyond the immediate gratification music affords, listeners at all levels of sophistication seek deeper understanding of how music works and why it affects us—witness enthusiastic stories of the “Mozart effect” on child development. Research in music cognition is only in its infancy, but popular interest is growing, as shown by the eager reception accorded the insights of Oliver Sacks and other neuroscientists who are also able musicians. Modern technologies used in the study of music perception differ greatly from the tools of conventional music analysis; bridging this gap between radically contrasting approaches challenges the coming generation of musicologists, who will need new vocabularies and new skills to pursue a dialogue across fields often artificially separated in academe.

Intersecting with cognition, music history, ethnomusicology, and engineering, my work as an organologist arose from curiosity about the expressive function of timbre and the nature of our responses to it, aspects thus far little studied compared to pitch, rhythm, and other fundamental building blocks. My path led from conventional schooling in performance (BMus, harpsichord, Northwestern University, 1966; private study with Paul Maynard and Thurston Dart) and musicology (MMus, King’s College, University of London, 1968; ABD, University of Chicago, 1972) to curating musical instruments for The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where I served for thirty-three years. I oversaw acquisition, conservation, and interpretation, the last area embracing exhibitions, recital and recording production, public lectures, and other educational programming that explored instruments from prehistory to the present. Concurrently I taught graduate courses and published papers in which I sought to explicate the process of innovation and show how the sounds and symbolism of different instruments affect compositional decisions and listeners’ reactions, often unconsciously.

After retiring from the Met, as president of the Organ Historical Society and honorary curator of Steinway & Sons, I was able to reach more specialized audiences through talks and publications outlining how technological, sociological, economic, and environmental forces as well as purely musical ones influence tonal design and expressive capabilities, particularly of keyboard instruments. I also consulted with cultural institutions that preserve rare instruments (including custodians of historic church organs) and advocated for their documentation and conservation. Finally, I was entrusted with editing the revised Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. I hope that the dictionary’s new coverage of such topics as haptics, ergonomic design, brain-computer interfaces, and found instruments will encourage interdisciplinary learning.

My formal training and hands-on employment with various instruments and situations (early on I tuned pianos, gave lessons, and played organ to pay the rent) led to career opportunities outside the normal scope of museum work and classroom teaching. No less valuable early experience, however, was organizing a tenant union, managing an apartment building, and negotiating with hostile landlords on Chicago’s rough South Side—useful preparation for work in non-profit institutions and commercial publishing.

The existence of close-knit societies for music theory, ethnomusicology, music perception, instrument buffs, and many other special-interest groups might suggest that we trespass with peril beyond narrowly defined disciplines. But venturesome forays outside traditional academic boundaries, armed with critical attitudes and skills gained from “real life,” can overcome this fragmentation and engage audiences in fresh ways of approaching music.

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Susan Key

Susan Key

AMS Newsletter, August 2013

What do I love about engaging with the world beyond academe? It’s the opportunity to see the impact of scholarship in action—to work with museums, public libraries, performing arts organizations, and media companies on projects that reach a broad public. I firmly believe that not only our scholarship but also our culture would be strengthened by more awareness of the intersecting worlds of performance, education, academe, and public policy. Read more . . .

For me, the process of building a career outside academe was part necessity, part choice. As a later-in-life Ph.D. with a family, I had less flexibility than someone with a more traditional profile. I also confess that I was spoiled by living in great places: first Washington, D.C., then the San Francisco Bay area. Even so, I was in the second year of a three-year appointment at Stanford when I took a one-quarter leave to coordinate the San Francisco Symphony’s American Mavericks Festival. My assumption that I would return to Stanford and continue my career in academe soon gave way to the realization that I was enjoying the SFS way too much for that! For twelve years I worked at the SFS in a variety of roles: speaking, writing, and designing exhibits, adult education courses, and web and education components of the Symphony’s multi-media Keeping Score project. I am now Executive Director of the Star-Spangled Music Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit formed by a small group of performers and educators (including fellow musicologist Mark Clague) to spearhead a series of projects commemorating the two hundredth anniversary of The Star-Spangled Banner. Along with various partner institutions, we are developing educational resources, exhibits, recordings, and conferences. (Check out our web site at www.starspangledmusic.org; we’d love to have you involved!)

What do I love about engaging with the world beyond academe? It’s the opportunity to see the impact of scholarship in action—to work with museums, public libraries, performing arts organizations, and media companies on projects that reach a broad public. I firmly believe that not only our scholarship but also our culture would be strengthened by more awareness of the intersecting worlds of performance, education, academe, and public policy. While musicologists have made great efforts to be inclusive in our scholarship and curricula, we need to ask ourselves tough questions about the implications of how exclusive our field remains in practice. How socially significant is it to opine polysyllabically about the need to expand “the canon” when only the wealthiest boys and girls in this country have any awareness of—and thus any access to—music within any canon except the most commercial? How socially responsible is it to teach a course on hip-hop at an elite university while the school district in the same town can’t support a band? It would be a hollow victory indeed if our efforts resulted exclusively in intellectual enrichment for those privileged few behind ivy-covered walls.

I have talked to many young musicologists who are intrigued by the possibilities of “public musicology” but who are discouraged by the continuing reality that tenure decisions in most universities give lip service to “outreach” but are actually based on publication. I applaud the AMS for beginning this conversation and hope that the Society will go further and take a lead role in challenging this practice.

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Don M. Randel

Don M. Randel

AMS Newsletter, February 2013

Well-meaning parents and their friends ask, “What are you studying?” You reply, “Musicology.” They instantly reply, “What are you going to do with that?” This usually means, “How do you propose to contribute to the gross domestic product or the national defense or both?” . . . It turns out that there are many more answers to the typical question about the instrumental purposes of education and scholarly training than the skeptical questioner usually imagines. Read more . . .

Well-meaning parents and their friends ask, “What are you studying?” You reply, “Musicology.” They instantly reply, “What are you going to do with that?” This usually means, “How do you propose to contribute to the gross domestic product or the national defense or both?” It is not usually a question about whether you will live a satisfying life exercising your intellectual abilities and creative talent in relation to some of humankind’s most significant creations, so let’s skip over that for now, though we mustn’t forget it.

It turns out that there are many more answers to the typical question about the instrumental purposes of education and scholarly training than the skeptical questioner usually imagines. This is true even if we skip over the value of the ability to draw elegant conclusions from large and complicated bodies of information and to articulate those conclusions clearly and persuasively in any professional undertaking whatever. We should not skip over teaching, which is often dismissed condescendingly when the questioner adds, “besides teach, of course.” For there are many kinds of teaching that do not take place in the college classroom.

Most of us started on the path toward a degree in musicology because we love music, we want to know more about it, and we want to share what we learn with others, perhaps awakening in them a similar love. This is a path that should lead much more often than it usually does to work in arts and cultural organizations of every kind, to publishing, to broadcasting, to philanthropy, even to elected office. I don’t doubt for a minute that the United States Congress would be a better place if it included more well-trained musicologists.

This becomes a question not so much of the specific technical aspects of musicological training but of the values that underlie that pursuit. I have always thought that if there must be deans and provosts and presidents I want them to have my values. This has led me to be a dean of arts and sciences, a provost, a university president, and now a foundation president, jobs that have not left much time for musicology but that have enabled me to apply both the values and the intellectual tools I developed as a musicologist. These are values and habits of mind that can be lived in activities well beyond academe. The more the better.

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Hannah Mowrey

Hannah Mowrey

AMS Newsletter, February 2013

I have had the satisfying opportunity to create and direct an entrepreneurial music program. Redeemer Seminary—a post-graduate institution in Dallas, Texas that offers pastoral and ministerial training for men and women—is developing a center for worship and music in an effort to help students understand the historical connections between music and its role in Christian worship. Read more . . .

I am grateful to the Society for recognizing the importance of reaching beyond the immediate discipline of musicology, as I have had the satisfying opportunity to create and direct an entrepreneurial music program. Redeemer Seminary—a post-graduate institution in Dallas, Texas that offers pastoral and ministerial training for men and women—is developing a center for worship and music in an effort to help students understand the historical connections between music and its role in Christian worship. At a time when many institutions have been forced to eliminate various programs, the Seminary, through a generous grant, has worked to emphasize that which is often underdeveloped in current theological training: music. The new endeavor called for an individual with expertise in music performance, music history, church history, theology, and of course, teaching. The job description uniquely aligned with my training as a musicologist, and theological studies have been a personal interest and area of research for many years. Administrative and organizational skills have come naturally, and it was apparent that I had the necessary experience to launch and direct this new Center.

I began by sketching a five-year plan for the Center, including short- and long-range goals. I created mission, vision, and core-values documents, formed a temporary advisory council, researched other similar programs and institutions, developed branding criteria, and began mapping out a curriculum scope and sequence. I also work alongside a development director to cultivate fund-raising initiatives and goals.

Through the Seminary, the Center will eventually offer a certificate in worship and music. Students can complete the certificate alongside their divinity degree, or the certificate can be earned independently of a degree. Integrating music, aesthetics, and liturgy into an already rich divinity program has been a unique and rewarding challenge. Seminary students have been grounded in history and philosophy, so they quickly see how naturally music history accompanies and embellishes much of what they have already learned. As I develop a curriculum that will complement the divinity program, I have also been able to enhance the Seminary’s library—which has included a subscription to the Naxos Music Library, since listening assignments are a frequent staple of coursework within the music curriculum. Conferences, along with lecture and concert series, are also on the horizon.

My job is marked by a significant interdisciplinary effort, as I work with students and colleagues eager to learn about music and its role in Christian worship. With training in musicology, I have been able to impact an academic field often void of musical knowledge and understanding.

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