CMS—The "Complementarity" Music Society

One of the most inspiring essays I have read in a long time is entitled "An Attempt at a Synthetic Paradigm," by Russian folklorist/ethnomusicologist Izaly Zemtsovsky (see reference below). In it he is advocating a new paradigm for the discipline of ethnomusicology which is based on complementarity, or the coming together of the discipline by the acceptance of all approaches to research. He writes that as we near the third millennium, such an approach "will liberate us, give us a possibility to become free, to be unlimited and unbounded" (pp. 201-202).

Since 1985, I have actively observed The College Music Society through participation in various levels of its administration. I have come to appreciate something very unique about CMS--its complementarity. By its very nature CMS has come together by its acceptance of all approaches to the epistemology of (i.e., knowing about) music. The proof is in the many areas of music represented by the Board of Directors and the variety of committees and task forces within The College Music Society. Perhaps, however, we can do even more on an official basis. Not officially represented, for example, are the categories of popular music (an ever more common course in the college music curriculum nowadays), music therapy (a long standing discipline within many music programs), music business (perhaps where the big money is), music technology (a thread running through most music disciplines), and music administration (the thread that runs through us [or strings us along] or the chain that holds us together).

What are Our Needs?

About epistemology, Jeff Todd Titon (see reference below) succinctly writes the following: "Epistemology is that field of inquiry whose subject is the origins, nature, and limits of human knowing." Although he applies the term to ethnomusicology, it makes good sense to apply it to music in general. Therefore, "An epistemology for [music] attempts to answer two basic questions: What can we know about music, and how can we know it?" (Ibid.).

While these ideas are certainly not new, they have captivated the interest of students, scholars, and teachers in the 1990s. It seems to me that The College Music Society should be concerned with those two questions and should attempt to answer yet a third: How can we disseminate what we know about music? This third question is especially vital as we look towards the future.

Over the years I have longed for and strived to create a system of open communication between The College Music Society and its many sister societies through an official liaison network whereby our members of the Board of Directors are the "Ethernet" connections to the organizations they represent (in name). It's more like the pony express, however, as some communications rarely connect and others, I fear, don't even get sent.

TORONTO 2000 (CMS's Annual Meeting in 2000) will be a golden opportunity for CMS members to employ a rarely used form of communication with their colleagues in our sister societies—"facemail." As we prepare for this wonderful "mega meeting," where over fifteen music societies will meet face to face, let us think about how we as members of CMS can help disseminate what we know about music, what we want to know about music, and what we want others to know about music. TORONTO 2000 will be an opportunity for CMS to be the Complementarity Music Society, and we don't want to miss that chance. Please send me or the Newsletter editor your thoughts and ideas.


Titon, Jeff Todd. 1997. "Knowing Fieldwork." in Shadows in the Field, edited by Gregory F. Barz and Timothy J. Cooley (New York: Oxford University Press), 87-100.

Zemtsovsky, Izaly. 1997. "An Attempt at a Synthetic Paradigm." Ethnomusicology 4l/2 l85-205.

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Last modified on Tuesday, 19/11/2013

Dale A. Olsen

Dale A. Olsen is Professor Emeritus at Florida State University, where he taught ethnomusicology for 35 years. He received B.A. and M.A. degrees in historical musicology and flute performance from the University of Minnesota and the Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from UCLA. Dr. Olsen is a recipient of Fulbright-Hays, Guggenheim, National Endowment for the Humanities, Distinguished Research Professor, and many other awards and grants. His major books include Music of the Warao of Venezuela: Song People of the Rain Forest (winner of the 1997 Merriam Prize for the "Most Outstanding Book in Ethnomusicology"); Music of El Dorado: The Ethnomusicology of Ancient South American Cultures; The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Vol. 2; The Garland Handbook of Latin American Music; The Chrysanthemum and the Song: Music, Memory, and Identity in the South American Japanese Diaspora; and Popular Music of Vietnam: The Politics of Remembering, The Economics of Forgetting. Dr. Olsen was principal flutist in the Philharmonic Orchestra of Chile from 1966-68 and in the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra in 1970. He has traveled, lived, and conducted fieldwork throughout Latin America; East Asia; Southeast Asia; Polynesia; Europe; and North America. He has served on the Council, Board of Directors, and as First Vice President of the Society for Ethnomusicology; as Board Member for Ethnomusicology/World Music and National President of The College Music Society; as President of the Florida Folklore Society; and as President of the Southeastern-Caribbean Chapter of SEM.

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