Interdisciplinary work, field study, and performance are the shining signature features of ethnomusicology, an academic area of study that explores and examines cultural and social dimensions of music in far-flung places and in local communities. A relative newcomer to the palette of musical studies in higher education, it is nonetheless replete with possibilities for understanding music as sound, behavior, and values. Ethnomusicology has contributed much to knowing music for its functions in society, and to growing an awareness of music as a global phenomenon and a pan-human expressive practice. Its ethnographic method is definitive, too, and remarkably adjustable to a study of a string quartet as to knowing the music and musicians of an East African village. In just over a half century of slippage into the academy, ethnomusicology has anchored itself in some of our finest universities. Alongside the growth of world music performance (from Balinese gamelan, to gospel choirs, salsa bands, and “African drumming ensembles”), ethnomusicology as an academic enterprise has opened ears, eyes, and minds to an awareness of interdisciplinarity of music that reaches beyond performance and theory to anthropology, folklore, linguistics, media-arts, sociology, and every “area study” (e.g., African Studies, East Asian Studies, Latin American Studies, Women Studies) under the sun.
Going on 60 years since the founding of the Society for Ethnomusicology, the field has transformed itself. Early graduate programs at UCLA, Indiana University, the University of Washington, UC-Berkeley, and the University of Illinois appear differently now than they did in the 1960s and 1970s, and have been shaped by the changing course of the learned disciplines that surround the field, and by academic attitudes, technology and the media. Where the study of imported, “exotic”, or indigenous musical cultures were once standard fare for ethnomusicological research, all musical expressions--from jazz and popular music to the music of children—are now wide open for ethnographic description and collaborative insder-outsider interpretation. Where geographically-oriented subjects were once the way to classify ethnomusicological research, “issues” are increasingly the categories in which the research is identified. Ethnomusicologists speak to cultural tourism, gender, race and ethnicity, post-colonialism, health and well-being, and transnationalism, and not just “the music of Ghana” (or more specifically, the music of the Akan or the Ewe). As members of university departments and schools of music, ethnomusicologists think and do music in myriad ways that encompass scholarship, performance, and the teaching music of assorted cultures and communities, styles and disciplines.
Victor Fung, editor of Symposium’s Scholarship and Research component, is to be commended for taking on a project that traces this important and influential field of study. He has drawn together seven exceptional scholars—all working ethnomusicologists—to reflect on past and present directions in the scholarship and teaching of ethnomusicology in higher education. Six papers are published together within the realm of Scholarship and Research, and a seventh paper is found in the journal’s section called “Forum”. The seven ethnomusicologists collectively span several generations of training and professional work, and they are richly varied in the music research they have produced across a full spectrum of themes, theories, and geographic locations. They speak to matters of applied performance studies (“world music performance”) and to the relative place of ethnomusicology in undergraduate and graduate programs of music. They offer contemplations on the complexities of ethnomusicology, on constructs as well as processes by which music is taught and learned inside cultures and out in university lecture halls, classrooms, and studios.
It is a distinct privilege for The College Music Society to welcome to this journal so fine a set of reflections on a field that holds such tremendous relevance for teaching and scholarly work at the tertiary level. Perhaps through our own reflections on the compiled wisdom herein will come the inspiration to re-think programs of study to become more inclusive of music and musicians for the expressed meanings, functions and values they hold. In the process of curricular revision, the need for ethnomusicologists on faculties of music could conceivably become self-evident. Just maybe, ethnomusicologists could become as common and critical as are the theorists, pianists, and ensemble conductors in our departments and schools of music—a happy outcome, to be sure!