"So you couldn’t just be a musician?" Ethnomusicology and studying the soundtracks of our
It was in my junior year of college, a new transfer student to the University of North Texas, when I made the decision to choose ethnomusicology as one of the areas of study in my undergrad degree. While being an admittedly odd course for an aspiring composer, I had compelling reasons for this decision. Mainly, ethnomusicology allowed me to take my primary passion and learn to approach it and understand music in an entirely different way. We tend to see music as an art-form of itself, sometimes forgetting that there are stories and people behind the music and its creation and origin. Dr. Steven Friedson, ethnomusicology coordinator and professor of music and anthropology at the University of North Texas, defined ethnomusicology as “ the study of people making music together.” The Society for ethnomusicology defines it as “the study of music in its cultural context”, seeking to “not only understand the what of music but the why...” ethnomusicologists study music not only in its artistic context but as a direct function of culture.
“But why does this matter?” the inquisitive mind might ask. What benefit does the academic study of music in a cultural setting do to “make the world a better place.” Well, once we begin to study music through this lens, we add another dimension to our understanding of the diverse stories of humanity, both past and present. How have the songs of praises found in many of the world's faiths and religions survived the test of time? Would the earliest revolts by enslaved africans have been possible without the drums that they used to communicate? How exactly did western classical music get so popular in the east? Would blues sound so “blue” without the poverty that plagued many southern U.S. communities in the early 1900s? Many of the events and circumstances humans have endured throughout history have been reflected by the music of the people experiencing it.
Being a musician may not be a prerequisite to being a musicologist, but many of them are. Truthfully, many musicologist also work in or are trained in musicianship and its many associated crafts (audio engineering, production, sound design, etc). The love for music just runs so deep that academic study and observation of music cultures around the world is the perfect way to better understand the art. Those who aren’t musicians tend to come from the world of social sciences (communications, psychology, or anthropology) with no more musical experience than simply being an active participants in culture. Culture Is defined as the learned patterns of perceptions and behaviors that a group of people share. Culture is the food we eat, the way we speak, the ideas and beliefs that we hold as a members of countless communities. While being an active participant in culture, you play witness to the how the arts reflect and propagate it. Music adds a sonic dimension to our experiences, a soundtrack to a memory or time period.
So my goal with this Blog will really be to introduce to you readers a different perspective on music. I'd like to show you music, and musical traditions, through the lens of the cultures that birthed them. We'll get into history (music related and not), some music theory, and
Quote of the post!
Don’t only practice your craft but force your way into it’s secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine. -Ludwig Van Beethoven.