Article body

Performing Ethnomusicology is arguably the first anthology to deal with the hot topics that surround Western organized world music ensembles. Weaving together excellent scholarship from a variety of sources, this is a collection of sixteen essays which explores a plethora of cultural, social, pedagogical, and ethical issues involved in performing diverse musical traditions in the academy. Performing Ethnomusicology — as distinguished from performing one’s own music — is the focus of these essays, and each addresses the volume’s overencompassing issues of “intercultural and intergenerational transmission” and the “interlocking pedagogical relationships” within the ensemble. While the editors make no claim at comprehensiveness, the collection nevertheless examines a remarkable mixture of problems and considerations university directors of world music ensembles are faced with; ranging from issues of representation, reflexivity, hegemony, and aesthetically determined interaction to academic administration and pedagogy.

Conceived with a scholarly readership in mind, including music teachers, ensemble directors, university students, and researchers, Performing Ethnomusicology features the work of ethnomusicologists, world music ensemble directors, and scholars of world music and culture, as well as the voices of cultural insiders (e.g. Ali Jihad Racy, born in the village of Ibl al-Saqi in South Lebanon, a performer, composer, ethnomusicologist, and specialist in the music of the Middle East) most of whom, like Solís, are themselves academicians. Detailed biographies of contributors and a thorough and very reliable index serve to make this collection a very useful reference tool. The lack of discographies and/or videographies of each culture represented, however, is an oversight which, had they been included, would have provided a complimentary multimedia accompaniment to the rich musical and cultural information presented in the essays.

With descriptions of over fifteen world music ensembles, Performing Ethnomusicology constructs a mosaic of musical traditions, including Caribbean steel band, Indian, Balinese, Javanese, Philippine, Mexican, Central and West Africa, Japanese, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Jewish klezmer music, offered as performing ensembles in a variety of university music schools. All the articles in this anthology appear to have been written expressly for this collection, with an introduction by Ted Solís and contributors from other notable authorities like Gage Averill, Michelle Kisliuk, and Mantle Hood.

Performing Ethnomusicology is organized into four sections: 1) “Sounding the Other: academic world ensembles in historical perspective”; 2) “Square pegs and spokesfolk: serving and adapting to the academy”; 3) “Patchworkers, actors and ambassadors: representing ourselves and others”; 4) “Take-off points: creativity and pedagogical obligation,” which all deal with the principal challenges in teaching and transmitting knowledge about world music cultures through music ensembles. Part one begins with an article written by Richard D. Trimillos entitled “Subject, Object and the Ethnomusicology Ensemble: The Ethnomusicological ‘We’ and ‘Them.’” It examines world music ensembles as found at colleges and universities in the United-States from two perspectives: “subjective-personal” and “objective-general.” He uses his personal experience of forty years of involvement with world music ensembles as student, teacher, and administrator as a springboard for examining the history of the world music ensemble and present-day issues of the “other,” cultural heritage, teacher and ensemble credibility, mediation, and world music ensemble value within the academy.

The second article, “A Bridge to Java” is an interview with Hardja Susilo by David Harnish, Ted Solís, and J. Lawrence Witzleben. Hardja Susilo is a Gamelan teacher and performer from Yogyakarta who has been teaching Americans how to play for over forty years. His situation as a teacher of world music is different from, say, Michelle Kisliuk in the sense that he is a culture-bearer, a member of the culture he represents. Students in his ensembles learn to play instruments “in order to enhance their understanding of the musical tradition under study” (55). Central to this interview are issues about how to teach Western students how to think as Javanese musicians. Susilo expresses his difficulty with finding pedagogical strategies that would make literate learners successful in an aural tradition, emphasizing that “playing without notation would give a musician more freedom to add or to express appropriate feeling” (62) and that “learning a culture, in this case a music culture, is not just about learning how the natives physically do it, but also how they think about it” (58). The emic or insider knowledge about a culture and/or tradition is the focus of this chapter, but, simultaneously, it addresses other issues of appropriation, ownership, pedagogy, and diffusion in the United States.

In a similar vein and also written from the emic perspective, Sumarsam provides an overview of the history of Gamelan teaching and learning in Indonesia and its eventual dissemination to the United States in “Opportunity and Interaction.” Sumarsam links the study of Indonesian music directly with the initial development of ethnomusicology after World War II, outlining the lineage from Jaap Kunst and Mantle Hood, the first advocates of “bimusicality,” to present-day ethnomusicologists such as Sumarsam himself, who are responsible for world music ensembles in the academy today. Practical issues of pedagogical modifications for teaching students outside the tradition are discussed.

Gage Averill begins his essay, “Where’s ‘One’?: Musical Encounters of the Ensemble Kind” with a detailed description of a carnival he hosted at Wesleyan University to illustrate the layers of “performativity” that exist when performing world music. The carnival performance was meant to confront issues of race, class, representation, and cultural difference and to actively engage students and audience in critically evaluating whether “there is a space for critical and sensual involvement that doesn’t produce exoticist voyeurism” (94). He goes on to demonstrate the epistemology of world music ensembles and their pedagogical value, not only in the academy, but in the community at large. He brings to surface the many “thorny” political and cultural issues world music ensemble directors face when “exploiting” another’s culture and he likens what he calls “performative museums” which display exotic sounds, to object museums which display exotic artifacts of the colonized “Other.” In light of these “thorny” issues, Averill suggests that ethnomusicologists do not abandon the idea of university music ensembles, but replace the imitative nature of world music ensembles with more emphasis on discourse about cultural representation. The first section of this anthology consists of an overview of the core issues involved, both past and present, with world music ensembles in the academy.

Drawing on the historical and pedagogical foundations presented in part one, part two is more practical. Roger Vetter addresses three pragmatic aspects of the ensemble endeavour in his essay “Square Peg in a Round Hole”: “the objectives of the ensemble offering, the transmission of performance knowledge, and the public display of the music studied” (116). He focuses on the “canonic” ensemble paradigm and discusses its inappropriateness when applied to the world music ensemble. For example, in a canonic ensemble, students come to rehearsals already knowing how to play their instruments and are already versed in the tradition. Students who participate in the Gamelan ensemble come knowing nothing or very little about Gamelan playing technique or about Javanese culture. Vetter argues that to expect performance, which is the mandate of the canonic ensemble that in a way represents Javanese culture to American audiences after limited rehearsal time, is likened to “forcing a square peg into a round hole” (124). Vetter voices his frustrations with working within this inappropriate paradigm and suggests an idealized model, one in which students participate in a two to four year Gamelan ensemble where performance is recommended only after two years of intense preparation. This paradigm, unfortunately, is limited to music creation, and does not address the deeper issues of cultural representation and exploitation that ethnomusicologists battle with constantly.

David Harnish and J. Lawrence Witzleben add their personal experiences to the section’s pragmatic issues of “How does one become a director? How does one teach the music? In what context does one teach the music? How does one adapt to the institutional environment in which one finds oneself?” (126). Witaleben ends the second section by addressing concerns of authenticity and representation in his very unique situation whereby he is an “outsider” teaching Chinese and Javanese music in Hong Kong to “insiders.”

Part three is the most reflexive of ethnomusicologists’ individual learning and discusses how they render that knowledge to students and the general public. “Can’t Help but Speak, Can’t Help but Play” is an interview with Ali Jihad Racy by Scott Marcus and Ted Solís and addresses the dual personality of ethnomusicologists as performers and researchers and advocates “music cannot be fully represented though verbal discourse, but can be experienced intrinsically musical ways” (158). Arabic ethnomusicologist Ali Jihad Racy also talks about his concerns about performance instructors seen as “culture bearers, or some sort of messengers or ambassadors” (159) arguing that teachers are not people who somehow internalize the essence of their respective “static” cultures but are individuals who give students access to anther musical tradition and must be seen to represent the individual as well as their own interpretation of their culture.

“The African Ensemble in America” written by David Locke discusses volatile issues of race, globalization, imperialism, colonialism and Orientalism in the study of African music in the United States. With descriptions of his initial experience with African music, his personal interaction with African teachers, and his pedagogical style of teaching African music to American students at Tuft University, Locke envisions the African music ensemble as “a force for change” (184) and “space for political action” (185). He argues that African music performances in the United States “present highly charged issues in a powerful manner” (185) and “act to challenge stereotypes and empower others” (185). In “Klez Goes to College,” Hankus Netsky considers issues of reviving and transforming traditions in his discussion of Jewish klezmer music ensembles. While Netsky makes no attempt to address the concern of cultural representation, the article nevertheless examines a mixture of reasons why American students participate in klezmer ensembles. One interesting issue raised is that klezmer ensembles have become an “alternative point of access to Jewish culture for music students of Jewish or mixed heritage” (198). This section ends with a description of the Middle Eastern and Indian ensembles at the University of California. Like many other authors in this anthology, Scott Marcus discusses the challenge of continually directing an ensemble of beginners, because every semester “new people join in and other members leave” (202). He addresses the fact that due to the fluctuation of ensemble membership and the diversity of students “what worked for one ensemble is not necessarily appropriate for another” (211).

Part four deliberates the function of creativity in world music ensembles. Anne K. Rasmussen, Ted Solís, Michelle Kisliuk, Kelly Ross, and David W. Hughes contribute to this section’s discussion of how world music ensembles can make their own music, while simultaneously maintaining and disseminating grounded traditions. Anne K. Rasmussen advocates the value of performance in her article “Bilateral Negotiations in Bimusicality,” stating her unqualified assumptions that “students respond to learning through experience” (216) and “we represent the university and their respect for diversity, and we represent Middle Eastern, and especially Arab, culture and community in both the global and local sense to a huge number of people” (217). While she makes no attempt to clarify these assumptions, she however raises issues of differences in musical aesthetics, “insider-outsider” relations with Middle Eastern music, authenticity or the idea of the “real version” in Middle Eastern music, and musical ownership. Ted Solís disagrees with Rasmussen’s comment about world music ensembles representing culture and community, remarking contradictorily, “I feel more comfortable not representing myself or the ensemble as the cultural arm of an ethnic group or as supporters of the political aims of any group” (237). He goes on to argue that cultural and political affiliation with the ensemble is an “inhibitive burden” (237) and sees performance more as a space for personal challenge, membership collaboration, and enjoyment void of political of ethnic symbolism; the marimba ensemble as a vehicle for “pleasure that significantly increases through performative interaction” (246). Like others in this anthology, he regards his world music ensemble as a vehicle to make a difference, but unlike David Locke who states the world music ensemble is a “space for political action” (185), Solís maintains “making a difference through the marimba happens not necessarily through overt political or ethical symbolism, but through support of joyous, uninhibited collaboration” (247).

Michelle Kisliuk and Kelly Gross take a similar stance regarding performance in their article “What’s the ‘It’ that We Learn to Perform?” raising issues of environment, spatial connection, and energy flow of the group as being central to the success of the BaAka music ensemble’s performance. They advocate “interpretation” of BaAka music rather than “imitation” or “representation” arguing that in order to understand BaAka music and to create meaningful performances “we must actually become hyper-aware of the radical recontextualizations involved in the presentation of any world music, and perform with our particular awareness in mind” (252) and “We must take off with our BaAka style and make it our own — claim it by creating a new branch of the tradition that in fact defines us musically and socially” (249). Like Solís, Kisliuk and Gross see the performance ensemble as a “safe place” for expression and collective collaboration. Finally, David Hughes marks the end of part four with a discussion of his experiences with creativity in world music performance. While he indicates creativity can take many forms “variation, improvisation, composition, or ‘merely’ interpretation” (266), his discussion is strictly limited to improvisation as a form of creativity. He often confuses the two concepts, indicating improvisation is creativity. Nevertheless, he raises important issues about improvising in another culture’s music. The anthology closes with last words from Mantle Hood, the instigator of world music ensembles in the academy and the first advocate for “bimusicality.”

Critical thinking about world music and its transmission in the academy takes a step forward with this first publication to deal with creating, teaching, and contextualizing academic world music performing ensembles. Performing Ethnomusicology is a vital resource for scholars in disciplines such as music education, musicology, anthropology, folklore, ethnomusicology, and cultural studies where aspects of performance and transmission are significant.