Monday, July 7, 2008

America the Musicful

The 4th seems to inspire in several of my friends an amount of personal self-searching about nationalism and what it means to be American and patriotic. For me this year it was a little different; I've wondered what it means for me to be an Americanist.

I don't put a whole lot of stock in labels. I don't consider myself fixed into historical musicology, finding ethnomusicology has a lot to offer my work and experience. I don't limit my musical experience to just American music. That would be silly. And yet I do readily consider my primary interest to be American music, in a way that strikes me as similar to my identifying as an American. There's a part that finds it pure chance. I grew up here, with this music, and that's just what happens to grab my interest most. But it goes beyond that. My main investment in these categories is one of duty. Both are collective groups of which I am a part, and feel that I should contribute my opinions and actions toward their improvement. Both can provoke healthy, enlightening debates. And that is what I choose to celebrate.

All this comes on the heels of an intriguing post at Dial M and my own dissertation digging on the subject of nationalism. Locke's post raises an interesting conundrum. Taruskin's article does indeed call the bluff on the claim of German universalism, but the Florida case does an even greater service by noting how fraught with divisiveness any attempt and nationalism is. The act of musical performance is especially intriguing, as the meaning can shift depending on context: composition, performance, and reception all factor in, and it's rare that all three will coalesce into the perfect union one might conjure up from the word "nationalism." There's too much assumption these days in the word that it means unity, when it can also mean power imbalances, struggles, change. And Locke is absolutely right in guessing that our pop music says something about us and in hoping that we can have these discussions. And I will add my hopes: that my own work and voice will contribute something to not just to my discipline, but to the public at large. Responsible citizenship is an essential part of responsible musicology, or at least it is for me.


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