My Music. By Susan D. Crafts, Daniel Cavicchi, Charles Keil and the Music in Daily Life Project. (Music/Culture.) Hanover, N.H.: Wesleyan University Press, 1993 [xxiii, 218 p. ISBN 0-8195-5257-7. $39.50.]
Community of Music: An Ethnographic Seminar in Champaign-Urbana. Edited by Tamara E. Livingston, Melinda Russell, Larry F. Ward, and Bruno Nettl. Champaign, Ill.: Elephant & Cat, 1993. [viii, 201 p. No ISBN. (pbk.).]
Book review by Jason Gibbs
Notes (June 1995) vol. 51, no. 4, pp.1349-1351.
My Music is the product of a series of undergraduate and graduate seminars at the State University of New York at Buffalo in the 1980s called the "Music in Daily Life Project." Participants in the project conducted around 150 interviews with people concerning the role that music plays in their lives. The bulk of the volume is devoted to forty-one of these conversations.
Each interview is minimally situated, identifying only the subject's first name, ethnicity, age, job, or educational status, and sometimes their relationship to the interviewer. Just three or four pages can reveal a great deal about people and their involvement with music. Adolescents align themselves with their peers through their musical preferences, while college-age respondents use music as an emblem of their individualism. In many cases music functions as a kind of soundtrack, as a source of relaxation and entertainment, or mood alteration. One respondent assembles tapes of her favorite songs organized by theme and mood. Another thinks of her car radio as a refuge from other, harrying sounds of the world.
Many of the respondents make music, through rapping, singing in church choirs, or playing in rock bands or jazz combos. Playing the violin is a solitary pleasure for a sixteen year old Juilliard student who describes music as "the only medium [that] I can ... put all my emotions into" (p. 54). One man composes music because "[I] just wanted to express myself instead of expressing the ideas of other people" (p. 156). Other subject describe their participation as audience members. One goes to see live music partially out of curiosity about who his fellow fans are, while another describes that when going to concerts as a young woman she "was more interested in noticing the old Boston matrons coming in and what kinds of hats they had on" (p. 198).
My Music shows that people have remarkable abilities to reflect upon and analyze music and its role in society. One young respondent talks about a kind of contemplative listening she enjoys that requires concentration, "like ... you're reading a book and it has some really tough words and you have to read it slowly and think about each word" (p 29). Music for another person carries a train of memories: "Sometimes you'll hear a song that will remind you someone who is dead, or remind you of someone that you knew and don't anymore, or maybe it'll remind you of a situation of time that was and isn't anymore" (p. 164).
In his foreword George Lipsitz characterize the unique contribution of this book as getting around the views of professionals and other mediators to see how music enters into people's lives and to examine "the knowledge that people have about how they use and enjoy music in their own lives" (p. xii). The range of musical interests and approaches is very impressive. Nonetheless, the compilers seem unprepared for this extensive musical knowledge, showing their unfamiliarity with composer Charles Griffes who is rendered as "Griffis" (p. 135) and by identifying the jazz group Pieces of a Dream as a song title (p. 175). The index to the book is also disappointing, including only famous composers and popular musicians while excluding less popular interests or references to non-Western musics. In one beautiful passage a man speaks of the emotional impact of listening to a recording of Paul Robeson, just one of the names left out of the index (p. 185).
For many of the respondents music is almost synonymous with sound recordings or media. In the introduction, Charles Keil offers a cautionary note that "[e]lectronic recordings and mass mediation have given us opportunities to put much more music into each of our lives, but reading all these interviews may leave you wondering if this is entirely a good thing. Are we enriching our private lives at the expense of a broader sociability?" (p. 2). He despairs that people are increasingly preoccupied with "my music" instead of a more communal "our music" (p .3).
Community of Music is a collection of essays taking up this subject of "our music." The authors, all affiliated at some time with the University of Illinois, examine a variety of institutions in Champaign-Urbana where people come together to make, listen to, study, or talk about music. These settings are as diverse as living rooms, nightclubs, record stores, and the University itself. In many cases the author is a member of the community he or she writes about, including musical ensembles in which they participate.
Subprograms within the School of Music are a rich source of study. A chapter by Patricia Sandler focuses upon the complexities of gender issues and discrimination in the School. Academia, like the world at large, stereotypes the abilities of men and women and usually places men in positions of authority. The essay also describes sexual politics on an interpersonal level, noting the jealousies of female performance students towards each other vis-a-vis their relationships with their male instructor, while at the same time worrying about being seen as "using obsequiousness to get grades" (p. 152). Further confusing the picture we learn that male students are resentful of the extra attention these professors show their female students (p. 153).
Bruno Nettl's essay "A Place for All Musics? The Concentric Circles of the Music Building" (pp. 93-105) examines the framework of the music building as a community by looking at its beliefs and values. He notes that although called the "School of Music," it is "clearly not devoted to the study, and certainly not to the advocacy, of all music," and in actuality actively excludes certain music genres (p. 93). As an example, he examines the catalogue in the Music Library to demonstrate the degree of nuance in assigning subject headings to Western classical music, but the narrowness of the subject headings for popular and non-Western musics p. 94). Nettl has recently written about the value systems of music departments in "Heartland Excursions: Exercises in Musical Ethnography" (World of Music 34 : 8-34).
Two authors examine the role of music in expatriate and refugee communities. One compares two Korean immigrant musical organizations, a church choir singing Western-style hymns in Korean, and a traditional music ensemble. The former primarily provides a social outlet, while the latter allows expatriates to learn more about their culture and celebrate their identity. Another essay shows the role of music in the Persian expatriate community in trying to "create a sense of life as it used to be" in Iran (p. 194).
The prevailing subject matter of ethnomusicology has traditionally been the music of unusual people in remote or faraway places. These two books use the tools of ethnology and find the exotic in the familiar and close at hand. This new focus on the local may reflect a rejection of cultural imperialism of the ethnomusicologist as outsider presuming to understand a less materially developed culture, or may merely reflect that funding for research abroad is dwindling. Nonetheless, this approach reveals that our own society has an active and extensive musical life. For every "genius" or virtuoso in the spotlight there are thousands of people involved in creating the musical life of the United States by participating in church choirs, singing karaoke, hanging out at country and western bars, or listening intently on headphones. By studying people and their musical passions and commitments, these two books provide a glimpse of this world.