Another Chapter, Another Exam

Posted: June 7, 2020 in All Things Ethnomusicological, Music, Music History, Music of the Black Atlantic
Tags: ,

I typically use this blog to track my travel adventures, but occasionally I co-opt my own space for other topics, such as back in 2017 when I shared information about music styles to help myself study for a giant ethnomusicology exam.

I failed at posting consistently back then, but now I have another chance. I’ll be taking my 2nd comp exam, the last step (aside from a dissertation proposal defense) before I move from being a PhD student to an ABD (All But Dissertation) PhD candidate. I have two reading lists to study, each composed of 100+ academic sources I need to know inside and out. I chose the topics for my lists last year and gathered hundreds of sources (more than the ~200 that make up the final lists, since I had to submit drafts and add/remove sources based on feedback).

My two lists are “Music and Disability Studies” and “Music of the Black Atlantic.” I chose the first list because it was directly related to my original dissertation project (which has now changed because of COVID-19) and for its relevance to my role as an educator. I chose the second because as a jazz musician and music educator it is critical for me to be familiar with Black music history and accompanying racial injustices. I don’t see this as optional and I will never finish learning.

As you might imagine, right now my focus is on my “Music of the Black Atlantic” list. Never would I have predicted that a public health crisis (COVID-19) paired with another public health crisis (racism) and the national response would motivate me to study, but the events of 2020 have lit a fire. I need to know these sources inside and out, and I intend to.

For the next 10 weeks I will post about what I learn from studying. Although the “Black Atlantic” list focuses on music traditions and experiences in many countries besides the US, I’m going to start with the sources that specifically focus on Black American music experiences. A lot of people are more motivated than usual to learn about race-related topics right now, and I have a unique opportunity to share information while simultaneously helping myself study. I am absolutely not the most important voice in the stream and I do not intend to distract from those sharing important information. This is to help myself study, and I welcome anyone who would like to come along for the ride.

Over the next few weeks I will pick out some of the most relevant and interesting parts of what I’m reading to highlight here. We will learn about protest anthems and freedom songs, “blacksound,” the appropriation of black culture through minstrelsy, what is meant by “Black Atlantic,” etc. I will not share everything I read (maybe one post per week? We’ll see…) and if something is particularly academic and jargon-filled I will do my best to break it down. The intention of this first post is keep myself accountable so that I follow through with this endeavor.

In their 2017 piece entitled “Ethnography, Sound Studies and the Black Atlantic,” Whitney J. Slaten and Michael Veal focus on humanizing aspects of black popular music studies. They write:

African Americans are probably the only culture on planet Earth in which every generation has to essentially reinvent the wheel. And while it’s great for things like artistic creativity, it’s terrible for long-term cultural stability. Only a small number of exceptional people are going to be able to prosper within that paradigm. So until we deal with that reality, we won’t be able to set the proper course into whatever the future may hold.

Slaten, Whitney Jesse, and Michael Veal. 2017. “Ethnography, Sound Studies and the Black Atlantic.” Current Musicology. 99-100 (Spring): 21-36.

Let’s deal with that reality.

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