Saturday, June 6, 2015

Dominique-René de Lerma: Gradus Ad Musikwissenschaft

The Music of Black Americans: A History
Third Edition
Eileen Southern
W. W. Norton & Co. (1997)

Dominique-René de Lerma:


In recent decades we have seen the emergence of many scholars whose efforts have centered on at least one of the boundless areas of Black music.  If the definition of a musicologist is one with a Ph.D. who publishes, the field was almost uninhabited only a few decades ago.  True, Eileen Southern did write on Black music for her master's degree, but moved to the safer ground of earlier keyboard music for her doctorate.  When I saw her name among the registrants for the 1969 Black music conference, I wondered why this Renaissance scholar was attending, but then I met her.  She had just begun work on her book, The music of Black Americans, by which she would soon be known.  For my part, my dissertation had been on Mozart, who has nonetheless remained one of my dearest and most beloved friends, although one seriously neglected.  In the wings was Arthur LaBrew, who ended his formal education with a master's, but began publishing as if he had the doctorate.  The fourth in this quartet of generalists was Samuel Floyd, then a percussionist with a doctorate in music education, who came on that almost vacant stage after reading Eileen's work.  Ironically, it seems as if none of us became mentors, only Eileen excepted in the case of Josephine Wright.
Not one of this quartet evolved fully on the orthodox ordained path, but this has now been charted differently.  It has now become acceptable, not just to offer a course dedicated to American music, but to write a dissertation on Duke Ellington, and even on Robert Johnson!  The route toward Black music specialization has nonetheless not been abbreviated.
Term papers are submitted at the end of an undergraduate course and are not expected to be either lengthy or original.  They are to be the amalgamation of information culled from a few often elementary sources as a preliminary exercise in research and writing.  As in all such projects through the dissertation, the professor should know enough about the subject to evaluate its accuracy, and the library should have a good representation of the subject within its holdings, perhaps also with the luxury of guides to direct the student in the right direction and a tireless reference librarian.  A student I once had submitted a paper on William Warfield that I recognized immediately as being a transcription of the Warfield entry in Eileen Southern's Biographical dictionary of Afro-American and African musicians.  It would have been suspect anyway; I knew the student was not that literate.  He was informed that his paper only tested his keyboard facility, that when just one source is consulted it is plagiarism (I didn't follow up by stating  two sources then constitute research).  He not only failed to meet a basic class standard, he was in violation of copyright infringement.
While initially perusing any paper, a grammatical error becomes a red thumb, if not a red light.  Most often a split infinitive is encountered (and seems to be very much in vogue; even President Obama split two in his second State of the Union address) -- to carefully do something has joined Nixonianisms, like "at this point in time."  With less frequency, media and data are thought to be singular, but there remain other errors that should have been expunged well before college. Do you say "none are" or "none is"?  Is anything misleading by saying "I appreciate you doing that"?
The novice may find that Carry me back to old Virginny is the work of a Black composer or that the Kreutzer sonata was originally dedicated to a Black violinist!  In the excitement of such a discovery, the young author fanfares news that we have all known since we were naïve neophytes, but no matter: we all had to find this out by our freshman year.
The next level obligates a little deeper digging and thought.  The second paper might be on the rhythmic relationship of the text and music in Bland's songs, or on Bridgetower's second visit to Vienna.
By this time the student might be engaged in graduate studies, especially if the research bug has been effective following dormant undergraduate years.  Let us hope that those initial years had a focus on serious performance; we have no more need for musicologists who cannot read a score, who do not know how to make music, who have failed their undergraduate juries in trumpet!  As it happens anyway, undergraduates typically major in performance, usually not giving a benevolent thought to research.
When contemplating graduate studies, one now being curious about Black music suspects this can only be supported by majoring in ethnomusicology -- and this has certainly been true in the past, especially at schools whose pristine halls were out of bounds to the unwashed (halls in which I dwelled for 14 years with a useless mop).  That student then might not get the perspective to support some aspects of Black music -- harmonic analysis or the concerto grosso's ripieno -- while the one who is accepted within the music school may have to learn elsewhere about candomblé or the dùndún but may know quite a bit about the gamelan and maqam.  But that reminds me of a comment I made years ago to soprano Kishna Davis at Morgan State University: "Don't blame Morgan for what you don't know!"

Dominique-René de Lerma

No comments: