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    Are We All Ethnomusicologists Now?

    Below are links to a current debate in the UK concerning ethnomusicology's growing territorial claims. Some may recognize echoes of what is happening in the US.

    City Debate topic: Are we all Ethnomusicologists now?

    (1June2016. City University London)


    Laudan Nooshin

    Position statement

    'Happy Families? Convergence, Antagonism and Disciplinary Identities or "We're all God knows what now" (Cook 2016)'

    Text & Slideshow available here:



    Responses from Rachel Cunniffe & Ben Smith can be found here:



    Ian Pace

    Position statement and commentary

    'My contribution to the debate "Are we all ethnomusicologists now?"':


    Pace (throwing down the glove):

    The very term ‘ethnomusicology’ has obvious implications through the use of the prefix ‘ethno’, which Nooshin and others have suggested is itself problematic. Despite the non-geographically-specific origins of the Greek term, nonetheless the long history of ‘ethnomusicology’ having dealt with musical cultures outside of the Western art tradition, whether folk and vernacular traditions in the West, or musical cultures (including ‘high cultures’) from the non-Western world in particular, together with the contemporary resonances of ‘ethno’ or ‘ethnic’, all suggest something post-colonial, anti-imperialist, on the side of the wider masses, and so on. Who of an even vaguely left-of-centre political persuasion would want to be seen opposing such a thing? But this is different when the object of study for this sub-discipline is Western art music, and it is on this body, or even canon, of work in English that I intend to concentrate today. In general, I believe it is always a cause for concern when any type of scholarship is judged more for its politics than its scholarly rigour, whatever those politics might be, and ethnomusicology of whatever type should not be immune from critique for purely political reasons.


    Later (12June2016), Pace posted, 'Quilting Points and Ethnomusicology', mostly extensive quotes from J.P.E. Harper-Scott's The Quilting Points of Musical Modernism: Revolution, Reaction, and William Walton:



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    • 2 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
    • @S_Soderberg. Stephen, it seems to me that the debate (as one can judge from the partial documents available), as interesting as it may be, merely repeats questions asked in vain since now almost half a century. I tend to believe that when questions lead to no answer, the problem is in the questions, not the answers.

      "Are We All Ethnomusicologists Now?" Is that a new avatar of the new musicology or critical musicology debate? I hope not. Ethnomusicology cannot be defined merely as a contextual musicology, one that considers anthropological, sociological and other contextual aspects; nor can musicology be defined as excluding these aspects. I do believe than an ethnomusicologist like Simha Arom is one who considers the music of the Aka Pygmees from a very formalist point of view -- not that he is not interested in contexts, but that contexts do not play an important role in his analyses.

      Ethnomusicology has been described as the study of the music of the other, a study conducted with both empathy and distance. And one soon realizes that most musics in the world, including Western music of even the least distant past, could not be studied otherwise. In this sense, we are all ethnomusicologists, indeed, and the medievists among us probably more than, say, those studying Romantic or early 20th-century music.

      Ethnomusicology cannot be defined by its corpus. I am not an ethnomusicologist; yet, I directed more than half a dozen PhD's on Arabic music. Some were about medieval theory, others about the analysis of traditional Egyptian or Tunisian music. My students were interested in contexts, but they also resented the need to study these musics in their autonomy (that is, also, in a way, not as ethnic musics). As Michael Spitzer said in his participation to the debate, "Rather than making a case for or against the possibility of total musical autonomy (and the implications of this for musical scholarship) formal music analysis can be simply seen as one crucial element of a multi-faceted toolkit required to consider a musical work in its totality." And this is, I presume, how my students viewed the matter and why they chose to work with me.

      I must confess some growing irritation at the recurrent rejection of any autonomous analysis of music. I don't mean, and never thought, that formal analysis would exhaust the matter. But, like Spitzer, I do believe that it is part of the multiple facets of musicology at large -- including ethnomusicology.




    • Wasn't Debussy influenced by Indonesian Gamelon music he heard at the World's Fair in Paris in the last past of the 19th century?  Didn't Mozart compose music based on impressions of Turkish military marches? Didn't Bartok and Kodaly study ethnic folk music?  Didn't Paul Simon incorporate South African and South American music in the Graceland album and "El Condor Pasa?"  Didn't the Kronos Quartet make a record with Mongolian throat singing music.  Didn't Yo Yo Ma do an album called "The Silk Road Project?"  Forgive me for saying this,but musicians are interested in sound and music regardless of where it comes from . . . and yes, we are all musicologists and ethnomusicologists.  So some stuffy academic needs a title to substantiate their self importance,  As Frank Zappa said, "music is best."