On this rainy afternoon in New York City, I’d like to begin a conversation on applying to graduate schools in ethnomusicology. There’s certainly not one way to do this. I’m not an expert or a guidance counselor. All I can offer are my reflections from recently completing the process – a process that moved along more smoothly thanks to the help of those who had already been there.
Today I’m writing from University of California Los Angeles, where I’m visiting as a prospective student in the ethnomusicology graduate department. Aside from savoring the sunshine, I’ve met with professors, observed a graduate seminar on current issues in ethnomusicology, and talked with current students about their experiences. As members of the Society for Ethnomusicology Student Union, we would love to feature posts about student life, including selecting programs of study. We’re still looking for guest contributors, so drop us a comment if you’re interested!
Because I’m just a few months away from beginning graduate school, this seems like a great time to continue reflecting on my undergraduate fieldwork. Today particularly, I’d like to tell you about the musical elements of the Bahá’í Choral Music Festival.
One of the reasons I love ethnomusicology is its interdisciplinary nature. In order to write an ethnography on the Bahá’í Choral Music Festival, I drew on history, religious studies, and anthropology to gain a clearer picture. This morning, I’m offering some brief background on the world religion that inspires the annual festival I studied.
Hello blog readers!
I was recently involved in a Chinese jingju (Beijing opera) production at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (UHM). That’s me in the front, second from the right, holding the sanxian (three-string plucked Chinese lute) in the picture. The University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s theatre program presents one main stage Asian theatre production every year, performed by university students. Jingju in particular has been a staple at the University of Hawaii for the past twenty-five years, and every four years, the theatre department mounts an English-language jingju production. For this year’s production, actors and musicians trained for a full year with three professional jingju performers from China – for the musicians, this involved learning playing technique, rhythmic and melodic patterns, and jingju style, or “flavor,” of playing these instruments. A previous blog post discussed the importance of “performing” ethnomusicology, and in that same vein, having the opportunity to perform jingju was a very passionate and exciting experience, and provided an excellent educational opportunity for learning more about a genre through first-hand exposure and participation. This experience also got me thinking critically about cultural change, issues of authenticity, essentialization of cultural elements, and cross-cultural interaction, and the ethical challenges that adaptation can present to the critical ethnomusicologist. While I don’t necessarily have any clear-cut solutions for overcoming the ethical issues I was confronted with in this production, or whether this is even a scenario that needs “solving,” I wanted to share my experience as food for thought.
My dear readers, on this fine Wednesday evening, I want to share with you the backstory for my ethnography on the Bahá’í Choral Music Festival. How did I choose a topic? Because ethnomusicology is a field not limited by geographic boundaries, it may seem nigh impossible to select just one location, culture, or music to study. In my case, I followed where my enthusiasm led.