To our great joy, the Society for Ethnomusicology Student Union blog turns one this month! To celebrate the occasion, we offer you reflections on a year of blogging from the SEM SU blog core team – Liza, Ana, and Heather. We loved working together to create this collaboration – it’s our first post featuring all three of us. Even more so, we look forward to another year ahead. One of our many goals is to make this blog a space for dialogue, so if you’re here now, let us know what you think! How has the blog served you so far, and what can we do to better reach you? All of our thanks for sticking around!
Looking Back on the Field
Photos are one of my favorite ways to remember. It’s been eight months since I flew to Morocco to study Arabic, twenty-one since I attended the Baha’i Choral Music Festival, and one year since we started the SEM Student Union Blog! Contributing to our site has been an incredible experience, and I’m so thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to share some of my early field experiences with you.
Remember this shot by my friend and classmate, Teresa Barros-Bailey? She captured Gnawa musicians performing for us at their restaurant in the desert regions of Morocco. I found myself caught between tourist and ethnomusicologist, loving their music, and wondering how it might differ when performed off-stage.
When we started the SEM SU blog, I hadn’t yet graduated from college, but had already found myself in the field. While in other spaces, conversations about undergrad research rarely get airtime, but the SEM SU hosted a series of posts about my college honors thesis work on the Baha’i Choral Music Festival – a wonderfully diverse annual ensemble conducted by Van Gilmer at the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois.
Now I’m in my first year of grad school at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and look forward to sharing new field experiences with you as they unfold!
Students Doing, Students Thinking, Students Talking: Students, Gerunds, and the SEM Student Union Blog
In a interview entitled “Education: A Battlefield,” Colombian scholar Estanislao-Zuleta was asked to explain his view on education as an action that “intimidated” the process of thinking. He justified his affirmation through different claims, including the presence of a hierarchical order in the classroom (an order that tended to place the professor and his or her knowledge above that of the students), and on the fact that, within the secondary education system (which he was specifically referring to), students were neither recognized nor respected as independent thinkers. Although, fortunately, this does not represent my own privileged experience within the Colombian, U.S, or European education systems, Zuleta’s statements allow me to explain why participating in the making of this blog has been such an important learning experience for me.
The SEM Student Union blog is a non-hierarchical space. We all recognize each other as independent thinkers, and so we are free to propose projects, accept them, suggest any changes we find pertinent, and, most importantly, we are totally free to disagree. The flexibility of this work environment has thus allowed me to freely think and talk with my peers, having in mind a main and common collective project: that of thinking and attempting to answer questions such as: How do we want our “student” SEM to be? What is important for us as present/future ethnomusicologists? What problems do we think ethno students are facing, and what can we do to tackle them or, at least, how can we bring them to the foreground?
In my view, this blog is emerging as a “gerund”, or better, a space of action. This can be clearly seen in what is starting to happen with our “In Discipline” project. We started this project for a number of reasons, including 1) our wish to open up a space for students in Europe to tell us about their experiences in the midst of the current economic crisis, 2) to actively make the SEM Student Union blog a multilingual space, and 3) to connect students (writers) with students (readers). This collaborative project is already pointing towards the construction of future ties and connections. It has brought us close to a number of ethnomusicology student groups from different places, and, as our readers will be able to see in a near future, “In Discipline” is also inspiring other, very interesting projects. So I am really happy to celebrate the first anniversary of this blog-space where students are thinking, talking, and acting in a non-hierarchical kind of way.
Writing for a New Audience
I honestly thought it would be easy to write a reflection on this past year of blog work, but as I sat down to actually do it, I was overwhelmed with thoughts and topics. I’ve never written for a blog before, and I had no idea going in the places it would take me. I’m so thankful for the opportunities to share my thoughts about ethnomusicology with whoever wants to read them. But I’m all the more thankful to be able to talk through these thoughts with Ana and Liza and other ethno students from around the world.
In going back over all the posts we’ve shared over the past year, I’m struck by how this blog has offered me a way of unpacking what ethnomusicology is, does, and can be. We’ve tried, not necessarily to solve anything, but to engage with issues that our professors faced, issues that are brand new to our generation of scholars, and issues that future ethno students may encounter. The blog has been a place where we can write, with sincerity, seriousness, and humor, but most of all—as Ana has said—with freedom. Writing is something that ethnomusicologists (will) do for the entirety of their careers, if not their lives. Writers always write with a particular audience in mind. For students, that audience is almost always our professors. Even when we have works published in journals, I think we tend to write with our profs or other established scholars in mind; after all, it’s their work we’re always quoting. I recently had a friend express indecision about quoting several of his fellow-students’ dissertations because they weren’t published yet. Writing for the SU blog is the first time I’ve written for an audience of my peers, for the people I’m not quoting yet, but will be very soon. It’s as liberating as it is terrifying, and I’ve enjoyed every minute.