Thinking from the Stage? Initial Reflections

I want to invite you to look at the following pictures. They are all photos of the main stage of the International Festival of the Celtic World of Ortigueira, a music event celebrated annually (since 1978) in the town of Ortigueira, northwestern Galicia, Spain.


Picture by Álvaro Fernández Polo. Men from Ortigueira working as volunteers to build the festival stage (1980).

Picture by Álvaro Fernández Polo (from his personal collection). Men from Ortigueira working as volunteers to build the festival stage (1980).


Picture given by instrument maker Antón Corral (in front). Here, we can see the Bagpipe School of Ortigueira playing on the locally built wooden stage. A small Galician flag waves from the proscenium. Continue reading

Music in the Desert

Liza here. Greetings from Rabat!

This summer, I’m spending two months in Morocco at an intensive Arabic language school called Qalam wa Lawh. Although my primary reason for being here is to improve my Arabic speaking abilities, as an ethnomusicology student, I can’t help but follow the music.

Photo by Teresa Barros-Bailey

Photo by Teresa Barros-Bailey

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Music from the Field

Hi Everyone!

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.

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Bahá’í What?

Bahá’í House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois Photo by Ron Lynch

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.

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A Case of Ethics and Adaptation


Photo from a production of Lady Mu and the Yang Family Generals at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, February 2014.

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.

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Photos from the Field

Selected Bahá’í music-makers! Photo by Ron Lynch

Photo from a regional Bahá'í conference in Lusaka, Zambia, 2009.

Photo from a regional Bahá’í conference in Lusaka, Zambia, 2009.

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.

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Who are we, and what do we do?


Photo by Ron Lynch

Good morning! This is Liza, your behind-the-scenes contributor to our lovely SEM Student Union blog. Today we’re beginning a new series of posts, called “Photos from the Field.” Here, our contributors will use multimedia from their ethnomusicology fieldwork experiences to begin to answer that elusive question, “what do you DO with a degree in ethnomusicology?” I haven’t yet started my graduate work, but I’ll show you what undergrad fieldwork can look like.

For my senior honors thesis at Franklin and Marshall College, I conducted an ethnography of the Bahá’í Choral Music Festival, held in May, 2013. Conducted by Van Gilmer, the almost 200 person choir rehearsed sacred a cappella music together for two and a half days, culminating in two devotional concerts on Sunday morning. I sat in on all of this process, taking notes, making recordings, and interviewing participants. The choir’s repertoire ranged from gospel pieces composed by Gilmer, using sacred texts from the Bahá’í Faith in its lyrics, to a haunting Arabic chant, to Bach’s Dona Nobis Pacem. Ron Lynch’s photo from the festival, featured above, shows Gilmer conducting the choir on the steps of the Bahá’í House of Worship, in Wilmette, Illinois, for some lively post-concert singing.

Want to hear more about the choir and my ethnography? Stay tuned!

Liza Munk