I have often used the 15th-century Franco-Flemish composer Johannes Ockeghem as a whipping boy to underscore my field’s lingering, unrepentent obscurity. For example, I found it hilarious when I had an internship at the American Musicological Society’s office in Brunswick, Maine in the summer of 2010 that there was nothing much there other than this huge, unsold stack of Vol. 3 of Ockeghem’s collected works from 1992. The fancy, expensive books had obviously been sitting there since the AMS office moved there from Philadelphia in 2006. Now, in 2016 the office will be moving to New York City, and they’re trying to pawn the books off for just the cost of shipping and handling. It occurred to me that they might actually get rid of a few of them if they included some free Slap Chops!
I’m interested in proposing a paper for the 2016 Performance Studies Network conference at Bath Spa University. However, would the subject matter of my forthcoming listener’s guide to the music of thirty-year Bath area resident Peter Gabriel actually count? His “diverse, interdisciplinary developments,” “global perspective,” and so on certainly do seem to fit the themes of the conference, even though all of the confirmed activities are so far restricted to contemporary art music and world music. How could I afford to go, though?
Kelly J. Baker just posted an article called “Goodbye to All That,” about abandoning her recently-contracted plan to write an academic book on the cultural history of zombies. I have very similar feelings about my work on music in The Simpsons, including my proposed academic book, related possible journal articles, and already-presented conference papers (e.g., 2006, 2013). Without a tenure-track, professorial context, I have to let those types of academic things go and possibly reimagine them as public music history projects instead. I’ve already made that transition from my dissertation on the rock band Rush to Experiencing Rush: A Listener’s Companion (2014) and am currently working on Experiencing Peter Gabriel: A Listener’s Companion (2016). So, I don’t see why I should stop now. Maybe, I’ll be able to get to the point of making a living wage at it!
Institutionally-unaffiliated PhDs in my field are routinely swept under the carpet. Amanda Sewell’s report in the August 2015 newsletter of the American Musicological Society about an early 2015 conference on the Past, Present, and Future of Public Musicology confirms this by not bothering to mention my paper.
My contribution was called: “The Untapped Doctoral Majority of Potential Public Musicologists.” The paper begins by covering such things as:
- the over-supply of musicology PhDs for the number of academic positions
- what some musicology PhDs actually end up doing outside of academia
It continues by covering my:
- published and contracted books in public music history
- numerous reference articles for music encyclopedias
- IT studies in software development
- numerous programme notes, including web-based ones
- web development, including the AMS’s Doctoral Dissertations in Musicology
I also then explain that I created music history instructional videos and that I adapted my dissertation on the Canadian rock band Rush for a public book called Experiencing Rush: A Listener’s Companion (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014). I end the paper with an example from Chapter 1 of my forthcoming book in the same series: Experiencing Peter Gabriel: A Listener’s Companion.
I have done almost all of that work outside of conventional institutional contexts, so does that mean it doesn’t qualify as “public musicology”?! The Musicology Now (blog) version of the report is only slightly better, with one, highly-misleading sentence about my work: “Durrell Bowman (independent scholar) spoke of the challenges he has faced in the decade-long search for an academic position in musicology.” Both my assigned title of “independent scholar”–which I loathe, in favour of “public music historian”–and the falsely-reported subject matter of my paper–which is actually a whole bunch of things I have done in Public Musicology–may explain why the editor of the AMS newsletter decided to exclude it. Not surprisingly, the newsletter version of the report also excludes the following sentence: “Felicia Miyakawa (academic consultant) explained why she left a tenured position and chose to pursue public musicology.”
I can’t speak for Miyakawa, but “we” are not amused.
Is it likely that ageism is at play in the fields of musicology and ethnomusicology? I’ve just had a look at the 2014-15 Musicology/Ethnomusicology Wiki. Including the temporary/visiting positions and the handful of post-doctoral fellowships, the two fields produced 82 full-time positions this year. Of the 73 positions for which we know the person hired and giving 2016 as the benefit-of-the-doubt-year for the six hired ABD (all but dissertation), the average PhD year is 2012.5. That number includes outliers from 1998 (someone I know), 2003 x 2 (not including me, sadly), and 2006, but everyone else who was hired in 2015 completed his or her PhD between 2008 and 2016. The most hired-from year is 2014, and the 57 people in the five years from 2012 to 2016 represent 78% of the hires.
My earlier research shows that there are around 375 new PhDs produced in musicology and ethnomusicology each year. So, the backlog of career-age music scholars who have not ended up in full-time academic employment must number at least several thousand. Lots of older scholars continue to apply for full-time academic positions, but publishing books and articles, presenting conference papers, and/or working as a part-time adjunct instructor apparently makes very little difference. Promising, newly-minted thirty-year-olds almost always win out over experienced fifty-year-old PhDs. It’s impossible to prove for sure that ageism exists in all of this, but the statistics simply speak for themselves.
If at first you don’t succeed … you won’t!
I recently asked about arranging for status as a Visiting Scholar to the Music Department of Conrad Grebel University College at the University of Waterloo. That’s my undergraduate alma mater in the city where I now live again. They just agreed to that, which will give me such Faculty/Staff/Grad library privileges as term-long book loans, access to scholarly publications and media through inter-library loans, and internet access in an office/carrel-type setting. The scenario will definitely help me work more efficiently on my current book project: Experiencing Peter Gabriel: A Listener’s Companion. So, thanks to Grebel music chair Laura Gray and librarian Laureen Harder-Gissing!