“Public Musicologists” Ignore Public Musicology

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:

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.

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Visiting Scholar Status

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!

An excerpt from Chapter 3 of “Experiencing Peter Gabriel”

Around the same time, Gabriel made an orchestra-accompanied cover version of the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” for an obscure film of war-related footage and news headlines and clips from war movies combined with new versions of Beatles’ songs, called All This and World War II. The film and soundtrack double-album also include recordings by the Bee Gees, Leo Sayer, Tina Turner, Elton John, Frankie Valli, Rod Stewart, the London Symphony Orchestra, and numerous others, as released in November of 1976. Gabriel’s version of that Beatles’ song was thus his first solo release, and it is fairly charming, although he occasionally sounds rather like Kermit the Frog. He later worked on a number of film scores and film songs from 1984 to 2008 and then revisited the idea of orchestra-accompanied cover versions much more extensively on his 2010 album Scratch My Back. In a related project, the 2013 response-album And I’ll Scratch Yours includes other artists’ stylistically-distinctive cover versions of some of Gabriel’s songs.

Classical Styles & Sources in Early Progressive Rock by Genesis, 1969-72

My conference paper on early Genesis is now available: Classical Styles & Sources in Early Progressive Rock by Genesis, 1969-72. I derived it from the first two chapters of my forthcoming book, Experiencing Peter Gabriel: A Listener’s Companion.

Another Excellent Review of “Experiencing Rush”

Here’s another excellent review of Experiencing Rush. I don’t agree with the reviewer that Rush “wanted to play essentially power pop.” However, he usually writes about death metal, so I suppose I can understand why the band’s music might seem that way to him! Otherwise, he really does completely get what I was trying to do.

Excerpts:

  • “Unlike most rock writers, he focuses on the output from the band rather than the discussion or buzz surrounding it … .”
  • “… intelligently look[s] into the music as a series of patterns and avoid[s] a deep immersion in music theory. As a result, Bowman compares abstract patterns found in the music to what they symbolize in life … .”
  • “… Bowman stands heads above the other writers on this topic.”
  • “… shows us what rock journalism could be — some of us would say should be — by digging into this band in the only way that honors their efforts, which is to take them seriously as people by investigating their art for what it attempts to express as a communication between artist and fans.”
  • “… avoid[s] academic-ese and also rock journalist ideo-jive, and instead look[s] at this band with an intelligent common-sense approach by picking apart each song to see what makes it work, both as a communications device and as an experience to enjoy. With the force of Rush fans behind him, hopefully Bowman can convince more of the music world to join him in this approach, which like the scientific method for materials should be the de facto standard for music.”

Experiencing Peter Gabriel: A Listener’s Companion

Please read the book summary and writing sample for my next book, which I expect to be published by the spring of 2016.

Public Intellectuals

Mark Greif’s “What’s Wrong with Public Intellectuals?” gets at the issues that are also keeping the supposedly quite new area of “public musicology” about forty to eighty years behind the times: http://chronicle.com/article/Whats-Wrong-With-Public/189921/

Excerpt:

“A large pool of disgruntled free-thinking people who are not actually starving, gathered in many local physical centers, whose vocation leads them to amass an enormous quantity of knowledge and skill in disputation, and who possess 24-hour access to research libraries, might be the most publicly argumentative the world has known.”

My Comment:

That might actually work if the 83% of PhDs who never land permanent, full-time academic positions actually had 24-hour access to research libraries. I certainly have no such access myself, and neither does most of that “large pool.” Also, my attempt at a collaborative website for public music history & culture, OurMus.Net, did not succeed for reasons similar to the difficulty Greif and his colleagues at n+1 had in soliciting useful public writing from early-career academics. Most such people simply don’t know how to write for anyone other than themselves. That has got to change.