We welcome Jonathan De Souza, graduate student in the Department of Music presenting: “Take Me Back To That Beautiful Indian Country That I Love: Western Musicals and American Cultural Memory.”
Abstract: When westerns express nostalgia for the frontier, they embody a modern form of cultural memory, based in mass media. These films depict historical realities, yet they tend to be highly stylized: their stock images, characters, and plotlines all contribute to a mythology that engages nationalism, modernity, gender, and race. Music participates in these representations in various ways. Realist film westerns, for example, often use diegetic period music to enhance a sense of authenticity. But music may also highlight the medium’s artificiality, especially when song and dance take center stage. This presentation will explore movies that blend the western’s conventions and concerns with those of the Hollywood musical. From Song of the West (1930) to The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982)—that is, from Oscar Hammerstein to Dolly Parton—this subgenre combines the western’s longing for an American past with the musical’s romantic vision. I consider how this blend leads to tensions—between masculine and feminine roles, the urban and the rural, or folk and Broadway styles—and how such tensions are expressed in particular films. Western musicals, I will argue, recall historical trauma in ritualized form, offering affective experiences of the Old West and constructing the country through song.
Bio: Jonathan De Souza is a PhD student in Music History and Theory in the Department of Music at the University of Chicago. He received his MMus in Theory and Analysis at Royal Holloway, University of London. His interests include: Perception and conceptualization of musical texture; film musicals and cultural memory; indeterminate music, analysis, and discourse (Cage, Boulez, Feldman).
Ethnoise! The Ethnomusicology Workshop
Thursday, February 25, 2010