The Music, Language, and Culture Workshop

TUESDAY 12 November – SEM Conference Dry Run

Dear All, please join us for the Society for Ethnomusicology conference dry run. At this session, UChicago graduate students who are presenting at the approaching conference in Indianapolis will have the opportunity to workshop their papers before the big day. In addition, UChicago visiting student (2011-12) Siel Agugliaro will share his AMS paper with us.

NB. This session will be held on the TUESDAY (rather than the usual Thursday slot), beginning at 5.00pm in JRL 264. We hope to see lots of you there to support our presenters.

Presenters include Nadia Chana, Alisha Jones, Danny Gough, and Siel Agugliaro.


Nadia Chana:  “You Need Equal Measures of Extreme Joy and ‘Don’t Fuck With Me’”: An Embodied Approach to the Ethnography of Singing

Tomie Hahn, Priya Srinivasan, Elisabeth Le Guin, and other ethnographers who have an active music or dance practice stress the importance of embodied knowledge to understanding music and dance, often looking to their own bodies as field sites. To Toronto-based voice teacher, Fides Krucker, this act of looking into the body to see what is inscribed there is foundational for singing. Responding to these scholars and to my work with Fides, I mine my bodily archive for my embodied knowledge of singing. I trace how Fides’ teaching, specifically via a concept of vocal technique that is closely knit with emotion, gives rise to a worldview. For Fides there is no clear boundary between one’s audible voice and one’s metaphoric voice. She points out, for example, links between a decreased ability to say no and an inability to muster adequate subglottal pressure, or a habit of feigned cheeriness and decreased ability to allow the voice darker resonances. She has been known to say, pointing to her sternum, “Behind here you need equal parts of extreme joy and ‘don’t fuck with me.’” In asking questions about how these specific voice practices become worldviews, some broader questions about ethnography become pertinent: What does it mean to write about Fides’ work when Fides herself is writing a book? How does a worldview arising from an ethnographer’s embodied practice shape her approach to ethnography in general? More specifically, what happens when it is the interlocutor who has helped the ethnographer find her metaphoric voice?

Alisha Jones: “I Shall Get Home Someday”: Black Countertenors, Bio-Musicality, and Gendered Gospel Performance

Countertenors are typically men who perform music that matches the vocal range and timbre of female contraltos and mezzo-sopranos in the Western art music tradition. These men are typically trained to deploy a full-bodied vocal delivery such that listeners are unable to determine whether the sound is emanating from a male or female body. Black male operatic countertenors who perform in Christian churches and other gospel settings must contend with a distinct set of cultural tensions to demonstrate their performative competency. Music ministers also face challenges in choosing repertoire for countertenors, particularly when those ministers lack experience working with men with that vocal designation. Shared anxieties concerning uses of the body in performance reveal the ways in which black male gesture is a contested component within gospel contexts.

 Drawing on a case study of a black male countertenor and ethnography of his performance, this paper explores perceptions of a sexually indistinguishable vocal sound. I highlight the sociotheological complications that arise as sonically ambiguous performances of gender compete with longstanding heteronormative constructs. In what ways do countertenors negotiate their performances of sexuality and gender in gospel performance? How do bio-musical perceptions shape notions of communal identity and belonging? I suggest that bio-musicality offers a fresh way of thinking through these questions and about the broader role of gendered sound in black performance.

Siel Agugliaro:  The illuminated factory. La Scala and its concerts in Milanese factories (1974-1979)

The social and political struggles that afflicted Italy for an entire decade after 1968 led to criticism against those institutions that, more than others, showed the persistence of precise social boundaries. Despite the fact that the Teatro alla Scala was a publicly funded opera house, its high ticket prices still created a barrier that made the theatre one of the favorite meeting-places of the Milanese bourgeoisie. For this reason, charges of elitism were often directed to La Scala and its cultural policies. In reaction to this situation, superintendents Antonio Ghiringhelli (1948-1972) and Paolo Grassi (1972-1977) endeavored to strengthen La Scala’s roots on the local territory, at the same time encouraging a larger involvement of the lower class and thus implicitly denying the idea of La Scala as an exclusive institution. Grassi, in particular, made a considerable effort to establish cooperation with the labor unions and to promote a wide range of performances specifically directed to the working class.

Among these events, a special place was devoted to the concerts that La Scala organized inside several factories around Milan. Important performers, like Claudio Abbado — who served as music and artistic director at La Scala between 1972 and 1979 —, took part in the concerts, which nowadays are often referred to by Italian scholars as an important experience of music democratization. Combining ethnographic and historical approaches, my paper aims to investigate a lesser-examined page of La Scala’s recent history and its cultural implications. Interviews with both the performers and the audience of the concerts, together with newspaper accounts and archival sources, will contribute to define the political context in which the concerts took place, and to prove the effectiveness of the cultural policy fostered by La Scala in those years.

Daniel Gough: The SESC-SP and Theories and Practices of Leisure in São Paulo’s Aural Public Sphere

This paper examines how the SESC-SP (Servico Social do Comércio de São Paulo) network of cultural centers creates aural spaces of leisure in the contemporary city of São Paulo, Brazil. Specifically, I argue that the SESC participates in the production of “listening heuristics,” or instruments of cultural policymaking that organize disparate musical practices while promoting specific modes of engagement with sound. Following a brief overview of the multi-layered bureaucracy that mediates listening practices in the city’s aural public sphere, I will present a discussion of the ways that the administration of the SESC-SP has used foreign and Brazilian conceptions of leisure and cultural action as a theoretical basis for musical interventions such as public concerts, exhibitions, and recordings. Founded in 1946 via a federal law, the SESC branch in the state of São Paulo has devoted an increasing amount of resources toward the promotion of various “artistic languages,” including music, since the 1980s. Drawing upon ethnographic work conducted in São Paulo throughout 2012 and 2013, I will show how the curated, directed listening practices facilitated by the SESC-SP become implicated in debates over cultural rights and the social production of the city, as well as demonstrate the alternately divergent and complementary logics of social inclusion and economic accumulation characteristic of social life in this urban agglomeration.

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