The Music, Language, and Culture Workshop

Thursday, October 30 – SEM Dry Runs (Part 1)

Please join us for the first of two workshops in which students will present their conference papers in preparation for the Society for Ethnomusicology conference. This Thursday, we’re excited to hear Will BuckinghamDaniel Gough, and Lindsay Wright. (Please see the abstracts below).

As always, we will meet from 4:30-6:00pm in Goodspeed 205. We look very much forward to seeing you!


With “Drums Beating and Colors Flying”: Race and the Portuguese in Mid-Nineteenth Century New Orleans (William Buckingham)

Ethnographic studies of processional traditions have explored the power of musical bodies moving through urban spaces to articulate identity and ideology. This paper explores these issues and contributes to an understanding of the mutability of such processes through its diachronic historical scope. Drawing on conventional historical methods with an ethnomusicologist’s attunement to relationships of space, music, and politics, I explore the heretofore unexcavated musical history of the Portuguese immigrant community in nineteenth century New Orleans. Contracted by labor recruiters to work on sugar plantations in the 1840s, by mid-century Louisiana’s Portuguese immigrants rapidly rejected their interstitial and precarious racial categorization and associations with plantation labor as they abandoned the sugar parishes and migrated to New Orleans. They established benevolent societies which staged extravagant ritual processions through the streets of New Orleans, accompanied by military fife and drum bands and brass bands. Through these performances, adapted from the dominant culture while articulating both a Portuguese character and a broader white immigrant identity, Portuguese New Orleanians were able claim their own space in the city and achieve inclusion in the dominant white racial category. Following the revolutionary upheavals of the Civil War in New Orleans, these musical performances of identity and belonging, boosted by a second wave of Portuguese immigration in the 1870s, continued to be deployed to assert white privilege, now as a weapon in the violent backlash to Reconstruction-era politics and assertions of freedom and dignity by New Orleanians of color.


Music Producers in São Paulo’s Cultural Policy Worlds (Daniel Gough)

This paper examines the role of a specific type of musical agent—the producer—within São Paulo’s institutionally mediated music scene.  Drawing upon research in policy anthropology, I argue that cultural policy practices have created new sets of relations in São Paulo’s music scene.  I connect the emergence of free-lance producers to the specialization of policy instruments and bureaucratic procedures in São Paulo’s cultural infrastructure.  In this paper, I will present a brief overview of the various channels through which musical performance is institutionally mediated in contemporary São Paulo before describing how contemporary cultural policies influence the job description(s) of the such producers.  In particular, I explore how the cultural edital, or proposal writing process, has become the defining policy procedure in São Paulo’s music scene, and the implications of these new kinds of technical knowledge for musicians and musical production.  I draw upon participant observation in cultural policy training seminars as well as interviews with musicians and professionals in these areas in order to describe how musical labor has shifted as a result of these policy instruments.  The concluding section of this paper will examine some of the consequences of these policy trends for musical life in the city.


“No accident of birth”: Suzuki Pedagogy and the Politics of Talent in a Northern Virginia Violin Studio (Lindsay Wright)

The music pedagogy developed by Japanese violinist Shin’ichi Suzuki has gained increasing prominence amongst American families since his first influential visit to the States in 1964. One of the most contentious aspects of Suzuki’s philosophy is evidenced by the first sentence of his book on music education: “Talent is no accident of birth.” In a country where perceptions of exceptional ability still adhere to Enlightenment and Romantic conceptions of the natural genius, the ways children are taught music—especially when they encounter setbacks—often fall back on assumptions about inherent ability. Regardless of current scientific debates about relative levels of inborn musicality, beliefs about talent powerfully influence how persistently students seek to achieve such perceived musical potential. Drawing upon fieldwork with a prominent American Suzuki teacher and the exceptionally proficient students in her studio, this paper explores how perceptions of talent are altered and negotiated as students develop their musical abilities. I argue that perceived talent is a privilege that can be gained by families with the means to acquire the educational resources to affirm and foster it. Furthermore, I seek to tie such perceptions to a larger discourse about talent in American music education: how does the privilege of appearing naturally talented gain students other privileges? The reasons children take music lessons are manifold and reflective of shifting trends in parenting philosophies and educational values; using Suzuki violin as a telling example, this paper investigates the oft-overlooked place of perceived talent within this discourse.

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