Music, Authority and Community

My facebook frienders are probably sick of this by now, unless they’re facebooking and twittering and orkut etc. in which case they’re used to information redundancies.

Anyway, since some of you expressed an interest in the grant we’ve just been awarded, and it is a little involved, I thought I might throw some information up here, FYIshly.

First, this is an interdisciplinary collaborative grant, awarded by Vanderbilt to Jonathan Neufeld–a philosopher of aesthetics and music–and myself. And you know what I am.

Here’s the first sentence of the grant:

“MUSIC, AUTHORITY AND COMMUNITY investigates relationships of authority in musical communities.”

What does that mean? Well, here are the questions we seek to answer:

“What are the forms and consequences of authority in art? Who holds authority? Do authority relations constrain or enable us? Do they promote intolerance and exclusion and repetition or freedom, invention, and creativity? How can intolerable forms of authority be rejected, protested or ignored?”

That makes sense, right? I mean, still kinda vague, but the basic idea is to look at power in art and to think about how artists and audiences (and society in general) navigate it. For example, Jonathan often uses the example of when Daniel Barenboim conducted the prelude to Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde as an unscheduled encore at the Israel festival in Jerusalem. Obviously, folks in Israel have an aversion to Wagner’s music…among other things, Hitler really loved him some Wagner. Here’s an example of how to link that example to the project:

“We see many forms of authority in the example of Barenboim’s performance. The conductor has authority over the choice of pieces to play and how to frame them for the audience, just as the media can choose if and how to publicize these events. The audience has the choice to leave or to stay, or to stay and protest. The larger public, and their reaction to the performance, have some influence on the significance of the event. Finally, all these are embedded in the larger social structure: in notions of legitimate authority, coercion, and taste. This example gives us a microcosm of the orienting concerns of our interdisciplinary research project.”

Right. So, obvs. we see this in rap all the time. The damn Sponge Bob Square booty commercial for Burger King raises some of these same questions. (For kids? I like big butts and fast food?)

Each member of the team will address these issues. Jonathan’s going to do it by writing about democratic participation, in order to apply this concept to musical communities. He expects to conclude that performances are authoritative and critical contributions to musical public spheres. Then, I’m going to study culture and stratification (you know, authority relations) through the lens of the conspicuous display of elites’ consumption of lowbrow culture. This phenomenon, described colloquially as “Slumming”, plays a critical role in the legitimation and mass production of lowbrow cultural goods, and the reproduction of social status through cultural consumption and display. I’m planning a little study of musical Slumming in Nashville based on intensive ethnographic observation. Then, and most exciting:

Contemporary classical composer (and recent Guggenheim award winner!) Gabriela Lena Frank has an international reputation for composing works that build new audiences by immersing herself in the communities in which he lives and works. In our community, she will compose a new quartet which will be performed and recorded by the established and innovative local chamber group ALIAS. During her residency, Frank will hold master cases and lectures, working groups and meetings, and explore the Nashville community for sources of artistic inspiration.

Gabriella’s going to compose this new work, and do the world premiere in Nashville, on campus. Helping her will be ALIAS, led by the indomitable Zen Bowers. They’ll record the piece, also.

As for us, Jonathan and I will present the research findings of our studies in non-traditional spaces (like Hispanic community centers, mosques), in an effort to interest our neighbors in the work we do, and the communities we envision. Graduate students will be intimately involved in the development of research findings, the musical composition and the final lecture and performance series, providing them with a unique pedagogical opportunity. We expect they will not only develop skills of interdisciplinary scholarship, but virtues of academic citizenship. The strong interdisciplinary connection we will advance during the study period will give us the legitimacy to make an application to the National Endowment for the Humanities Collaborative Grant Program. The research group will make a unique contribution to music scholarship and practice that will serve as an example for further collaborations between the citizens of musical communities.

Or so we think.

If this is crazy obtuse, let me know and I’ll work on it. But those are the basics.

Although I’m excited about my project, and working with Jonathan, the most astoundingly exciting thing is the fact that he and I obtained research funding to support the commissioning of a new piece of contemporary classical music. This fulfills all my dreams of being a Medici.




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4 responses to “Music, Authority and Community

  1. Mark

    when’s the premiere? I want to be there.

  2. Jenn Lena

    October 2010. We hope.

  3. Nice, Jenn. Congrats on the grant.

  4. Jenn Lena

    Thanks, KB.

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