Guest Blog by Ralph Locke: Refreshing the Discourse–and Reaching Out

July 6, 2010 at 4:11 am 4 comments

Blogging about academic topics has many wonderful features, and odd ones as well.  One that is at once wonderful and odd is that, as the final sentence in Ryan and Drew’s “Musicology in the Blogopshere” piece puts it, a blog ends up “stor[ing] scholarly thinking” even though the sentences in question may have been written a bit hastily or informally (teasingly, pugnaciously, etc.).

One example: the Dial M for Musicology blog—now more or less officially “closed for business”—remains online as a repository of what its founding and lead contributors, its various guest contributors (I was one of those in summer of 2008), and its dozens of comment-writers thought and wrote at the time.  Indeed, a posting in Dial M remains more easily available to the general public than, say, an article—whether old or current—in Musical Quarterly or Cambridge Opera Journal or even a CD review or book review in a general-audience magazine such as American Record Guide.

All of this has a bearing for what music scholars may choose to confide in the new medium.  It may also help explain why so few established scholars, as Ryan and Drew say in their essay—namely, none—have taken up the invitation to contribute a guest posting to Amusicology.  Speaking as someone who’s been active in the field of musicology for several decades, I keep trying to figure out who the potential e-readers are (or may be) and how best to interact with them.

For my guest postings in Dial M for Musicology, I figured I could assume that many or most of the readers were musicologists.  I therefore focused on topics or recent bits of news that I felt would be of interest to scholars (or scholars-in-training) but in areas on which I had no specialist knowledge.

My four guest postings at Dial M deal with Elgar, “why we do research,” Anglican church music in Australia, and some recent articles on musical nationalism in the Israeli online journal Min-Ad.

I’ve also contributed a few postings at a blog-about-music-books that is run by the UK book publisher Boydell and Brewer. (Boydell handles the sale and distribution of books by University of Rochester Press outside of North America.) The site is called From Beyond the Stave.  (The word-play in the blog’s name is clearer if you pronounce “Stave” with a long “a.”)  These postings include a report on the Robert Stevenson Award at the Philadelphia AMS meeting; thoughts on the “Ring” Cycle and its meanings for audiences today; a two-part history of a book series that I edit, Eastman Studies in Music (click here for part 1), (click here for part two); a discussion of book-jacket design; a lightweight piece about the decision to hold the 2008 AMS conference in Nashville, widely known (though not to me until I arrived at the conference) as Music City; and a short note (written by the blog’s editor, Michael Richards, using–as he indicates–information that I provided) drawing readers’ attention to an interesting new blog called . . .  Amusicology.

The postings for From Beyond the Stave vary a lot in tone and density, depending in part on how much time I had available at the moment.  I remember trying to keep in mind that I was writing primarily for the “educated music lover.”  Sometimes I thought it would be interesting to let her or him know a bit about what was going on in the field of musicology.  Other times, I was mainly trying to draw attention to the Eastman Studies book series, while at the same time making broader points about academic publishing—which I figured would help me avoid falling into the overtly promotional mode of a press release.

The posting on the “Ring” Cycle at From Beyond the Stave was a particular pleasure and challenge because I’m not a Wagner specialist yet I love that Wagnerian epic more than many other operas (and more than any others by Wagner).  I had been asked about it by a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor who was preparing an article about the (then-upcoming) Los Angeles “Ring.” Worried that she might misquote me, I wrote out my remarks at length.  She quoted only a bit from them, and summarized some other things more or less accurately.

The reporter’s concerns—including “People say they won’t be attending because it’s antisemitic”—startled me enough that I decided a bit later to take the remarks I had written out for the reporter and expand them into a blog posting.  I felt particularly motivated to do a posting about Wagner because I had recently heard a big chunk of a 1971 Tristan on Sirius Radio—the satellite broadcast system that, soon after, was bought out by XM Radio—and had been struck by how easily we can now hear legendary performances of operas at the Met from decades ago.

I would never have thought to write any of these essays (or whatever one calls them) for conventional print outlets.  Similarly, many postings by other writers at musicology blogs seem to me to take good advantage of the special qualities the new medium, as do many of the comments from readers.  I find all of this refreshing.

So I continue to follow musicology blogs eagerly.  I might mention two others: Phil Gentry’s 2’23” and Mark Samples and Zach Wallmark’s The Taruskin Challenge.  (I did two guest postings on the latter, dealing with historiographical issues: whether and how to divide music history into “periods” and—a related point—the wildly different musical styles that can exist during the same time period.)

The blog, as a communications medium, has an unprecedented capacity for enriching the discourse among music scholars, and between music scholars and the reading public.  And, to go back to Ryan and Drew’s last sentence, it also has an unprecedented capacity for “storing” all of this it so it can be consulted in the near and distant future—by serious readers and by all kinds of people launching who knows what kinds of Google searches!

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4 Comments

  • 1. Jonathan Bellman  |  July 7, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    Fascinating post, Ralph–illustrative of what musicological blogging can address, and on what kind of quick turnaround. Are we publicizing/sharing information about a worthwhile book or recording? I’ve done that, certainly, though not on a publisher’s website. Are we musing about a pet peeve, or an article that annoyed us? Been there, certainly. Commenting on the academic culture and circumstances? Oh, yeah–to the point where my blogging got increasingly academic and decreasingly musicological. That was one sign for me to read.

    Your response to Wagner’s *Ring* brings up a variety of issues, for me, many relating to Wagner and Jewish responses. As you know, I simply don’t like his music; I was nonetheless struck by the gossipy, do-you-know-what-everyone’s-saying tone of the the reporter’s concern: “People say they won’t be attending because it’s antisemitic.” As we learn for the Fox network, this kind of Ancient World received-knowledge-from-fears-and-superstitions is something that the internet, sadly, FOSTERS. If you can spell, you can produce a professional looking blog that will convince 99% of geniuses who “look stuff up on the internet.” I think of things I heard about Obama, during the election, prefaced with “Y’know, they’re saying in New York . . . ” as if that talismanic phrase conveyed authority. The same is true for stuff on the internet: “Well, this guy I’ve been reading is a music professor, and HE says that . . . ”

    I suppose the same is true with books, too, scholarly books included. It is good to be aware of this more or less constantly, though, because musicology blogs look like any other blogs in terms of comments and graphics and interfaces and so on and most blogs are self-indulgent ranting. Obviously, I’m not anti-blog any more than I’m anti-book (I write them, very occasionally, but abject morons write them too), but what needs to be borne in mind is not only the limits of the medium but the flavor of the ecosystem, much of which can’t be improved by any single blog.

    A commenter on Ryan’s “An End to Dial M?” post remarked that I never seemed to read other blogs much. ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. That was how I tried to address the time-suck problem; it takes time write anything, including blogs, and I have lots of other kinds of writing I need to be doing too, not counting the research needed for that writing, whatever stolen moments I can manage for the piano, time with my family, and, y’know, my job. The call I made was that canvassing people’s ambivalent accounts of concerts in Boston or anecdotes from the touring life or whatever were, for the most part stuff I wouldn’t search out for reasons of time.

    And one of the reasons Dial M merrily went on for so long had to do with Phil’s and my different goals; Phil, if I’m not mistaken, liked the idea of throwing out some ideas in germinal form and discussing them with others–ideas that would later become part of his research output. I wanted a rapid-musicological-response-team for a principled, informed, widely available response whenever something in the mass media touched on “classical” music: discoveries of a new Bach piece, a Mozart violin part, or Beethoven’s hair, idiotic stunts with predictable outcomes like Joshua Bell in the subway station, etc. I also wanted to hone my Essayist’s Tone more; I thought it might help my writing. So: two different (primary) authors, but two who would not shy from an argument, including with each other. Yeah, that was some serious good chemistry–but look we’re both still alive and active and working. Someone else’s turn now!

    It helps, I think, I have some general idea of what the blog is intended to accomplish–something more focused than “about music” or “the academic musical life.” The big danger of blogging is, of course, self-indulgence (rather like this tedious comment), and on academic blogs it isn’t the hostile criticism that will kill you–it’s the approval. I always cherished the story about the religious leader (I’ve heard it both with Buddhist Monk and Preacher) who said “As soon as I caught myself listening to what I was saying, I stopped preaching.”

    Onward, ever onward, Ryan, Drew, and guests!

  • 2. Ralph Locke  |  July 8, 2010 at 4:37 am

    Thanks, Jonathan, for some good reminders about the variety of goals (spoken or unspoken–woops: typed or not typed!) that an music-scholar’s blog might adopt. You’ve helped me understand why Dial M for Musicology succeeded as long as it did.
    I remain struck by an essential contradiction (if that’s the word) in the genre: it permits/encourages rapid writing and quick replies (e.g., posted Comments from readers); then archives them and makes them more widely available than lots of other much more carefully honed work (major journal articles, monographs, and scholarly editions such as by–to mention only a few scholars whose work I greatly admire and who are no longer alive–John Daverio, Irene Alm, or H. Wiley Hitchcock). And stores them for months and years to come, maybe quasi-forever….
    Sorry that the previous sentence was so long. I would go back and edit it, but, hey, this is only a Comment to a blog posting–not something written “for the ages”! :)

  • 3. The Year One ADME  |  July 13, 2010 at 11:28 am

    [...] One of the negative aspects of the DME(Dial M era) of musicology blogs was the frequent “meta-musicological” rant. In the new era, this has actually worsened. Currently many of my favorite writers are spending more time describing their blogs (and other’s blogs) than they are actually blogging. I am much more interested in what you have to say about music than what you have to say about what others say about what is being said about musicology and academia. Really! There is a such thing as too much self-reflection. Like the dysfunctional children of psychiatrists (“Psyks”) who develop into neurotic adults, this metablogging could potentially make us dysfunctional. (It is important to note that Psyks are usually only crazy to the extent that their parents are: “”narcissistically impaired,” suffering from a “god complex,” prone to over intellectualize rather than react, etc…”) This whole blog thing is new to all of us and not yet fully understood in terms of its power and capability—let’s not get stuck in a period of woeful contemplation of grammar and prose. [...]

  • 4. vasilijvani  |  September 24, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    Доброго времени суток!

    Я видел упоминание курса осознанных снов тут. Надеюсь, что будет полезным.


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Amusicology is an online forum for musicologists, academic or otherwise. Although Ryan Raul Banagale and Drew Massey are its founders and chief contributors, we welcome guest submissions. Please let us know if you would like to contribute a guest posting. Comments are always welcome and encouraged!

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