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