Sarah Gerk’s Guest Blog: Musicological Wish Lists

December 1, 2007 at 2:34 pm 3 comments

Last year, I surveyed the College Music Society’s “Music Vacancy List” in conjunction with a panel discussion at SAM on Americanist hiring practices which I co-chaired with Ryan Bañagale. The model was Dale Cockrell’s “Can American Music Studies Develop a Method?” which pondered the possibility of having an American music discipline distinct from historical and ethnomusicology. There, Cockerell examined North American postings in the Music History/Musicology/Ethnomusicology section and found that in 2001 “nearly six out of every ten faculty vacancies privileged expertise in American music.”[1]

Ryan and I conceived a study done on a more comprehensive scale, allowing not only for greater accuracy and more current information, but also diachronic assessment of institutional interest in hiring Americanists. Our intent was to uncover which institutions have expressed interest in hiring Americanists, for which positions Americanists are considered, and how universities conceive of American music studies—that is, which subtopics are named.

This study is not meant as an evaluation of the hiring practices of Americanists, nor do we claim that its results are scientifically sound proof of any actual jobs, for such postings are not entirely representative of hiring.  Rather, they are institutional wish lists, a place for a music department to describe its “ideal candidate,” and as such are valuable to us as present and future workers in this field.

The results show that American music specialists remain highly in-demand; of 418 total listings, 240 of which desired specific specialization, 121 requested candidates with at least some background in American music.  That is to say, half of all postings with specified specialties requested Americanists.  Compare this to the second most commonly requested specialty, music from 1900 to the present, which appeared only 64 times in the same time period, and we understand how popular American studies are at the moment.  In fact, only 112 postings requested specialties from the entire common practice period—nine fewer than the combined American figure.


Of the variegated subtopics within American music studies, popular and African American genres were the most desirable.  38% of the postings asked for popular music specialists, while 18% asked for African American and 22% requested interests in jazz.  Also, 20% desired Mexican or Latin American music.


The most heartening news I have to report is that, between September 2002 and August 2006, the number of Music History/Musicology/Ethnomusicology postings on the College Music Society’s website grew an average of 15% per year. [ed. note: 2006-2007 job activity supports this surge in hiring.] However, the Americanist job market was not such a bull; specifically American postings have decreased slightly at an average rate of 5.5%, from 31 postings in the 2002-2003 academic year to 26 in 2005-2006.

The number of institutions seeking scholars with interdisciplinary backgrounds in Americanist job postings is also notable.  Though breaking down academic categories is a general trend over all in recent musical scholarship, this is especially true of American music scholars, who have multifarious methodologies in their toolkit, often crossing the traditional boundaries of historian, theorist, ethnographer, and cultural theorist.  African American, jazz, and popular music studies are also the key players here.  While 62 institutions desiring American music specialists indicated “musicologist” and 36 wanted “ethnomusicologist,” 17 asked for an Americanist, African American music specialist, or popular music specialist without asking for a specific methodological skill set—that is 14% of all American Music job postings.  Though such specialist positions exist in other disciplines of musical scholarship (ie. med-ren, Baroque, etc.), only four non-American music postings in the entirety of our study (roughly 2%) requested sub-specialization.  Thus, this practice of creating positions in a unique genre or topic, regardless of the academic process involved, is almost completely an American studies phenomenon.

But all of this is only one voice in the mix. On the Music Vacancy List, only the university can speak. Ryan’s recent work on the musicology Job Wiki has shown that there is now a wealth of information regarding the search process and the musicologists hired. Hopefully, with the whole process presented more clearly for all, we will be able to better meet the needs of everyone involved in this business of ours.

[Ed. Note:  Here are two data sets, diligently complied by Sarah, which contain information pertaining to job postings on the College Music Society’s “Music Vacancy List.” We thank Ms. Gerk for her generosity in sharing this with everyone and hope that others will find it useful in further considering the subject.  If you wish to use her data or findings, please remember to cite accordingly.]

All Job Postings (January 2002-August 2006)

American Music Postings (January 2002-August 2006)

[1] Cockerell, Dale. “Can American Music Studies Develop a Method?” American Music 22/2 (Summer 2004): 277.

Entry filed under: professional development.

Does Grad School Make you a Bad Reader? Zoë Lang’s Guest Blog: Musicological Dear John Letters


  • 1. Matthias Roeder  |  November 15, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    Wow, this is really impressive. I wonder for how long the field of American music studies will continue to grow. Any views on that?

  • 2. Drew Massey  |  November 15, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    Sarah and Ryan –

    Really interesting! With the charts the predominance of American music requests are even more stunning. I guess my question is to the idea of having an “American Music” PhD program, and to what granularity PhD programs should be specialized. More than a few performance teachers, for example, kind of scorn the idea of having a “collaborative piano” doctorate, even though the programs can be found throughout the country. “What’s next?” The argument goes, “A PhD in left-hand piano, and then another in right-hand?” This is clearly a bit of a straw man, but I wonder if everyone’s interests really would be served by a special, American-music-only PhD program, despite the prevalance of job postings requesting exactly such a specialty.

  • 3. Mark Ferraguto  |  November 15, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    That’s really amazing. While I’m not surprised by the fact that jazz and pop are in high demand, I didn’t realize the demand would be so large relative to the other areas. I expect that these criteria will ebb and flow over the coming years. I guess the take-home message it that it always pays to have at least one secondary specialization.

    By the way, Drew: I recently discovered this site, and it’s terrific. The layout is great and the contributions are interesting and relevant to anyone trying to figure out why we do what we do.


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!

Please bookmark us or add our RSS feed.

Bookmark and Share

Twitter: Amusicology in 140 Characters or Less!

  • RT @anthonyocampo: Anti-Asian racism isn’t un-American—it’s quintessentially American. You can’t kill millions of Asians across the Pacific… Posted by Ryan 10 months ago
  • For the record, on this first day of distance learning: teaching college is way Way WAY easier than teaching elemen…… Posted by Ryan 1 year ago


%d bloggers like this: