Millenial Musicology

February 23, 2008 at 2:59 pm 8 comments

One of the hot topics (other than race and gender) surrounding this year’s democratic primaries is separating support by generation.  Hillary supposedly has the “Baby Boomers” and Barrack has the “Youth Vote.”  In trying to learn more about what is meant by youth vote, I encountered a term new to me: Millennial.  According to wikipedia, this and the more market-driven iGen” (Internet Generation) are “attempts to give the Gen Y cohort more independent names.”  I’ve long considered myself at the tail end of Generation X—I usually offer “growing up with grunge in the Pacific Northwest” as my evidence.  However, my brother, who grew up in the same environment and is less than two years younger than I, is distinctly Generation Y—Millennial.

Bringing this all to the world of musicology, I’m considering a generation jump.

The so-called “new musicology” was ushered in by the first Gen X PhDs—the move towards critical approaches to traditional subjects eventually opened up the floodgates for what was considered musicologically worthy, which in turn opened up even more approaches to scholarship.  Over the past decade (and the rise of iGen technologies) the resources of the “information superhighway” [a term used here tongue in cheek] have completely changed the rules of research and scholarship—and pedagogy.  We’ve securely entered a new phase which I think should be called “Millennial Musicology.”

Type “Millennials” into google and after the seemingly obligatory initial result link to wikipedia, is a page on “Managing Millennials” in the workplace—increasingly a concern in academia as well.

As the iGen label implies, digital and web-based information is an overriding characteristic of members of the Millennial generation.  Last week on the AMS listserv was a series of emails which began with a practical question of how someone’s student should properly cite a YouTube video in a paper.  This quickly followed the arc of most threads related to web-based scholarship, calling into question the same old questions about the reliability of sources, copyright issues, and the dangers of wikipedia—all adversarial responses to the internet.  As such, I followed the thread with only limited interest.  I would, however, like to mention that one message offered an even better site for capturing streaming video than the one I had been using before:

And while I don’t have a problem with making a personal archival copy of YouTube video (from a VHS recording) of a television broadcast from 1984, it becomes an awkward source to recognize in footnote form.  This was ultimately why the question was first posed to the listserv.  Due to the instability of YouTube clips, referencing the original web link is impractical—my aforementioned clip from 1984 is now “unavailable.”  Ultimately, I’m not that concerned about it.  I have a copy on my desktop and when it comes time to make the proper citation in the dissertation, I’ll do it the old/traditional way: by tracking down the original broadcast information and formatting it as dictated by Turabian.

My current students would (almost certainly) never take the time to do this.  Not only is it the case that many web clips carry no indication of the original source, but I also don’t get the sense that many Millennials feel that the tracking down of such information is necessary, despite our insistence on proper footnotes.  A growing assumption is that if you found something once, you can find it again.  Another assumption (supported by last week’s listserv emails) is that many professors don’t accept such material as legitimate research data.  Telling students not to use web-based resources goes against their internet-fueled worldview—one that I find provides very interesting and current attitudes to historically based discussion.

The reality of “googling” it is that it more and more frequently leads to the best information out there.  It used to be the case that the search bar would lead you to misinformation hosted on amateur websites.  Now some of the first google results are academic articles (via JSTOR), full/partial scans of serious musicological studies (via google books), and free high-quality streaming audio (via Rhapsody).  At the same time, fed into the mix are items such as streaming video and blog entries—items Millennials see as reasonable and valuable data.

I too consider it reasonable and valuable, which is why I’m considering this generation jump.  My biggest reason for embracing non-standard sources is the simple fact that I use them all the time myself.  Like my students, I often begin research on a new subject by typing it into Google.  Yesterday, a single search yielded sources like those above as well as other valuable bits of data for my dissertation.  That said, I did have to trek uphill in the snow (serious) to get to the library for some non-virtual sources.  I also planned a research trip to an archive.  While the internet will never make every manuscript, royalty statement, or interview available, resources continue to surface which provide easy access to such information.  Aaron Copland oral history podcast, anyone?

I began my higher education amidst the flurry New Musicology, but as I approach the end of my PhD, we’re clearly in a new phase.  My research methods and ways of thinking are greatly shaped by the internet, aligning me more with Millennial Musicology—a mode of scholarship that also fuses the critique of the New Musicology with the data-driven approach of the so-called positivists (and a healthy serving of ethnography).  There are certainly important aspects of millennial musicology beyond these.  However, the change in access to and the dissemination of information will clearly be the strongest markers of the current generation of scholarship.

Entry filed under: musicology.

Finishing the Hat Jake Cohen’s Guest Blog: Scaling the musicological walls


  • 1. Rebecca  |  November 15, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    Great post, Ryan.
    Here’s what I worry about with YouTube and the like, especially in regard to my students: authenticity. Over half the material available on YouTube has been edited in some way. So is it reasonable to assume that a YouTube clip is an exact duplicate of the clip as it would exist on the official DVD, etc? Perhaps, depending on the material and the source. But there is no way to be sure, and that for me creates an issue in authoritative citation. If one is going to cite an original broadcast, I believe it should be viewed in an authorized format (released DVD) etc.

  • 2. David Chapman  |  November 15, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    I like your thinking, Ryan!

    While the questions about the authority of YouTube clips and Wikipedia articles are certainly legitimate, I rather like the idea that YouTube and Wikipedia have caused us to question the very idea of authority and trustworthiness, not the least the tools we use to determine it. Of course, our criteria cannot be and never has been simply “if it’s in print, it legit.” But might there be a danger that, if online resources are always considered more suspicious, we accidentally give the printed media too much unassailable authority? My greatest concern with such an unintended consequence is that we fail to teach students to apply similar skepticism toward print sources. In other words, I’d love to see students as skeptical toward Grove Online as they ought to be toward Wikipedia.

    Perhaps we could teach our students (and put into practice in our research) a constellation of criteria by which a source *might* be considered authoritative: name of author/creator/institution; retrievability of the data (something like the scientific requirement of reproducibility); primary/secondary source classification; etc. “Might” is the key term here, because not everything put out by Trust-This-Name University Press is always 100% reliable, nor is irretrievability necessarily a reason not to cite something (i.e. there are already established ways to cite conversations or lectures that exist as unrecoverable moments in time). Ultimately, Grove *might* occasionally prove to be more trustworthy, *if* it meets a satisfactory number of our standards of authority. Perhaps, the standards of citation themselves (Chicago style/Turabian, et al.) need to be updated to reflect levels of confidence one can place in the sources.

    Above all, I think we Millenial Musicologists can be both skeptical and optimistic about the state of information. I can believe how lucky I am to be a scholar at this time in history! I’m thrilled that we get to take on the challenges and problems that go accompany the tremendous privileges we enjoy because of technology.

  • 3. David Chapman  |  November 15, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    I have just demonstrated the dangers of writing online. I accidentally pressed “save” before thoroughly proofing my post.

    – Hopefully, it is clear that I meant “I can’t believe how lucky I am…”
    – Please strike (in your mind) “go” from “go accompany” in the last line.


  • 4. Ryan Banagale  |  November 15, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    Thanks for the response, David.
    I like your thinking as well. The recent blossoming of on-line (instead of print) journals has been interesting with this respect. There is probably more current and interesting things to be found in some of these upstarts, but I have to admit that I still rely more on things that are printed (even if I’ve only ever viewed it in .pdf format).

    One of the big problems in all this is how quickly things change and become more or less reliable. Berkeley has suggestions for evaluating web pages, but even there some are out of date:

    Rock on Millennial Musicologists!

  • 5. Ryan Banagale  |  November 15, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    Good point about the editing, Rebeca. A friend recently pointed out that someone has gone and edited a version of The Hours which only contains Meryl Streep’s scenes. What would the Jazz Singer look/not-sound like if it was edited to only contain scenes of the character playing Al Jolson’s mother?!?
    What I should have probably made more clear was that I’m thinking of YouTube as a sort of virtual archive where we might go for things that aren’t available in the authorized format. TV broadcasts that haven’t been re-released, movies that are out of print and not yet reissued on DVD or otherwise officially available. The broadcast I’m dealing with is only (occasionally) available on YouTube.

  • 6. Jake Cohen  |  November 15, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    Continuing with what’s been posted about YouTube problems, I think one of the biggest ones is that it has become the new source for *musical* authority as well as visual. When students (or, to be honest, sometimes when I!) want to hear something for the first time, they don’t go to iTunes, or Rhapsody, or any place where they can download or listen to a streaming version of the original song, or a good version of a piece played by competent musicians. Instead, many go right to YouTube, where there is a plethora of music in various video forms (in some cases, for pop music, it’s the MTV video; for art music it’s often a particular performance video). The issue is, first, the actual quality of the sound – YouTube audio is worse than mp3 in some cases! But more importantly, students are confusing YouTube musical performances for authoritative sources.

    This happened to me the other day: one of my students had heard about Stockhausen’s Helicopter String Quartet and wanted to hear it. So he went to YouTube, and found a 2.5 minute video of a performance of the piece from 2003. Granted, it makes a huge difference with a piece like that to _see_ it performed. But what he didn’t realize was that the piece is actually a 15+ minute work – he assumed that it was only as long as the three minute version he saw on YouTube. It never occurred to him that he could go to our school’s Music Library and listen to the whole piece on a CD from the premiere performance, organized and audio mixed by the composer.

  • 7. Gina Rivera  |  November 15, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    Interesting thoughts, Ryan. As promised, my reactions from elsewhere, which you’ve already heard.

    Susan McClary and other harbingers of the “new” can barely be counted as X. Is there a good way to signal the mid-life shift to new musicology, regardless of generation…?

  • 8. Ryan Banagale  |  November 15, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    That’s a good point, Gina–and I’d like to hear other peoples’ thoughts on this too. I wonder if this mid-life shift is akin to the one I’m feeling right now where I don’t know if my academic approaches really jive as much with those in the genealogically generation in which I technically belong as much as with those in the methodological generation which is younger.
    This may be going out on a thin limb: Perhaps McClary was sympathetic to the “apathetic” trope of the Gen-Xers. Feeling the same way about the then-current state of the discipline, she went and did something different and meaningful (which some might argue Gen-X has now achieved).


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