Boston University Music Society (BUMS) Graduate Student Conference
It is the end of spring break here, which isn’t much of a change for someone who isn’t teaching this year. Nonetheless, I managed to take a few days off following the SAM conference in Denver for some simply amazing skiing up in Breckenridge. While ripping through a foot of sweet Colorado powder coming down the Imperial Bowl off of peak 8, I asked myself: Why didn’t I ever become a ski bum? A lot of people I know from my undergraduate days at Colorado College took a season or two or ten to live in Summit County and ski the days away. The answer to that question isn’t one I’m sure I can totally answer, even at the distance of a decade. However, I can’t say that I’m disappointed with my choices in the least. I still get to ski and I still get to hang with some BUMS…
A tip of the hat to the graduate student members of the Boston University Music Society (BUMS) for organizing and hosting their second (I believe) annual conference! As you can tell by the acronym they’ve created for themselves, this is a group of serious graduate students who don’t take themselves too seriously. Though previous commitments precluded my presence at three of the morning papers and the keynote (by Harvard U Alum and Brown U Professor, Kiri Miller), the portion I attended was well worth the effort of getting there. BUMS president, Andrew Shryock, offered witty introductions prior to each paper and deftly managed the subsequent Q&A.
My friend and fellow former U-Duber, Stephen Thursby (Florida State University) gave a paper on drawings prepared by Alfred Roller for the 1903 production of Wagner’s Trisan und Isolde, conducted by Mahler. Some of these black and white ink sketches, which Thursby believes functioned as “audition materials” to become the show’s designer, have incipits that cue them to exact moments in the score, revealing the ongoing development of the gesamtkunstwerk in turn of the century Viennese theatre.
BU grad student, Anaar Desai-Stephens, provided an overview of the changing role of professional female instrumental musicians in India. Her presentation centered around the comments of her teacher, the Hindustani violin virtuoso Kala Ramnath. She played Ramnath’s music in the background throughout the presentation–something I’d never experienced in a conference paper–to great effect. It subtlety kept the music in our ears while questioning Ramnath’s extra-musical role as a transgressor/transcender of the tradition.
Triin Vallaste of Brown University explored the emerging function of “indigenized rap” in Estonia, not as an (expected) counter-hegemonic form of expression, but rather as a means of celebrating a nationalist Estonian ethos. More specifically she looked at the song “Minu inimesed” [My People] by Chalice, which was the first hip-hop song included in the state-sponsored Youth Song and Dance Celebration of 2007. The video she showed of 50,000 Estonian youth singing with Chalice on the chorus proved a highly powerful statement in the context of the ethnically divided population of modern day Estonia.
I like that the BU conference doesn’t have a set theme. I don’t know if this is by design or symptomatic of the laid-back aesthetic of their organization’s initials, but it allows graduate students the opportunity to show off their best work without having to unnaturally tweak their topics to fit CFP guidelines. This also allows the program committee to select the most interesting/promising papers, not just the ones that conform to their CFP. (That is not to say that the two are mutually exclusive, it just allows for a bit more flexibility.)
Having recently been part of a similar sized conference, I know that a great deal of effort went into the planning of this day–in addition to all the programing, the BUMS provided a list of area dining (organized on an “indigent graduate student scale” ranging between under $5 and over $12) as well as a list of goings on in the Boston area that evening. The turn-out appeared to be slightly higher than last year, though I wish more students from other schools in the area had attended. But, such is the reality of graduate student conferences (and even chapter meetings of AMS). Everyone is busy and there are always too many things going on. Still, I feel that being there for a little bit of a conference is better than not going at all. As is often the case, my musicological horizon is a bit wider having been in attendance.