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January 23, 2017

MOMRI Research Fellows Participate in the 5th International Symposium of the International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM) Study Group on Applied Ethnomusicology

October 6 – 9, 2016 at Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada Report by Michael Golden


MOMRI Research Fellows Craig Robertson and I participated in the Symposium of the ICTM Study Group on Applied Ethnomusicology, held in Nova Scotia, Canada. Dr. Robertson presented a paper at the conference, which was well-received by the other participants. The topic was Linking Musical Ethnography and Applied Ethnomusicology to Peacebuilding. The paper drew parallels between the theoretical work being developed within MOMRI and the practical work being conducted by applied ethnomusicologists and made a case for how the two fields of research could benefit peacebuilding activities. Dr. Robertson has since been in touch with two other presenters, one in Canada about possible future joint research within the First Nations communities in Saskatchewan, and another being a PhD student at Queens University in Belfast, who has since been in contact with Dr. Urbain.
This conference, although much smaller in scale than the Joint International Forum in Limerick, Ireland the year before, included several of the same internationally renowned scholars and, by virtue of its small size, enabled meaningful opportunities for discussion and networking. Among the participants were Klisala Harrison (University of Helsinki, and Chair of the Study Group), Anthony Seeger (UCLA), Huib Schippers (Smithsonian Folkways), Anne Rasmussen (College of William and Mary), Naila Ceribašić (Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Research, Zagreb), Patricia Shehan Campbell (University of Washington), Judith Cohen (York University), and Zhang Boyu (Central Conservatory of Music, Beijing).


As one might surmise from the name of the group, the presentations and discussions focused on ways in which scholars can apply the methods and approaches of ethnomusicology to benefit the communities with whom they are engaged, rather than just to accumulate knowledge. As such, there is a lot of emphasis on collaborative goal-development and sharing of results, inviting community members to work as researchers and vice versa, and both short- and long-term projects aimed at preserving “Intangible Cultural Heritage” (ICH) and promoting human rights and social justice. Thus both the aims and methods of these scholars will, I believe, prove consonant with and useful to our work at MOMRI.


Two Prominent themes of the Symposium

Intangible Cultural Heritage: In 2003, UNESCO adopted the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, which became a platform for much of this work. Recognition from the international community of the value of a musical heritage, especially one in danger of being lost, can be of great significance to a local community, fostering goodwill and appreciation among neighbors. Questions of “authenticity” vs. artistic freedom, especially in the face of economic pressures from “musical tourism,” require sensitivity, so encouraging and empowering communities to document and preserve their own cultures is an important component; several case studies presented at the Symposium (including examples from Canada, the U.S., Chile, Brazil, Cambodia, Ireland, Bosnia, Morocco and Algerian refugee camps, among others) explored these issues. It might be argued that music in peacebuilding falls within the concept (coined in 2008 by Svanibor Pettan) of “administrative ethnomusicology,” meaning “planned change by those who are external to the local cultural group,” so the relevance of work in this area to Min-On and MOMRI should be clear.


Musicking as Co-education and Co-Creation: There was a clear consensus among the Symposium participants that in order to be most effective in helping people, the traditional divide between subject (scholar) and object (local community, musicians, etc.) needs to be dissolved, or transcended. The ideas that ethnomusicologists can and should be more than observers, that their joint efforts in the community should be contributive and educational to all involved, and that the engaged labor of research, archiving, musicking and reflecting together is where the really growth and benefit occurs, were expressed in many of the presentations, including Craig Robertson’s. Some examples of particular interest involved cross-cultural engagement: West African and Celtic singer/storytellers in combined performance, creation of an Irish bodhran (drum) ensemble in a school in the South Bronx, New York, overcoming discrimination between French and English speaking groups in Quebec, and a “nomadic recording studio,” which brought together traditional musicians who might not ever be able to travel to play together.


In summary, the insights we gained and connections we created will be very helpful in advancing the work of MOMRI from now.


A 17-meter-tall steel fiddle, by the Sydney harbor, dedicated to the contribution of fiddlers to the culture of Cape Breton Island.


The plaque with the explanatory text for the fiddle.


A statue called “A Land of Our Own” – dedicated to the immigrants to Cape Breton.


Plaque with text.