on Musicology

Added on by Taylor Smith.

I am a musicologist. I have a PhD in the subject and an MA and BMA in music. So, you would think that I would be interested, even intrigued, by the stuff I see being published and presented in the various musicological journals and conferences. You would be wrong (mostly). When I see the schedules of the major—or minor, for that matter—conferences, or see the articles being published, I am often baffled. Just looking at the titles makes me scratch my head; I don’t even understand some of the words (often words that end in “-ality,” “-ism,” or “-ography”), let alone what in world these folks are talking about.

I haven’t really tried to publish anything, but I have submitted abstracts to variety of conferences. The business of getting stuff published, or being invited to present at conferences, can be pretty brutal. There are literally hundreds of people submitting proposals and abstracts despite the fact that there is often only room for a handful. I have been invited to present at two small conferences, which is a decent track record for someone of my stature. But when I hear the “big shots” give their presentations, or I try to read through the recent publications, I feel like I am trying to understand a completely different world, like I am actually at a zoology conference or something.

Here are a few examples of articles/presentations out in the world right now:

  • “Anthologizing Rock and Roll: Rhino Records and the Repackaging of Rock History” (I think I get what this one is about, but it still seems like the presenter is over complicating the title, just ’cause)
  • “Recomposing National Identity: Four Transcultural Readings of Liszt’s Marche hongroise d'après Schubert
  • “Hearing King David in Early Modern France: Politics, Prayer, and Louis XIII’s Musique de la Chambre”
  • Romantic Anatomies of Performance

In the spirit of fairness, I understand the words in these titles, and I kind of understand what these talks/articles/books might be about, but I still don’t “get” it. “Transcultural readings?” “Romantic anatomies?” I suppose it is possible that the stuff I have written and presented comes across as strange to others, so maybe I am just out of the loop with mainstream musicology.

Generally speaking, I am not incredibly interested in publishing stuff. I am fine with teaching being my primary gig. Once I (finally!) finished my degree a year and a half ago, I felt like taking a break from virtually all hardcore academic stuff. But, every once in a while, I get the itch to dive in deeper, to re-enter the highbrow world. That is when I start looking more closely at what is going on in the American Musicological Society or the Society for American Music, which is when I start to feel a little lost.

I am not sure what any of this means. Maybe better musicologists could help me figure that out.