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Session 3-1
Musical Enactment of Social Difference

Regula Burckhardt Qureshi (University of Alberta), Organizer
Susan McClary and Daniel M. Neuman
(University of California, Los Angeles), Discussants

 

At this juncture of globalization, the theme of social difference enacted through music has become increasingly relevant, supported by solidly grounded instances that range across the domain of music studies. The session presents an interdisciplinary ensemble of such instances. Individual papers show how musical practices articulate with class and with social constructions of gender, race, ethnicity and religion, while also addressing economic and political dominance. Each presentation will bring diverse insights to a broader conversation about the implications and challenges of foregrounding social difference in music research, and of problematizing music as an enactment.
How is music privileged as a terrain for negotiating social relations?
How does this sonic terrain set and propagate social norms or deny and subvert them?
Does difference in music index social difference; is there a soundscape of social relations with tones of submission, of resistance? Or is social difference performative, musical enactment itself a social performance?
Who does the enacting; what are the social relations of musical production?
And finally, what are the implications of foregrounding the musical enactment of social difference for different kinds of music scholarship?

 

Enacting Gender, Revising Class: The Courtesan's Voice in Renaissance Venice
Martha Feldman (The University of Chicago)

Courtesans have usually thrived in stratified societies with emerging merchant cultures tinged by the court: ancient Greece and Rome, traditional Japan, and Renaissance Italy come to mind. Revisiting the courtesan in Renaissance Venice, this paper asks why her status was ambiguous and how it was linked related to courtly skills and manners projected in performance. The verbal kinship of courtier/courtesan underlies a deeper affinity of social and class mobility. But where the courtier could be tracked in a visible calculus of social relations, high-placed courtesans flourished in an elusive social field. Thus the sixteenth-century courtesan was more inclined to perform in oral traditions (whether of recited verse or accompanied song) using formulaic, often improvised recitation than in the written, polyponic traditions more extensively cultivated by her male antitype.
In this paper I show that the courtesan's success was crucially bound up with her abilities as a cultural performer and that the voice was the critical instrument in the "performative" repertory of many courtesans, both in "giving performances" and thriving in an unstable field of self-production. In Counter-Reformational Venice the female voice became a blazon of coutesan-like disrepute at the same time as "singing" became the watchword of heightening tensions about women's social place. Yet courtesans used singing to profit from and promote these tensions, so that they might "sing as beautifully as noblewomen," just as "honest" women who sang might "turn into" courtesans. Implicated in anxieties over spiritual vs. corporeal love, these ambiguities made the conditions of courtesanship and the female voice more fraught but also agile.

 

No Alternative: Class and Cosmopolitanism in "Alternative Country"
Aaron A. Fox (Columbia University)

Since the early 1990s, a diverse "alternative country" music has emerged as a core repertoire for a "roots music" revival that has attracted mostly younger musicians and fans disillusioned with mainstream rock, pop, and country styles. A new radio format ("Americana") has grown rapidly across the US, along with new venues, record labels, and fan literatures. The hallmark of this movement is the ironically cosmopolitan embrace of "hard" country styles, which had seemed largely moribund by the late 1970s. The movement is driven mostly by younger artists, entrepreneurs, and radio program directors whose musical backgrounds lie primarily in punk and alternative rock, and who typically come from middle-class suburban and urban social worlds, though the movement has also resuscitated the careers of some older "classic" country artists.
However, a number of artists participating in this movement hail from rural, working-class communities. These artists, often rooted in conservative local country music traditions, in many cases try to maintain careers in these local scenes and court older and less urbane fans. For these artists, "hard" country is not an "alternative" within the context of eclectic cosmopolitanism, but rather a "necessary" musical identity overdetermined by a working-class cultural identity.
This paper probes the politics of place and class in "alternative" country music, through the career and musical style of one young Texas musician--Justin Trevino--who has maintained a career playing in working-class and rural dance halls and bars, seeking airplay on small AM stations in rural markets, and selling recordings to older working-class fans, even as he has been increasingly engaged with "alternative" country, both locally (in Austin) and on national and international markets.

 

Critical Perspectives on Music and Social Relations: Towards a Theory of Mediation
Max Paddison (University of Durham)

The Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School is associated with the defence of autonomous art music and the critique of mass culture. Adorno in particular has been criticized on both these counts, even from within Critical Theory itself. While such critiques are valuable, in that they identify the partiality of Adorno, they have not generally engaged with his focus on musical material in a manner that recognizes its subtlety and potential for development. This paper proposes that Adorno's thinking on music continues to offer valuable perspectives on how music can be seen as a terrain of socio-historical and political relations. I put forward here a series of critical models and theoretical frameworks through which I argue that, if music (and musics in the plural) can be regarded as "a terrain for negotiating social relations," then these relations are not to be read directly or literally in the musical phenomenon, nor can they be regarded as a simple matter of volition or of social function, but call for an adequate concept of mediation: that is to say, a theory of how social relations inhere in musical relations. Such a concept of mediation is necessarily complex, in that it must address both the musical phenomenon and its socio-historical context, and must also address musical and cultural difference in the context of globalization and the disintegration of traditions. This paper offers an on-going theory of musical mediation derived from a critique of Adorno, which both draws on my own previous work in this field and attempts to develop it further in the direction of broader cultural and anthropological applications.

 

Musical Enactment of Social Difference: The Work Of Musical Arrangers in Caribbean Calypso
Jocelyne Guilbault (University of California, Berkeley)

In Caribbean politics, defining culture has been a question of defining boundaries of oppression, and a question of defense against oppression. Hence it is not surprising that music--and, by extension, any change in a given musical tradition--has always been the object of heated debates in the region. Calypso music in Trinidad is no exception.
This paper focuses on the leading arrangers from the 1960s to the present. I introduce and acknowledge their respective trademarks and contributions to the changing sound and style of calypso. In particular, I want to highlight how their work has not only been inspired by and aimed at making calypso part of the cosmopolitan music scene, but has also served to articulate their own sense of identity, culture, and space by and through calypso. Through calypso, the arrangers have effectively displaced/eroded the canons dealing with musical values, sensibilities, and ways of thinking one's identity, sense of belonging, etc., promoted and imposed by the ruling elites through the calypso competitions.
That the musical orientations of the main arrangers of calypso would have a bearing on the histories and cultural politics of African Trinidadians may not be surprising. That some of these orientations within the calypso music scene would be seen as threatening the cultural capital of Trinidad and Tobago calls for serious attention.

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