Hips shaking, drums pounding, hair swaying, Tanzanian singing
and an occasional cry of “Ay Yi Yi!” was how the University of Washington Ethnomusicology program celebrated its 50th anniversary. Visiting artist Kedmon Mapana led the spirited romp of song and dance on Dec. 4.
“This is probably the only performance like this in North America, or even the whole world right now,” Patricia Campbell, head of the Ethnomusicology program, said at the event.
The uniqueness of the event mirrors the Ethnomusicology program at UW, in which students are encouraged to pursue study of styles or ideas within music that may not be covered in typical music programs.
UCLA boasts the first ethnomusicology degree program on record, but the University of Washington’s program was established two years later. The UW’s program was established through a Ford Foundation grant, and the graduate program has continued for 50 years.
Later, an independent studies-ethnomusicology program was added, and a bachelor’s degree in ethnomusicology with the School of Music may debut by Autumn 2013, Campbell said.
Though the program is within the School of Music, Ethnomusicology approaches the topic differently from other studies. The study of ethnomusicology is closely linked to anthropology, according to Shannon Dudley,
an associate professor of music in the department. Campbell said students within the program often focus on how outside influences like politics and religion shape music.
“Ethnomusicology students tend to look beyond the Western art music expressions, and the accent is less on ‘music for music’s sake’ — as wonderful as it is — and more about the music-culture connection and the association of music to societal factors,” she said in an e-mail while on an academic trip to New Zealand.
Campbell went to New Zealand to serve as a keynote speaker at a musicology meeting. She said the Ethnomusicology program at UW is known “far and wide,” and the department is pleased to share its understandings with others.
One unique facet of Ethnomusicology at the UW is the visiting-artist program, which has been in place since the early 1960s. Oftentimes, a faculty member has a connection to the artist, but they can be selected in more indirect ways, Dudley said.
“The visiting artist position...has really been the cornerstone and distinctive feature of the program at the UW,” he said. “That has helped to cover a lot of those areas that the faculty doesn’t necessarily have expertise in.”
Campbell said visiting artists are chosen for their musical excellence and come from all over the world to provide students with a unique perspective and meaningful connections.
“Importantly, it is through their studies with resident artist-musicians that they develop human relationships
and cultural understandings,” she added.
As with other university programs, Ethnomusicology was hit by the higher-education budget crunch a few years ago. In the past, the department was able to hire full-time visiting artists who could stay up to two years, but now these artists are on
a quarter-by-quarter basis, Dudley said.
As the program lost funding, faculty members have had to get creative to keep the resident-artist program afloat, he added. But he is optimistic that the department will be able to find a more sustainable way to fund the program.
“I hope it’s a transition to something that can be established with a little bit more stability because that really is an important part of what this program has been in the past,” he said.
While graduate students in Ethnomusicology can come from a variety of undergraduate majors, most of these students are intending to work as professors after graduation.
Alumni of the program have gone on to universities such as UCLA, University of North Texas, University of Houston, York University and the University of British Columbia, Campbell said.
Some notable alumni include Tim Rice, director of the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, who specializes in the traditional music of the Balkans. Gage Averill, another alum of the UW program, is the dean in the Faculty of Arts at the University of British Columbia. His research specialty is the ideological context of musical production.
Maren Heynes, a student in the program, came to the UW with an undergraduate degree in cello performance and the intention of studying classical and choral studies. Now, she’s a doctoral student in Ethnomusicology, with a focus in music and religion.
“I feel like the strength of ethnomusicology is that you can take your perspective and study a lot of different kinds of music,” she said. “So I’ve ended up being in the area of music and religion, and Mars Hill (the mega-church) is sort of my focus area. But that also has been within the context of different American religious traditions, including native Mexican traditions.”
Heynes, who hopes to work as a professor at a smaller school, said the flexibility within the Ethnomusicology track is one of the program’s strengths.
“When people go into performance tracks, the number of classes that they’re eligible for taking is very, very narrow, and with Ethnomusicology, it’s the opposite,” she said. “We have a core set of curriculum, but also, we’re also encouraged to take a lot of electives, and so students are active in a number of different departments around the university. Then we’re able to come back into the classroom within our own department and learn so much from
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