Please Welcome The Electric Agora’s Newest Contributor: Margaret Rowley

Margaret Rowley is a PhD student in ethnomusicology at Boston University, where she works variously on music and gender, nationalism, and torture. Her academic influences come from a broadening array of disciplines, including anthropology, philosophy, and sociology; she is a passionate, if concerned, advocate for the humanities in higher education.

Prior to her time at Boston University, she completed degrees in flute performance and ethnomusicology at Missouri State University and Michigan State University, followed by a long period of working in arts administration and wondering what to do next.

Margaret will be writing for EA on ethnomusicology, politics, and whatever else she feels like.  We are thrilled to have her on board!

5 Comments »

  1. Welcome aboard, Margaret! I enjoyed your first piece contributed here (turtles, indeed). I too began in music performance (piano). I look forward to reading your future pieces.

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  2. Greetings Margaret, I appreciate multi-disciplinary fields and interests. I must admit being totally clueless what ethnomusicology is, and while I could google it, I was wondering if you could describe what you view it to be (or what it covers). I guess I’m most interested if it is a subfield of anthropology/sociology, or if you view it as distinct from them? The work you described on Chicago house music sounded sociological. And in your bio it mentions nationalism and torture, which I was curious how that related to your field (though Dutch “levenslied” is certainly a national style of music which might constitute torture). 🙂

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  3. Sure- thanks for the question! This is actually a really difficult one to answer (albeit fun!), because the affiliation of ethnomusicology departments depends largely on the university. I think it’s fair to say that, in most schools (including mine), ethno is linked somehow with musicology and/or a music department which includes education and performance. IU is probably the best-known exception, where ethnomusicology is instead affiliated with the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology.

    Although the department in which I’m a student is a department of musicology and ethnomusicology, the ethno students are exposed to a great deal of anthropology and sociology work, along with languages and any other specialties our research may require. We’re encouraged to take courses in other departments, and I have one foot in the anthropology department this semester.

    I think, if I had to come up with a short definition, I’d say that ethnomusicology is the socio-cultural study of music (with all the problems that the word “culture” entails). Maybe a less problematic definition would be that ethnomusicology asks the question “what is the music doing in/for this context?” In schools of music, there are often multiple historical musicology faculty members who look at scores, study Beethoven, and focus on seven hundred-ish years of Western European art music at the exclusion of everything else (and by Western European, I largely mean Austria, Germany, Italy, and France; even Spain, Portugal, and England are on the margins). Often it is up to a lone ethnomusicologist or two to cover the rest of the world, jazz, and pop music.

    I see ethnomusicology as extremely connected to anthropology and sociology, but distinct in its goals: ethnomusicology departments are still often tied up in undoing the outdated (and pervasive, and harmful) notion that Western “classical” music is objectively superior to other types of music-making, which of course feeds into hegemonic notions about art and consumption, etc. To clarify, this is not always the case. But sometimes, entire performance departments will overwhelmingly reproduce the sentiment that the music they study is the most complex, the most advanced, the most meaningful, the height of cultural achievement. This is distinct from Bourdieu’s cultural capital- this is, where it occurs, a belief that Western art music is inherently, and objectively, the best and most highly-evolved type of music.

    As far as what ethnomusicologists study, it runs the gamut. I’ve worked on women in pop music in Chicago (as mentioned), post-Soviet composers and nationalism in Estonia, music’s use in torture in Guantanamo (and some newly emerging research on what loud, prolonged sound may do to organic tissue in the body), and American kirtan in the Boston yoga community- my next project is to focus on a dissertation topic. Colleagues and faculty are working variously on Cambodia, Japan, Colombia, Korea, and musical transmission across the Atlantic.

    Hopefully this is not too boring- please let me know if I even came close to a helpful answer!

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  4. Hi Margaret

    Love the interdisciplinarity. I enjoyed your first piece. I hope you find the time to write more stuff. I’m sure the audience here would welcome a voice such as yours, and I personally would be interested to learn more about your views (on music, politics, education, etc.).

    The flute is often underappreciated, I think (like the organ?). It may be a personal thing, but I prefer that kind of ‘pure’ sound to brass for example, and often notice – and am drawn to – the sound of the flute in certain kinds of popular music.

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