You’re an ethno-what?!?

In an article published in the Winter 2009 Ethnomusicology journal, Adelaida Reyes (independent scholar) writes about the typical conversations that happen when a non-ethnomusicologist meets an ethnomusicologist. You’re an ethno-what?!?

Reyes makes a very practical statement: “ Ethnomusicology is not recognizable to many – perhaps to most – non-ethnomusicologists. Is it recognizable to us?”

Countless articles [and whole books] have been written that discuss the historical chronology and definitions of the field, so that’s not necessary. However, as the discipline evolves so does the way of thinking within. It’s unquestionably vital to look back as we move forward, and to be critical of the paths that we take, but at what point is there more written about the subject than the subject matter? Too often it seems that articles are written to justify ethnomusicology as a discipline. Sometimes I’d like to shake people and say “enough already! We’re valid! Go forth in the field and do something productive!”

With that said, Reyes writes an excellent article here about the re-examination of definitions – even if the article’s title question (What do ethnomusicologists do?) isn’t quite answered – perhaps that’s the point. She returns to the “persistent question” of what it is we actually do and we’re reminded that even at conferences today there are ”sounds of unresolved conflict” in an attempt to answer this. As you can see, quite a bit of energy goes into this little question.

I can’t answer the question of what we actually do, because I’m only in the infancy of doing it myself. What I do know is that field methods are a very personal decision and based on context.  

My ethnomusicology is the study of music as culture within social context. In her article, Reyes goes on to discuss music as expressive culture.  I agree wholeheartedly with this statement as it links the term culture to music from its very birth. Then, to add ‘expressive’ to my definition: my ethnomusicology is the study of music as expressive culture within social context.  If I look back at this a year from now or even several months from now, it might change – that’s where I stand today.



Reyes, Adelaida. “What Do Ethnomusicologists Do? An Old Question for a New Century”. Ethnomusicology: Vol. 53, No. 1. Winter 2009. Pp. 1-17.





  1. I respect what you’re doing, as well as your right to find out what you’re doing as you go — but what’s your elevator pitch? As in, what would you tell a non-academic — let’s say one with immense amounts of money to give you — if you wanted them to care about what you were doing? I ask this not to be a pain in the ass, but because I do think the onus is on us to explain why people should care…and perhaps I’m being cynical, but words like ‘expressive culture’ and ‘social context’ might not strike quite the right chord. So to speak.

    1. This comes up a lot, and having had years of experience trying to justify music education, advocacy (in general) is definitely something that’s always marinating in my head. have to make things super clear for family members all the time, also. Thanks for bringing it up – I’m working on that.

      1. Glad to hear it, and let us know when you come up with one. I really enjoy reading your blog and I’d like something I can tell my relatives too when they ask what an ethnomusicologist does! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s