Month: May 2011

Sneaking up on Bonnaroo

In less than two weeks I’ll be heading to Manchester, Tennessee with over 80,000 other folks in search of “an experience”. This year I’m not attending as  a patron of the festival, but as a vendor. Ten of us will be assisting over 500 people in building their own drums. I’m holding my breath, because I already know that this is going to be one of the most physically demanding four days I’ve had in years. From a simple wood shell to slap, tone, and bass, you’ve heard me talk about this process before if you’ve read my blog in the past six months. If not, you can see my post about drum building in the related articles at the end of this post. 

I decided tonight that it was time to look at the festival lineup. No, I hadn’t done this yet except to say that I knew Robert Plant was performing. I heard his set at Jazz Fest, and if I get close enough at Bonnaroo to lick the ground he walks on, I just might.  Ok – maybe not, but I like him. A lot. You do get that, right? …  So, who else do we have this year that bleeps on my radar? Eminem. Buffalo Springfield. Bassnectar. GirlTalk. Alison Krauss. Old Crow Medicine Show. G. Love. Loretta Lynn (Yes, I’m leaving out the New Orleanians on the list so throw me to the gators, into a vat of erl or berlin’ water, or make my mama slap me…  – and there are several, but as I’ll be working 95% of the time, I have to pick and choose my battles wisely – I’ve seen most (if not all) of the New Orleanians live).

I’m excited. Even if I don’t get to see any of the above artists (though I’m sure I’ll slip into a few sets), the drum building process is so therapeutic for me. I love it, and this weekend will certainly test just how much I love it. From an ethnographers’ (let alone ethnomusicologists’) point of view, this is something very unique – being part of a massive effort to create musical instruments – to enable revelry, debauchery, healing, musicality, and everything else that comes as a result of it… is magical. Yes, I will be documenting, taking field notes, photos, and video as much as possible. 500 drums in four days with an amazing live soundtrack while I work… talk about a soundscape… talk about an ethnomusicologist in heaven.

The next question is this – what the hell do I bring?

That’s all for now. Cheers, y’all.

Small Archiving Project [Pt 1]

As many of you know, last year I inherited a small archiving project of and relating to New Orleans opera in the mid-1900’s. As of two days ago, this “project”, which has consisted of a giant box of mildew-scented newspaper clippings, has come to life. (Immediately I feel a rush of “GAH!” as I realize I have no clue where to start.) I have yet to take an archiving course, although I hope to at some point, even if it has to be a DIS. Regardless, I need to invest in some texts or friendly conversation with those “in the know” regarding the methodology.  So… I have a giant box of old newspaper clippings. Now what?

I suppose I should talk about the clippings for a moment. I inherited the box from a music library in New Orleans which didn’t harbor the means/resources to give it the time of day. It had been given to the library as part of an estate and I can only assume this is because the owner was getting on in years or perhaps passed away. So here I am.

…no clue who the “owner” was (i.e. who assembled the box of clippings), or their relationship to the articles they clipped. The articles themselves range from 1930-1984, and they discuss two particular opera stars from New Orleans who rose through the ranks toward the Met, then came back home  [to New Orleans] during their final years (from what I can see thus far). It’s not simply a survey of opera in New Orleans via media clips. It’s an intimate portrait of two particular people, as if a mother was saving every newspaper clipping of her rising star children.

This is going be like the board game “Clue” for the next few weeks.  Step one was to pull them out of the box and glance them over. I’m about halfway done with this step (there’s a few hundred articles and they’re frail – give me a break!), and I have been taking notes as I peruse them: particular questions I’ll need to answer, people/places/dates that keep popping up, etc. Once I’m done with this, I suppose I’ll continue picking through and asking questions as I put them together chronologically.  Then it gets tricky. I can further split them up via location, musician, opera, role, or even critic. After that I’m not quite sure which direction to take. I know there’s a story to tell here. I just have to unravel it.

Of course these clippings can likely all be found in digital  [or other] archives, and perhaps I won’t come to any conclusions at all with this small project of mine, but it gives me something to do for the next month and I need to brush up on the 20th century opera scene in New Orleans anyway. For now, back to playing Clue

A Rebuttal Against NPR: Ethnomusicology Edition

A recent article posted by NPR has disquieted ethnomusicologists across the country on social networking sites, message boards, and mailing lists. The following was stated in an article that discusses college student debt:

“So what are the most worthless degrees or, at least, the hardest to monetize later on in life? Kantrowitz says he often hears from religious studies and theater majors who have a hard time paying back their loans… Ethnomusicology is another example. Kantrowitz describes one student who was thinking of borrowing more than $100,000 to pay for that degree. “There are only two main occupations for a degree in ethnomusicology,” he says. “One is being a music librarian, which doesn’t pay very well. The other is being [on the] university faculty, teaching other students about ethnomusicology.” -NPR Staff

There are several things wrong with this statement, and perhaps Kantrowitz should check his sources before publishing such nonsense. Ethnomusicology doesn’t get nearly enough media as it is, and we certainly don’t need anything negative, nevermind when it’s blatantly incorrect. There certainly are far more than the two above occupations for those with a degree in ethnomusicology. Additionally the last time I checked, a degree in library science is necessary to be a librarian. Many ethnomusicologists do choose to pursue a career in academia as faculty. However, do they only “teach ethnomusicology?” Of course not – they are researchers and performers. They teach music classes that many other faculty are simply not qualified to do – including several genres of popular and roots music. In addition to world music survey courses, these courses tend to fill up with hundreds of students each semester, adding thousands of tuition dollars to the university pocketbook.

What else do ethnomusicologists do? They work at publication firms such as National Geographic, at iTunes, at Pandora Radio and other major music ventures, at Billboard venues and other “top music lists”, at museums, at art institutes, at festivals as directors and coordinators, at the Smithsonian, at record companies including the Recording Academy, at archives, for governments as cultural consultants, as humanitarians, as arts consultants, as primary and secondary teachers, as arts administrators, in applied fields, as healers, as anthropologists and musical historians, as musical archaeologists, as performers, as publication editors, as authors, in studios,as independent researchers, in media studies, as a program director, grant writer, tour publisher/manager, festival publicist, a consultant to film score composers or video game developers, radio DJ, as travel journalists and photographers, or a military consultant… what about working for TV stations like PBS, NG, or Discovery? Eat that, NPR.

At the end of the day, a lot of ethnomusicologists choose a less-than lucrative (usually) career in academia as university faculty, however the possibilities are endless. I don’t know any ethnomusicologists who are “in it for the money”. Ethnomusicologists are a rare breed, and have skills that the rest of the world needs whether they know it or not – we have the skills to discuss increased globalization and acculturation, cultural/spiritual sensitivity, and human diversity. I’m disappointed in NPR, a supposedly conscious public media outlet “on the side of the arts”. Where’s the love?

QOTD: [from] The West Wing

Sam Seaborn

Image via Wikipedia

“Mallory, education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don’t need little changes, we need gigantic, monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be making six-figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defense. That’s my position. I just haven’t figured out how to do it yet. ” -Sam Seaborn (character – The West Wing)

Cheers! To an amazing weekend in New Orleans!

the new ink on my left forearm - my Katrina tat. Thanks to Jason @ Electric Ladyland!

This past weekend, I took two friends to New Orleans, and as a whole  it is forever on my top list as one of my favorite NOLA experiences.

  • Jazz Fest: Glen David Andrews is my religion. I saw him twice this weekend – once at Jazz Fest, and later at DBA. Both experiences are unparalleled, and I’m pretty sure my friends and I made it into some national media shots during the jazz fest show. I’ll search around.  Amanda Shaw and Trombone Shorty hopped on stage with him, followed by Irvin. The Radiators’ last Fest appearance – amazing show, but of course even more amazing because Camile’s a friend (I worked for his wife for several years). Kid Rock & Cowboy Mouth – both excellent. Preservation Hall Jazz Band – Seeger jumped on stage with them and there was a second line throughout the tent. What else can I say? Saw Mardi Gras Indians (incl. Bo Dollis Jr. – Wild Magnolias), saw an amazing Haitian arts/voodoo ceremony, Jesse McBride, Ellis & Jason Marsalis, and a bit of NOJO…
  • Friday night: Big Freedia‘s CD Release Party w/ Katey Red, Sissy Nobby, & more.. amazing Bounce show w/ amazing friends.
  • Saturday night: G-String Orchestra, Slow Danger Brass Band, Zydepunks. All amazing.
  • Sunday night (post-jazz fest): lots of Frenchmen wandering & random musical artists
  • Monday night: Threadhead Records party w/ Paul Sanchez & new solo artists from the Radiators… Glen David Andrews later on.. then Karaoke @ Checkpoint Charlies..

Needless to say, it was an action-packed weekend without much sleep and not a single day of getting in before 4am. Throw in a new tattoo, a trip the aquarium (penguins!!), lots of amazing food, perhaps a wee bit of absinthe & St. Germaine, watching the Kentucky Derby, a wind ensemble concert, lunch with an ex professor, lots of hugs from previous colleagues/professors/students, a few small parades, a pretty nifty job offer, picking up my last diploma, watching a string quartet  of 12-yr-olds on a street corner, and about a million laughs… time well spent. My soul is rejuvenated for a bit.  Now to plan for this monster drum workshop at Bonnaroo…