Not something that happens
But the way something happens
-- Charles Ives,
Essays Before a Sonata

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tradition and the pursuit of happiness

Tradition
can be seen as the bad old days,
a straitjacket of custom, ignorance, and intolerance,
to be superseded by a bright, new modern tomorrow,
a liberation from hidebound views,
oppressive authorities,
and arbitrary violence.

At the same time,
tradition can be seen from a romantic perspective
as a repository of solid, genuine, humane, community values,
rich with sentiment, sincerity, and peacefulness,
which is being corrupted by modernity,
thought of as some combination of
the prison of bureaucracy,
the inhumanity of commercial imperatives,
the glossy sham of rapidly changing appearance,
and increasing violence to humankind and nature.

Happiness—
more broadly understood as contentment,
being at one with the world and oneself—
may lie in either, or both, directions,
depending on one's point of view.

(From Peter Wade, Music, Race, and Nation: M├║sica Tropical in Colombia, p. 140.)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Convergence of Ethnomusicology and Jurisprudence

Today I presented a talk, "A Convergence of Ethnomusicology and Jurisprudence: Contextual views on whether performing sacred choral music endorses religion in U.S. public schools," at the conference of the Society for Ethnomusicology in Los Angeles. This talk is based on my recent article published in the Journal of the Society for American Music.

I provide commentary on a 1997 court case, Bauchman v. West High School, concerning the performance and study of sacred vocal music in a public school curriculum. I argue that the doctrine of "endorsement," first articulated by Sandra Day O'Connor in Lynch v. Donnelly (1984), has much in common with an ethnomusicological approach to finding musical meaning in the context of performance. It is not sufficient to study the content of a musical work and declare that this content automatically promotes religion. Only a case-by-case examination of the context of performance can show when performance of a certain work promotes religion.