What is Sociomusicology?

The interpretation of words is inevitably subjective, for meanings are constantly evolving, negotiated through discourse across each sector of society. Still, it has now been over six years since I decided to start this blog called SOCIOMUSICOLOGY, which at this point has over 72,000 page views, so it now seems a good idea to explain my understanding of what this word can mean.

Sociomusicology has been discussed in various ways by music scholars. Some view sociomusicology as a specialized subfield of sociology - essentially the “sociology of music” - while others view it as a particular form of ethnomusicology. Comparing the sociology of music with ethnomusicology, Keller observed a “difference in expertise and competence between the two disciplines” that “derives from their different historical roots” (Keller, 1986, p.179). Personally, I am equally happy with both understandings of this term, which is why I use sociomusicology here, but I also include a subtitle “musical arts – education – social sciences” on this website to suggest some more specific interests. My main fields of academic study are music teacher education and ethnomusicology, so I examine music teaching and learning (and the institutionalization of music) from a global perspective, and I am also very interested in developing new approaches to research that are informed by recent developments in philosophy and new technologies.

In my view, sociomusicology can generally be seen as a form of musicology that proceeds with the intention of producing outcomes that have a social impact, or findings of relevance to practitioners, such as musicians and music teachers (from studies of music ensembles, music learning strategies, and performance techniques, for example). Sociomusicology can also be understood as a specific form of applied ethnomusicology, marked by an openness to research methodologies that may sometimes be distinct from ethnographic fieldwork, such as historiography, computational analysis, practice-based research, and arts policy studies.  

I agree with Norman Stanfield that it is a bit regrettable ethnomusicology was not called “sociomusicology” all along, for ethnicity is merely one dimension of the array of social themes commonly explored in the field usually called “ethnomusicology”. Interestingly, it is really “musicology” - with its traditional focus on composers of “common practice” European art music - that tends to be a specific kind of ethnic-musicology, while “ethnomusicology” tends to be the more holistic field, embracing all kinds of music everywhere in the world. When viewed from the perspective of other fields – such as linguistics or drama – this situation in the academic disciplines of music surely must seem counterintuitive. Still, this is all changing nowadays, as the division between musicology and ethnomusicology now seems to be diminishing.

Here are some examples of how scholars in the past have discussed sociomusicology:
According to Barbara Lundquist (1982), “Sociomusicology focuses on the study of music in its social context. Therefore sociomusicology is closely related to ethnomusicology as well as psychomusicology and historical musicology. Its perspective affects aesthetics and criticism. It deals with concerns that often overlap one or another of these areas of study.

Lundquist also writes the following:
In general terms the bibliographical research revealed that since the early 1900s there has been a marked increase in sociomusicological research all over the world. The variety is quite overwhelming, the focus broad. Procedures range from descriptive, ethnographic studies to empirical ones; from the application of mathematical techniques to entirely speculative language. Everything from the role of song texts or particular genres in revolutions to economic manipulation in the music industry is examined. Studies analyze the social interaction between conductors and musicians in orchestras, at times using such studies to stand for similar status-bound, product-oriented relationships in society. They examine the social interaction in recording studios which affects music as business, as well as the role of music in changing the social behavior of children and adults. The use of music to control attention during television programs is studied, as is the use of music alone or with drugs in cross-cultural comparisons of ritual. The socialization of musicians has been analyzed along with elements in the acculturation and enculturation in music of groups of all sizes, from all over the world. Some studies examine aspects of music which appear to assist in creating and preserving social orders, and inspect the extent to which music is made to play a manipulative role in society.

Regarding the term “sociomusicology”, Charles Keil (1996) writes that it is “Not ‘ethnomusicology’ because the ‘ethno-’ means ‘other’ in the minds of most people and also fosters the misconception of a style or styles tied to one culture at a time, an equation no longer true if it ever was. ‘Sociomusicology’ because musicking only has definable feelings and meanings in social contexts.” Keil notes in one of his other publications that “The most basic sociomusicological idea is that interacting sounds constitute the abstraction ‘music’ in the same way that interacting people constitute the abstraction ‘society’” (Keil, 1998).

Kizinska’s discussion of sociomusicology emphasizes the role of capitalism and the “transformation of social practices into objects of economic exchange” (Kizinzka, n.d.).

Related Articles:

Steven Feld, “Symposium on Comparative Sociomusicology: Sound Structure as Social Structure” Ethnomusicology, 28/3 (1984). Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/851232?uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&sid=21103165991331

Charles Keil, “MUSE Incorporating and Applied Sociomusicology,” MUSE (1996). Retrieved from: http://www.musekids.org/berlin.html

Charles Keil, “Ethnomusicology in Education-Skills for Children’s Liberation: An Applied Sociomusicology for Echologists,” Folklore Forum, 34: 17-27. Retrieved from: https://scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/2022/2352/34%281-2%29%2017-27.pdf?sequence=1

Charles Keil, “Applied Sociomusicology and Performance Studies,” Ethnomusicology, 42/2 (1998). Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/3113893?uid=2&uid=4&sid=21103165991331

Marcello Sorce Keller, “Sociology of Music and Ethnomusicology: Two Disciplines in Competition,” Journal of General Education, 38/3 (1986): 167-181.  

Karolina Kizinska, “Elements of Sociology of Music in Today’s Historical Musicology and Music Analysis,” Ad Alta: Journal of Interdisciplinary Research

Barbara R. Lundquist, “Sociomusicology: A Status Report,” College Music Symposium, 22 (1982). Retrieved from: http://symposium.music.org/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=1932:sociomusicology-a-status-report

Barbara R. Lundquist, “A Sociomusical Research Agenda for Music in Higher Education,” Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 86 (1986): 53-70. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/40317968?uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&sid=21103165991331

John Shepherd, “A theoretical model for sociomusicological analysis of popular music,” Popular Music, 2 (1982), pp. 145-77.

Material from a recent Wikipedia entry on the topic:
Among the most notable of earlier sociologists to examine social aspects of music were Georg Simmel (1858-1918), Alfred Schutz (1899-1959), Max Weber (1864-1920) and Theodor Adorno (1903-1969). Others have included Alphons Silbermann, Ivo Supicic, Max Kaplan, K. Peter Etzkorn, Charles Seeger (1886-1979), Howard Saul Becker, Eli Siegmeister, Jacques Attali, John Mueller (1895-1965), Kurt Blaukopf and Charles Keil.
More recently, notable sociomusicologists have included
§  Peter J. Martin
§  Tia DeNora
§  John Shepherd
§  Hildegard Froehlich
§  Christopher Small
§  Steven Brown
§  Timothy Dowd
§  Andy Bennett
§  Steve Waksman, and
§  Robert Faulkner.
Younger scholars whose work contributes to the field of sociomusicology include:
§  Shyon Baumann
§  David Hebert
§  David Grazian
§  Eric Hung, and
§  Joseph Schloss.


Arts Education Policy Review

Today I received the news that I have been appointed to the editorial board of Arts Education Policy Review. Regarded by many as the leading arts education journal, AEPR is certainly among the oldest in the field, originally known as Design (1899 - 1977), then Design For Arts in Education (1977 - 1992), it has been known as Arts Education Policy Review since 1992 and is published with global distribution by Routledge/Taylor&Francis. The journal is now developing its 115th issue, and its board members include specialists in dance, music, theatre and visual arts. I will post more information shortly about access to AEPR and upcoming special issues of this journal. 

Here is the journal description: 
“Arts Education Policy Review is a peer-reviewed journal published by Routledge/Taylor & Francis. Arts Education Policy Review presents discussion of major policy issues in arts education in the United States and throughout the world. Addressing education in music, visual arts, theatre, and dance, the journal presents a variety of views and emphasizes critical analysis. Its goal is to produce the most comprehensive and rigorous exchange of ideas available on arts education policy. Policy examinations from multiple viewpoints are a valuable resource not only for arts educators, but also for administrators, policy analysts, advocacy groups, parents, and audiences - all those involved in the arts and concerned about their role in education. Arts Education Policy Review does not promote individuals, institutions, methods, or products. It does not aim to repeat commonplace ideas. Articles show originality, probe deeply, and take discussion beyond common wisdom and familiar rhetoric. Articles that merely restate the importance of arts education, call attention to the existence of issues long since addressed, or repeat standard solutions are not published.”


Musical Creation and Creativity

The Grieg Research School (GRS) seminar “Musical Creation and Creativity: Towards new Practices, Processes and Understandings?” takes place at the University of Bergen, November 25-28, 2013.
I will be participating at this seminar in a panel discussion entitled “Creativity, Civilization and Ecology” and serving as Respondent to a paper presentation entitled “Creativity in Piano Performance and Pedagogy: A Chinese Perspective”.

According to the announcement, “This GRS seminar will explore the concepts of creation and creativity from an interdisciplinary point of view, meaning comparisons and sharing of our conceptualizations as understood within in the framework of the different disciplines involved in Grieg Research School; musicology, music therapy, music performance and music education, as well as related scientific areas.”  


It is a relief to be feeling well enough to make plans again, after being forced to cancel participation in several events due to a severe flue during much of early November. 

It looks likely that I will be doing some lecturing in Beijing again in mid-December, and the main writing project for that month is to complete the final work on our new book Theory and Method in Ethnomusicology, and send the manuscript to press (for publication in early 2014). 


Singing with Berlin Philharmonic

I am excited to soon be traveling to Berlin to sing with the Berlin Philharmonic (Sir Simon Rattle, conducting) as part of a delegation with KorVest, the professional vocal ensemble from Bergen, Norway.  We will be performing Arnold Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder, a landmark post-Romantic orchestral work based on the theme of a medieval Nordic love tragedy. Founded in 1882, the Berlin Philharmonic has long been regarded as one of the leading professional symphony orchestras, while Arnold Schoenberg is considered one of the most influential composers of the twentieth century.

Here is a link for more information about Kor Vest, the professional chorus from Bergen:

Here is a link for the concert announcement: 

UPDATE: Click HERE for videos of my more recent singing.

According to Encyclopedia Brittanica, “On Feb. 23, 1913, [Arnold Schoenberg’s] Gurrelieder (begun in 1900) was first performed in Vienna. This gigantic cantata calls for unusually large vocal and orchestral forces. Along with Mahler’s Eighth Symphony (Symphony of a Thousand), the Gurrelieder represents the peak of the post-Romantic monumental style. This music was received with wild enthusiasm by the audience . . .”

Premiered in 1913, our performance will be on the 100-year anniversary of this unique masterpiece. It is thrilling to have such an opportunity to work with such outstanding singers and instrumentalists. I will be carefully documenting my reflections on the experience of preparing and performing this music in order to produce an article in the scholarly vein of “artistic research” or “arts-based research”. Hopefully the writings may lead to some new insights regarding the specialized field of symphony chorus performance, and I will aim for publication in 2014.

Below is a photo from our rehearsal in the Berlin Philharmonic’s hall, just prior to the concert. I am in the red sweater in the back row, to the left of maestro Simon Rattle.