Music, Art and Death

Beethoven's Death Mask by ed_and_don on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Beethoven's Death Mask by ed_and_don (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I was unable to attend the Plainsong and Medieval Music Society’s recent conference on ‘Music and death before 1650‘, so I was delighted to see Elizabeth Eva Leach’s partial conference review. (Thanks!) Turns out the PMMS is now on Twitter as well as Facebook. So, no excuse for not following the society very closely!

Death is the topic of another conference this year. The Art of Death and Dying will be held at the University of Houston, October 25-27, 2012. It’s an interdisciplinary event. In the call for papers, the organizers

welcome scholars in all disciplines to submit paper proposals on literary, visual, and performing arts topics related to death and dying. Topics of the symposium include, but are not limited to:

  • Depictions or interpretations of death and dying in:
    • the performing and visual arts
    • literature
    • film, radio, and television
    • artifacts as represented in archival or museum collections
    • architecture (e.g. memorial or cemetery design)
  • Commemoration of the dead in art, architecture and performance
  • Artistic depictions of the after life
  • Cultural death rituals
  • Cultural expressions of mourning
  • Death and dying in Latin American arts and culture

Proposals related to death in Latin American arts and visual culture are encouraged.  The organizers will accept presentations in both Spanish and English. . . . Presenters will be afforded the opportunity for their symposium paper/presentation to be published in the Texas Digital Library.

I like the digital library touch and will bear that in mind next time I’m organizing a conference. If you’re thinking of submitting, make sure to read the call in full on the conference website first, and follow the submission guidelines closely. The deadline is May 1, 2012.

I’m curious why death seems to be a hot topic just now. Maybe it always was, and I just hadn’t noticed before. I was wondering whether it is something to do with the US and UK’s recent wars? Or does this topic often come up around the turn of a century? (We’re still not that far in to the 21st century, after all.) Is there something else I’ve missed?

Gremlins removed several comments re: pop music studies in Ireland

Last month, I posted my response to Stephen Graham’s article on the position of pop music in Irish universities, and I referred briefly to the comments left on his post. I wish now that I had quoted them, because it seems the comments have vanished altogether. The commenters were Prof. Stock at University College Cork, and, if memory serves, Victor Lazzerini at NUI Maynooth, and me. Graham has not revised his article to reflect the inaccuracies in his post. He still claims, completely inaccurately, that ‘popular music studies . . . . has singularly failed to penetrate Irish musicology’s hermetic institutional seal.’ And he is still wrong. This is a misrepresentation of musicology in Ireland.

One of Graham’s points was that musicologists should be more visible in public debates about music. It is ironic that, when several musicologists used the comment facility on his post to contribute to this public debate, Graham or the editor of the unwelcome gremlins on the Journal of Music website removed the comments. I hope that the gremlins will be under control soon.

Update, 22 April, 2012, 2105h EST

Following correspondence with Stephen Graham, I have updated this post and changed the title to reflect the fact that it is was not the result of an editorial decision but a technological glitch.

Pop Music Studies in Ireland’s UG Degrees

In a recent article, ‘Musicology in Ireland (Journal of Music), Stephen Graham calls for two things: for musicologists to participate to a greater degree in public debates about music in mass media (broadcast and print), and for ‘popular music studies to penetrate Irish musicology’s hermetic institutional seal.’ I think the absence of musicologists from music discussions in mass media is a little overstated—quite apart from the musicologists I know who broadcast when they have the opportunity, some performers and composers are also musicologists, some broadcasters and journalists have musicology PhDs—nonetheless, I would agree that there’s plenty of room for greater engagement, and a complex knot of reasons why the situation is as it is.

But what I really wanted to get to was the issue of pop music studies in Irish undergraduate curricula. Graham is right that there’s no dedicated pop music studies undergraduate degree in Ireland, but it is simply not true that pop music studies has not broken ‘Irish musicology’s hermetic institutional seal.’ At University College Cork, for example, students can elect to study a wide range of music topics and a variety of methodological and theoretical approaches, and there’s usually at least one specific pop music course on offer (this year there is a musicological course in ‘Heavy Metal Music‘, and ‘applied’ courses in composing and arranging popular music, hearing pop, and pop music ensembles). Some courses are not organised around repertoire but around some other issue—like my ‘Women in Music’ course, for instance, or ‘Difference and Otherness‘, or ‘Global Sounds‘, or courses on film music—and so they examine a wide range of repertoires and genres, that may include popular music. And for the final year of the BMus degree, students can elect to perform a pop music set, conduct a project or an analysis or write a dissertation on a pop music topic. I would say there is a genuine effort to mainstream pop music studies. And University College Cork is not the only institution in Ireland that welcomes pop music in the curriculum: NUI Maynooth does too. Undoubtedly there’s room for more still.

In a response to several comments on his piece, Graham said he was thinking particularly of certain institutions in Dublin. And in generalising from the situation of those universities, he erased what is happening elsewhere in Ireland. What I think is potentially a more interesting story to tell is the history and practice of disciplinary and curricular innovation. Which topics, repertoires, methodologies, theoretical approaches enter which institutions and when? Do they spread and if so, how? I suspect there’s a curious story to tell in every country about curricular innovation, perhaps especially the kind that may initially be considered a threat to institutional prestige, or to established values.