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.