Random Access: Your Role in Music History

Article excerpt

Of course you have studied music history in school and (hopefully) have continued your music history studies, either formally or informally, since then. But have you thought about the role you play in that history? How about the role your students play? Given the possibilities of new information technologies, your potential role might be bigger than you think.

What Is Music History Anyway?

We all know what the study of music history is: the study of the life, times, musical practices and culture surrounding musicians, as well as their contributions to the musical art form. But what, really, is the history of music itself?.

When studying music history or any other history, it is easy to assume we are studying actual events that took place. In reality, however, history is not the sum total of the events themselves but, rather, our record of those events. That record can be at times accurate, inaccurate or rather muddled, yet we still study it to find meaning. Whenever we study that record, we must remember that there is a story in history.

The Individual Roles We Play

As a record of the past, our musical history can be found in many places, including information passed on through oral tradition, print, historical artifacts, pictures, recordings and even musical interpretations. Indeed, there is no single place where the entire accessible record of our music history resides.

Whenever we teach our students, we participate in the ongoing documentation of musical history and an evolving interpretation of it. For example, when we teach a student how to execute a trill in Mozart's music, starting (or not starting) on the upper note, we are contributing to the history of music by passing on information that may take on a life of its own through our student and everyone who comes in contact with that student and his music. What we pass on to our student may or may not be accurate or insightful, but it does become part of music history.

Although it might be comforting to think that we can go to scholarly sources, such as Grove's Dictionary of Music" and Musicians, to get the facts, the actual history of music is a larger embodiment of the collective understanding of all mankind--and that includes the minds and the writings and the performances of many people--even those who do not necessarily have any expertise in this field.

We may think that articles written by scholars and printed in peer-reviewed journals are more important than our own contributions to music history, but it stands to reason that our own contributions are significant. In fact, our own contributions are very significant in the lives of our students. And, if we take advantage of new and easily accessible technologies, our personal influence may expand exponentially.

An Opportunity for You

The Internet and new information technologies make it possible for anyone to become a noteworthy contributor to the history of music. A good example is a relatively new, free and ever-evolving online encyclopedia called Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/Main_Page).

Wikipedia is an encyclopedia writ ten by everyone who chooses to contribute constructively. Unlike a writer for Grove's, you don't have to be a pedigreed scholar to write for Wikipedia. All you have to do is post an article or edit an existing article.

The encyclopedia grows and evolves on a moment-by-moment basis. Currently, there are about 732,000 articles in the English section alone. Many more languages are represented, but to a lesser extent.

The notion that anyone can write or edit an article for Wikipedia may seem quite bizarre but before you completely discount what I am telling you, please suspend your disbeliefs for a few more paragraphs.

I first encountered Wikipedia a few months ago. I found some very interesting and helpful material in the form of text, images, sounds and so on. …