Academic journal article Folk Music Journal

Taking Part in Music: Case Studies in Ethnomusicology

Academic journal article Folk Music Journal

Taking Part in Music: Case Studies in Ethnomusicology

Article excerpt

Taking Part in Music: Case Studies in Ethnomusicology Ian Russell and Catherine Ingram, eds. Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 2013. 351 pp. Bibliog. Index. 20.00 [pounds sterling].


'Taking Part' was the theme of the twenty-seventh conference of the European Seminar in Ethnomusicology, held at the University of Aberdeen's Elphinstone Institute in September 2011, and this book presents revised and expanded versions of twenty papers from that conference. The theme of a learned society conference like this is generally chosen to suggest a broad area of interest on which almost anyone working in the relevant discipline will feel that they have something to say. 'Taking Part' seems no exception, since ethnomusicologists habitually deal with musical participation both as a research subject and as a research method. More concerned with music-making as an activity than with criticism of musical 'works' or explication of historical and biographical contexts, they focus explicitly or implicitly on the many ways in which people take part in musical behaviour, and whenever possible they join in themselves for purposes of 'participant observation'. It would hardly be more than a rephrasing of Jeff Todd Titon's influential definition, 'the study of people making music', to suggest that ethnomusicology could be defined as the study of musical participation. (1)

As an ethnomusicologist, therefore, my first reaction on hearing about this book was to wonder whether it would be, at one extreme, a tightly focused contribution to the theorization of musical participation, or at the other, a random collection of ethnomusicology articles that deal with participation neither more nor less than other publications in the field. As it turns out, perhaps not surprisingly, it is something in between.

It would not be in the nature of a conference-derived, multi-authored publication like this for the whole book to adhere to a single, precise definition of its subject, and in fact there is hardly any attempt in the book to define the terms 'taking part' or 'participation'. The two expressions are used synonymously, which is reasonable enough since 'participation' is simply Latin for 'taking part', and in their actual application they seem to cover virtually the whole range of behaviours in which people engage with music.

The commonplace understanding that musical participation means producing musical sound in a group is explicitly challenged by several of the authors, who argue, for instance, that silent listeners may be equally important participants in some kinds of musical event (Catherine Ingram) and that talking about music may be the main form of participation in others (Ingrid Akesson). Other authors extend the meaning of participation without making an explicit argument, as when Anthony Seeger speaks of 'participatory listening' to records (p. 29) but does not explain what this means or how it is different from other kinds of listening. Indeed, we are hardly given any examples of musical phenomena that are not participatory, except when Alf Arvidsson and his co-authors set 'taking part' in opposition to 'late modern society's view of music [...] as a work/product performed by the few (artists/experts) for consumption by the many (the audience)' (p. …

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