warning: i have more thoughts on this topic than can be conveyed in a blog post. the following, although lengthy, is in no way an accurate reflection of everything that i would/could say. and thanks in advance for reading all of it. 🙂
i am a musicologist. a Nancy Drew of the historiographies, theories, and philosophies of music. the Journal of the American Musicological Society has very broadly defined musicology as, “‘a field of knowledge having as its object the investigation of the art of music as a physical, psychological, aesthetic, and cultural phenomenon” (JAMS, viii, p.153). its scope of research is endless. from gender studies in music, to the gestural and narrative significance of vocalization in opera, the amount of music and ideas that can be explored are well nigh infinite.
my own research might fall into what a member of the general public might categorize as, “what-in-the-world-are-you-saying-and-i-never-would-have-imagined-that-you-could-write-a-paragraph-on-that-much-less-a-thesis.” what is my research and thesis about? it would truly be easier if you just read it, but to give you my “elevator speech,” i am examining Mahler’s construction of narrative in his song cycle Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children) through his incorporation of Wagnerian theories and techniques into a small chamber-music setting. i am looking at his use of the literal and metaphorical voice, as well as physical gesture in both the singer and the orchestra, as methods of weaving a dramatic narrative – in spite of the seeming disparate texts that he selected as the basis for the cycle. in his use of Wagnerian ideas, Mahler constructs a tragic and poignant narrative and exposes the psychological dissolution of the lyrical persona.
yeah. even that does not really begin to adequately describe what I am doing, and the things that I am writing about. but, it is enough for now.
all of this to say, i love musicology. i love music history. i am thoroughly fascinated with all of the various theories and philosophies that went into the music and that permeated the culture(s) and concurrent time period of whatever piece of music is being discussed. musicology is almost an endless sea of music, ideas, and theories to be explored. however, i am often battered and tossed by this sea, this veritable expanse of endless exploration. for while it is a field that i adore and that fascinates me, the vast interweaving of ideas and music(s) actually exists in quite a small percentage of academia.
i have genuinely struggled with what i am doing – with the field that i am pursuing. i know that this is something that the Lord has called me to do, and i know that i am right where i am supposed to be. but i nevertheless struggle with the idea that i am essentially a student in a field whose only “output” is that of more teachers, who will then turn around and teach other musicologists to turn around and teach other musicologists. it seems to me, in my mind that the impact of musicology on the greater whole, or on the world – the general public, is small. the interactions one has as a teacher with non-musicology students is usually because they are simply trying to fulfill a requirement in a class about a subject that they truly care nothing about. the ones who might actually care about music history rarely ever take that enthusiasm outside of the classroom, unless they are going to be admitted into the inner sanctum of musicologists – the future teachers who will merely learn in order to turn around and teach, who will turn around and teach etc… the research and publication aspect of the field, although fascinating, nevertheless keeps everything in the tiny little circle of musicology. our work hardly ever ventures beyond our own kind. we pour ourselves into our work and exercise our intellects to the point of exhaustion only to have it read by a small handful of people.
because of the intimacy of the field, i have struggled as to the point of it all. i have wrestled with what i am doing, and what good my studying and staying in this tiny circle does for the world – what impact it has on the general public. i have yet to meet a member of the general public who would ever just pick up a book about the cultural politics’ effect on music in fin de siecle Vienna. it would be extremely difficult to find a person on the street who cares, much less understands what a musicologist is talking about.
i often hear, “musicology? what on earth is that, and what in the world do you do with that?” i am frequently the academic sideshow in group settings when people hear what i do. being in social settings with my two roommates (both who were in and have since graduated from law school) inevitably led to being glossed over in comparison to the glorious endeavors of being a law student/lawyer.
but i am okay being of the “marginalia,” so to speak. i am okay to exist in the background, and on the border.
and, often, when i wonder what and why in the world i am studying music history, i remember that the very creation, moving, and being of the universe is music (and yes, that is a scientifically proven and studied fact). the planets, in their rotations produce music. and although these are not audible to the naked ear, NASA has recorded them, and noted their exact pitches. therefore, who am i to question the validity and worth in what i am doing, when music pervades the atmosphere itself? who am I? and who is society to ascribe worth (or lack thereof) to music, when the spheres themselves utter a divine anthem? the music of the universe is perhaps an echo, an incarnation of a heavenly intonation. the Artist of the universe, the Artist of my soul is also the Artist of man’s creativity. through the pursuit of music, heaven’s music becomes audible, tangible, and worth every ounce of creative inspiration in exploring it. the music that i study has an Artist who is divine, and its Composer has blanketed the world in its sound. who am i to question the study of music? and should i not seek to give glory to the Composer through my pursuit, understanding, and conveyance of music and its history – one of His most glorious and sublime gifts?!
as cliche and strange as it may sound, music is everywhere. whether we realize it or not. music history goes back to the heavens. back to when, “the stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy” (Job 38:7)
musicology is fascinating. and the in depth analysis of music IS a worthy thing. so, while the field of musicology may be minuscule, its object of study is not. because as it turns out, the marginal is in fact, all encompassing.