7 Wesleyan Faculty, Alumni, Graduate Student Make Presentations at SEM Annual Meeting

Olivia DrakeNovember 2, 20209min

semFour faculty, two alumni, and one graduate student participated in the virtual Society for Ethnomusicology Annual Meeting held Oct. 22–31.

As part of a panel addressing contemporary musical issues in Iran, Bridgid Bergin MA ’17 spoke about the Iranian Female Composers Association (IFCA), which was established in 2017 by three female-identifying Iranian composers: Anahita Abbasi, Niloufar Nourbakhsh, and Aida Shirazi. IFCA supports Iranian female-identifying composers by encouraging organizers and ensembles in Iran and beyond to commission and engage these composers in collaborations, while also discovering and mentoring young female composers who are fighting against all odds to become contemporary classical composers in 21st-century Iran. In 2018 the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) became an organizational partner in reinforcing IFCA’s platform as well as advocating for its members. Bergin presented three composer portrait videos and explored IFCA’s “her-story”—its founding members and an analysis of the intersections of gender, music, politics, and identity.

Eric Charry, professor of music, spoke about “An Ethnography of the Five Spot Café,” as part of a panel on rethinking jazz canons. Drawing on cultural geography, Charry examined from multiple perspectives the Five Spot Café (on the Bowery, 1956–62), one of the most important venues in jazz history: as an object in the Lower East Side and in downtown New York City jazz club landscapes; as a place imbued with sociocultural meaning; as a phenomenological space with a unique feel; and as a flashpoint in a historically dynamic scene. Moving beyond reports by American and European journalists, over a half-dozen live LP recordings, and published interviews with musicians, Charry focused on photographs taken inside the club. In this talk, Charry investigated race, gender, age, and especially modes of participation in jazz performance, and explored how an expanded view of ethnographic analysis of the inner workings of a historic venue has much to offer the history of jazz.

Graduate student Douglas Kiman presented highlights from his paper titled “European Jewish Music Festivals as Liminal Spaces: The Case of Klezmore Vienna.” Jewish music festivals, such as Klezmore in Vienna (2004–present), have flourished in contemporary European cities, and since the 1990s Jewish music festivals and the ‘Klezmer Boom’ have grown as interconnected phenomena. In his paper, Kiman examines the multiple functions of this festival by juxtaposing Diana Pinto’s concept of Jewish space with the anthropological notion of liminality. Drawing on mapping practices, multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork and digital investigations, Kiman illuminated the dynamic relationship that Klezmore articulates between its spatial elements and klezmer performances. Placing the case study of Klezmore in dialogue with other European Jewish festivals, Kiman also demonstrated how, beyond place-related demographic, geographic, and cultural singularities, the festival-ization of klezmer music reveals identical mechanisms on both trans-local and transnational levels.

Mark Slobin, Winslow-Kaplan Professor of Music, Emeritus, shared a case study titled “The Resurgence of Yiddish Folksong” during a panel on Jewish diasporas and repertoires. The Yiddish folksong, which was liquidated in its eastern Europe homeland and damaged by assimilation and neglect in its worldwide diaspora, is undergoing a resurgence among young activists who are willing to learn the language as part of their search for meaning in today’s troubled times. Slobin spoke about two issues: the motivations and work of the younger generation, who are creating contemporary “folksongs,” and the continuous creation of new material by the veteran specialists.

Sumarsam, Winslow-Kaplan Professor of Music, spoke on “Javanese Traditional Performing Arts in Contemporary Islamic Propagation.” In this presentation, Sumarsam discussed how the 20th century marked the growth of Islamic propagation activities (dakwah) in Indonesia and other countries with large Muslim populations. Most commonly in the form of preaching, the main objective of the propagation is to deepen and strengthen the faith. Since Indonesian Islam consists of different schools of thought and traditions, the propagations represent widely different Islamic dogmatic and social traditions. This has led to rich variants of the structures and uses of cultural material of dakwah. In Java, in light of a belief that gamelan and wayang are the creation of wali (Islamic saints), these performing genres are always present in propagation. Sumarsam questioned how performing art contributes to the intensity of communicative interaction in propagation.

Dustin Wiebe PhD ’17 chaired a panel on “Proselytizers, Preachers, and Music in Colonial and Post-Colonial Indonesia” and shared his paper titled “Memories of Music and Dance from the Balinese Mission Field.” Weibe explained how the Widya Wahana Mandala library in the village of Tuka is the largest repository of Catholic archival and literary resources in Bali. The materials deposited here, including a number of important musical sources, are largely a result of the efforts of the American missionary Father Norbert Shadeg. Underscoring his dedication to his parishioners and new home, Shadeg became an Indonesian citizen in 1988. Weibe’s paper explores the idea of “missionary as ethnographer” by taking the expertise amassed by these deeply immersed cultural specialists. Wiebe demonstrated that not only are the materials collected by missionaries valuable in their own right, but their interactions with locals and local customs are also often more socially nuanced than the tropes of colonialist missionaries can accommodate. Of particular interest here are a collection of Shadeg’s photographs documenting historical Balinese gamelan and dance performances at various Catholic church events from the 1950s through the early 21st century.

Su Zheng, associate professor of music, served as a panelist on “Re-Examining Chinese Music-Making in North America.” In her book, Claiming Diaspora, Zheng calls attention to the necessity of studying diasporic cultural production within the Asian American movement, and aptly warns against universalizing experiences of displacement in discourses of diasporic transnationalism. Broadening the scope of study to include Canada as well as the U.S., Zheng and fellow panelists presented research that is a further contribution to documenting the multi-vocality of the North American Chinese diasporic experience through the lens of music-making. The speakers explored the interstitial cultural spaces occupied by Chinese American/Canadian musicians of varied cultural and social histories and their negotiated roles in the reformation of diverse Chinese American/Canadian identities.

Zheng also chaired a roundtable on “Truth and Narratives: Music and Scholarship in the Shadow of a Rising China,” which highlighted the global impact of a rising China on music and music scholarship, calling out for more critical engagement with opposing narratives.