This has been a pretty busy month. On October 6 I participated on a roundtable at a virtual conference at the City University of New York. The four-day conference brought together musicologists, ethnomusicologists, composers, performers, and some of us who also identify, as I do, as ecomusicologists. The conference subject was "Responses in Music to Climate Change," and our roundtable forum topic was "Adaptations: Confronting Climate Change Amid Covid-19." Presenting on the panel were Aaron Allen (University of North Carolina, Greensboro), Mark Pedelty (University of Minnesota), Alexander Rehding (Harvard University), Denise Von Glahn (Florida State University), Holly Watkins (University of Rochester), and myself (Brown University). My presentation was untitled, and was an extremely brief excerpt from a portion of a 7,000-word article forthcoming in a book edited by Jonathan Stock and Beverley Diamond, for Routledge, to be titled The Routledge Companion to Ethics and Research in Ethnomusicology. Most of the articles are completed, including mine; but the editors are waiting for a few that remain, whereupon they will all be forwarded to Routledge. I doubt that the volume will appear before 2023. At any rate, here is what I said on the panel, in response to the topic at hand:
"As I understood it we’re supposed to speak of the effects of COVID-19 and climate change on music, and although I could speak about its devastating effects on my own old-time musical community, where under non-pandemic conditions we play fiddles and banjos sitting knee to knee and feeling each other's presence, instead I plan to do the traditional ethnomusicological thing and speak about some of its effects in two marginalized religious communities that I’ve visited in and written about for many decades. Their perspectives on climate change are somewhat different from mine, and perhaps they also differ from yours.
Old Regular Baptists in the coal country of the southern Appalachian mountains are a demonstrative, intimate group of about 10,000 people descended from the Calvinist wing of the Reformation. Their gatherings are best experienced in person. They sing lined-out hymnody in heterophonic unison, often with lyrics from the 18th century and melodies of indeterminate age. They intone their prayers and they sing their sermons. In the last century we collaborated on a music sustainability project. They say that the sound of their singing, praying, and preaching opens a mutually communicative channel of experience among them, and between them and the presence of God. I spoke with Elwood Cornett, their Association head, about the effects of COVID-19 and climate change on their music. Regarding COVID, there is no opposition on religious grounds to masking and social distancing, but there is longstanding mistrust of government and drug companies, so vaccine hesitancy is significant. Some are still going to church meetings while overall attendance is down. All are masked and they're doing the best they can, to refrain from the frequent handshaking and hugging that has characterized their meetings for centuries. Some tried church via Zoom but it failed for lack of presence as well as poor rural internet service. As for climate change, they agree that it’s anthropogenic but point out that they’ve been experiencing environmental violence and ecosystem devastation in the mountains for decades. Mountaintop removals and more frequent flooding are only the latest examples.
Things are different for the group of evangelical fundamentalists in Virginia's northern Blue Ridge who were the focus of my ethnography, Powerhouse for God. As a result of COVID they closed church for a couple of months in 2020. They knew Zoom church would be a failure so they did not attempt it. They got the idea to try to hold it outside in the church parking lot as if it were a drive-in movie. The pastor told me he felt like he was preaching mainly to Silverados and F-150s, and he didn’t much like it. None of them did. So after a few more weeks they all went back into church, some wearing masks and some not. Like the Old Regulars, they experience the sound of their singing, praying and preaching as a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit that opens a communication channel among them and between them and the divine presence. Climate change is much on their minds. They believe it is real, and that human beings have caused it; but they don't believe that it will cause the Earth's destruction. The pastor quoted Genesis 8:22 to me: "As long as the Earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease." But they do see climate change as another sign of the end times, the Second Coming, and the rapture of the Church when, as they say, there'll be much so much shouting and singing in Heaven as to deafen a mere mortal."