Thursday, May 30, 2013

ABET in João Pessoa

     Addendum, Dec. 29, 2013: My ABET keynote address, "The Nature of Ecomusicology," has just been published in the Association of Brazilian Ethnomusicologists' annual journal, Music e Cultura, Vol. 8 (2013). A free pdf may be downloaded from the journal's website, here:

       I'm writing this evening from João Pessoa, in northeastern Brazil. In fact, the easternmost point in the Americas is on a spit of land no more than 1/4 mile from me. The occasion is the biennial conference of ABET, the Association of Brazilian Ethnomusicologists. The theme of their conference this year is music and sustainability, and they invited me to give the keynote (opening) address, which I did Monday afternoon-evening, after a roundabout trip from Providence that unexpectedly took me on a flight through Panama after the original flight was cancelled, thence to Recife and then by ground transportation north to Joào Pessoa, arriving at 5 a.m. Monday. 
     I was uncertain about whether to make this trip at all, because I speak not a word of Portuguese, the principal language of the conference; but my expenses were paid by ABET and I was able to travel with my colleague Tony Seeger, who was one of the pioneers of Brazilian ethnomusicology--he did his fieldwork and taught as a professor in Brazil in the 1970s, and has been active in Brazilian ethnomusicology circles ever since, while holding professorships at Indiana University and UCLA, and also spending a dozen years or so as the founding director of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. Besides, Tony speaks fluent Portuguese, and he and a few others at the conference were able to translate what I said in English to the Brazilians and what they said in Portuguese to me. I was very warmly welcomed and have felt very comfortable here, even to the point of playing some of my compositions on guitar, at the beginning and also at the end of my address.
     After the lengthy flight I had no trouble sleeping till noon, and gave the keynote five hours later. I chose to speak on "The Nature of Ecomusicology," and by that I mean two things: (1) how ecomusicologists are defining this new field through their practice--the kinds of work they are doing, and (2) the ways ecomusicologists are thinking about nature. Ecomusicology itself is a very recent field, combining literary ecocriticism with musicology. The 2013 (new 2nd) edition of the Grove Dictionary of American Music, commonly referred to as the Amerigrove, has an entry, written by musicologist Aaron Allen, that defines it: "Ecomusicology is the study of music, culture and nature in all the complexities of these terms." It is the study of music, nature, culture, and the environment at a time of environmental crisis. More about ecomusicology may be found here:  -->

     Although I could have addressed the keynote more directly to music and sustainability issues, I thought I should bring them new work for the keynote, and reserve a workshop I am to lead for a couple of hours tomorrow for topics such as applying principles from conservation ecology (diversity, interdependence, limits to growth, and stewardship) to cultural policy for managing music with the goal of sustainability. Other topics I will talk about include enlisting heritage tourism and the so-called creative economy in the service of sustaining music; the kinds of fieldwork conducive to musical sustainability, particularly with indigenous peoples; and the difficulties of enacting official cultural policies designed to sustain unofficial music. 
      Readers of this blog have read quite a bit about the first two topics, but let me add just one more thing here regarding heritage. The Brazilians use the word patrimonia for heritage. In Brazil, as in the US, patrimonia (or patrimony) is the portion of a father or male ancestor's estate which by law is passed down to the children. I was told by the Brazilian ethnomusicologist Samuel Araujo that "patrimonia" therefore has, in Brazil, an unavoidable economic connotation, that of money or land or other kinds of material wealth. In this way it is somewhat in tension with "intangible cultural heritage," because patrimonia is material and tangible rather than intangible. However, in this usage it is always paired with the term "cultural" and so it becomes "cultural patrimony." Tony Seeger later noted that the term comes to Portuguese through UNESCO discourse, which is initially in French. Complicating matters further, although in English the common term is heritage rather than patrimony, the US has not signed on to the UNESCO Geneva Convention treaty which made the term operational in the international realm. As Welson Trimura pointed out, sometimes it is better not even to try to translate literally at the word level, but to try to translate ideas in other words that convey the thought better than a literal translation would do.
      Within the next few weeks I will write more about these workshop topics here, and also about the keynote address regarding ecomusicology and nature. 


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