After a hiatus of about 20 years, Powerhouse for God is available again, in a 2nd edition, with a new Afterword, and in paperback and eBook. Powerhouse was part of a book, recording and film project I undertook in the last century in an effort to document language in religious practice in Appalachia’s northern Blue Ridge. Beginning in the summer of 1976, with the most concentrated ethnographic fieldwork in 1977 and again 1985, I visited a church in Page Co., Virginia, observing the church community at home and in worship, befriending the pastor and his family, and collaborating with them and also with scholars Ken George, Tom Rankin, and Barry Dornfeld in making a documentary recording (1982) and documentary film (1989), all titled Powerhouse for God. The recording, out of print for decades, was re-issued a half-dozen years ago in CD form by Smithsonian Folkways, while the film has been available for viewing on folkstreams.net for many years. The re-publication of the book makes the complete documentary package available once again. It’s available directly from the Press, and also from the usual on-line book outlets.
Books, recordings and films aimed primarily at academic audiences don’t usually get much attention in the popular press, but Powerhouse was an exception. Rock music critics Dave Marsh and Greil Marcus somehow noticed the album, even though it was published by a university press, not a commercial record company. They praised it in The Village Voice and Rolling Stone, putting it on their “best albums of the year” list; and this led to interviews on National Public Radio. A half-dozen years later the Powerhouse project somehow came to the attention of a producer for Nightline, who asked me whether he thought the pastor of the church would make a good subject for Ted Koppel, who was looking to film an authentic preacher for The Koppel Report who would act as a counterweight to the televangelists of the day who were being investigated for fraud. I said yes and encouraged them to see for themselves. Not long afterward, in front of a very surprised group of churchmembers, Koppel and his film crew landed their helicopter in a hayfield across from the church, went inside and proceeded to film Brother John for the program on televangelism, eventually using the footage to bookend his special report and as a contrast to the televangelists. This, of course, was nearly 30 years ago; but televangelism and evangelical fundamentalism remain major players in US religion and politics. Brother John died in 2008 and the church is led now by his son, Brother Donnie. I last visited them in 2016, forty years after my original visit.
A second book is Cultural Sustainabilities, conceived and edited by Tim Cooley, in which several of my colleagues and former students wrote articles in fields such as ethnomusicology, folklore, ecomusicology, and media studies, related in one way or another to the research I’ve done on musical and cultural sustainability. This book was published a couple of months ago by the University of Illinois Press. Tim asked me to write an autobiographical and reflexive foreword, and then in a very generous gesture dedicated the book to me and wrote an introduction in which, among other things, he described the common threads in my ecological approach to understanding expressive culture over what is now a fifty-year period, counting from my earliest publication. This book is available in hardback, paperback, and as an eBook from the University of Illinois Press and also from the usual on-line book websites.
A third book, in press now but not to be published for another year, is my Toward a Sound Ecology: New and Selected Essays. A dozen of my published articles from academic and popular journals, some from fairly obscure places, as well as a new essay on my sound ecology project, will appear in this volume. I wrote an autobiographical and reflexive foreword for this volume also, in which I discuss the power of sound as the connective tissue that forms a pattern in my research interests over the years. It is scheduled for publication in 2020 from Indiana University Press.
In addition, a special Ecologies issue of the journal MUSICultures, edited by Aaron Allen and me, has just been published by the Canadian Society for Traditional Music. The issue is themed on music, sound, and ecologies, and features a dozen articles from scholars and scientists in areas as diverse as soundscape ecology, ethnomusicology, Western art music, and the history of science. When Aaron and I issued our Call for Papers for this issue, we had no idea how much of a response we’d get. Fifty-five scholars and scientists sent us abstract proposals for the issue, and it was not easy for us to winnow them down to the final dozen. We were, also, quite hands-on in editing, which is something I’ve more or less changed my mind about. When I was editor of Ethnomusicology, the journal of the Society for Ethnomusicology, I relied on the specialists who evaluated the articles to suggest improvements to the authors. My more recent editorial work has been far more involved, either because I have more knowledge about the subjects or stronger views, or both. Yet, paradoxically, I seldom enjoy being edited by someone with strong opinions--unless of course they coincide with my own. For this special issue, Aaron wrote an Introduction, and I wrote an Afterword. MUSICultures’ publication policy makes the journal available for the first 3 years after publication only to members of the Canadian Society for Traditional Music; after that period, it is freely available to the public on its website. This protective policy means that it’s not freely available through the electronic portals of college and university libraries, either—which is unusual, for most academic journals are freely available to students, faculty, staff and in some cases, alumni this way.
I also have a few articles completed and in press at the moment. One is on ecojustice and a sound ecology, to appear in the Yale Journal of Music and Religion; another is on ethnography in the study of congregational music, to be published by Routledge in an edited book; a third is on a phenomenological approach to animal sound communication, to be published in the Oxford Handbook of Phenomenological Ethnomusicology, and a fourth is entitled “A Sound Economy,” from my keynote presentation at the 2015 joint SEM-ICTM forum in Limerick, Ireland, to appear in a book of articles based on that forum. I finished writing these in 2016, 2017, and 2018, but it almost always takes edited academic volumes several years of production before publication unless they are conference proceedings, in which case the conference papers are published quickly and more or less verbatim.
Two final observations: one, in retirement since 2013 I’ve been able to focus a lot more on research, writing, public lectures, and publication; two, all of the publications I’ve mentioned in this blog entry, with the exception of the Powerhouse film and the special issue of MUSICultures, were written in response to invitations. Before retirement, of course, I spent a great deal of my working hours preparing and teaching classes, advising students, supervising PhD dissertations and directing the PhD program in my university department, and in other administrative and committee work for my universities. Now I don’t do any of that, unless I decide to accept a visiting professorship for a term or two—which I’ve done only once since retirement; and so I have far more time to devote to research and writing. In truth, most of my publications have come as a result of invitations from editors of journals or university presses who became familiar with my research in one way or another. Even the publication of my first book, Early Downhome Blues, was the result of an invitation from the director of the University of Illinois Press, who in 1970 heard me speak up in response to a paper delivered at a conference, and then buttonholed me, asked me if I was working on anything related to my response and said if so, he’d like to see it. Powerhouse for God was solicited by an editor at the University of Texas Press in 1977 after he saw my name announced on a list of fellowship recipients from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and wrote to ask if I had a book in the works. The Powerhouse recording also was an invited publication, from the University of North Carolina Press originally, and then decades after it went out print, another invitation, this time from Folkways. Of course, today’s job and publication situation for graduate students and young professors is different, and that is a different story.