AMS Blogging

What do you get when you put 700 musicologists in the same room?

I guess we’ll find out, because beginning today and running through Sunday, the American Musicological Society will be hosting their annual mega-conference, this year in Philadelphia. Neither Mark nor I will be able to make it, but we’d love to hear your impressions if you happen to attend the musicological circus. No doubt Richard Taruskin will play a role in the proceedings..

Our friends over at amusicology will be hosting a “no-host” reception tonight, and we hope that available conference-goers will try to make it to connect with some top-notch music bloggers. (amusicology’s Drew Massey posted his preview of the conference here.) Phil Gentry keeps us in the know with a practical guide to Philly; on Sunday, he’ll be presenting his paper “Crying in the Chapel: Religiosity and Masculinity in Early Doo-Wop.”

Have a great time and let us know how it goes – we wish we could be there too!

Blogging Musically

For centuries, writers have experimented with forms that evoke the imperfection of thought, the inconstancy of human affairs, and the chastening passage of time. But as blogging evolves as a literary form, it is generating a new and quintessentially postmodern idiom that’s enabling writers to express themselves in ways that have never been seen or understood before. Its truths are provisional, and its ethos collective and messy. Yet the interaction it enables between writer and reader is unprecedented, visceral, and sometimes brutal. And make no mistake: it heralds a golden era for journalism. – Andrew Sullivan, preface to “Why I Blog”

And a golden era for musicology too, we hope.

Blogging might not be the most natural process for the typical scholar or grad student. In formal academic writing, we are held to a high degree of rigor, organization, and factual accuracy. But blogging is a bit different. As Andrew Sullivan says, “truths are provisional” in the ephemeral realm of the blogosphere. It is less about formal elegance and perfectly articulated thoughts than it is about the messy process of thinking. Moreover, it’s a venue for the collective action of working out ideas, probing, thinking aloud, and engaging in discussion. This improvisatory element to blogging might be intimidating for the scholar and student, steeped as they are in formalism and the need to back up everything they assert with a reference. The challenge to music blogging for the scholar-student, therefore, is in letting go.

We want to welcome all forms of writing on this blog, fully-formed ideas included. But one should also feel free to contribute without fear of accusations of shoddy scholarship; one should feel enabled and encouraged to plop amoebic ideas down without worrying about loose ends. This is the greatest gift of the blog format: it’s ok to be imperfect. Writing in this format is an attempt to capture thoughts in motion. One can always pin them down later.

This sort of writing can only be a good thing for a scholar-student, and a good thing for the discipline. If traditional scholarship is the equivalent of a flawless performance of the Haydn Trumpet Concerto, then blogging is like getting onstage with a rhythm section and improvising a solo on “Bye Bye Blackbird,” complete with occasional wrong notes and mental misfires. It’s the verbal version of a jam session.

We hope that The Taruskin Challenge provides an open, exploratory, nurturing, and fun venue for music-geekery in all its forms. In the spirit of this geekery, I close with a particularly felicitous metaphor from Sullivan’s piece:

There are times when a blogger feels less like a writer than an online disc jockey, mixing samples of tunes and generating new melodies through mashups while also making his own music. He is both artist and producer—and the beat always goes on.

Thank You

Original movie poster for Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Zach and I started this blog with modest ambitions. It was simply an easy way to hold an ongoing discussion between us across distance, and work through our thoughts and reactions as we work through the text of the OHWM. We told some friends and colleagues about it, thinking that maybe—just maybe—a few of them would be interested enough, or have a sliver of time in their busy schedules to drop by the blog and chime in. We were quite surprised with the response.

Since launch day six days ago, the blog has received over 800 hits. Numerous colleagues both known and unknown to us—the wonders of the internet!—have left comments or sent emails expressing excitement in the project, or a wish that they had had such an outlet when they were reading through OHWM. I can only assume that the overwhelming response to the blog is an indication that there is still plenty of room for this type of discussion within the musicological community.

So first we want to say thank you. Thank you for your interest and support. Second, we want to encourage you to continue stopping by when you have the chance, and don’t be afraid to join the conversation. Lively discussion is the life blood of a blog (more on this soon in a post by Zach).

In the meantime, we will press on toward the goal. One week down, only seventy-six more to go!