The following is a discussion of ethnomusicology as a concept, the history and present state of the teaching and research of ethnomusicology in Australian universities from the late 1960s to 2018, the importance of music archives, and weaknesses and strengths in the state of ethnomusicology in Australia.
What is Ethnomusicology?
Ethnomusicology may be defined as the study of the music cultures of the world. The discipline encompasses the study of the sounds, structures and functions of each particular culture in the context of the people who perform and listen to it.
Throughout its history ethnomusicology has developed various methodological and theoretical approaches to the study of music relating to (i) its material aspects - including the acoustics of vocal and instrumental sounds, dynamics, tempo, multiphony, heterophony; (ii) organology, or the study of musical instruments; (iii) aspects of music-cultural and social theory, e.g. cultures in contact, gender studies, religion, philosophy, aesthetics; (iv) the cognitive and biological facets of music making and consuming; and (v) musical behaviour associated with such factors as poverty, racism, colonialism, imperialism, and war.
The term ‘ethnomusicology’, from the Greek words ἔθνος (ethnos, "nation") and μουσική (mousike, "music"), is said to have first been coined by Jaap Kunst, the pioneering scholar of Indonesian music in the colonial Netherlands East Indies. Kunst and others belonged to the discipline of “comparative musicology” which was born in the high- to late- colonial era in ca the 1890s and lasted till ca 1945), after which the new discipline of ethnomusicology developed. In its early stages from the 1950s, the discipline was oriented mainly toward non-Western music, but since then it has come to include the study of all the music cultures of the world, including Western art music and popular and community music which are often viewed from novel anthropological, sociological and intercultural perspectives.
What is the history and present state of ethnomusicology in Australia?
Undergraduate teaching of Indonesian (Sundanese gamelan) and Japanese music began minimally in the 1960s in the University of Sydney. The early 1970s saw the introduction of Australia’s first fairly comprehensive suite of theoretical and area studies in ethnomusicology in the Bachelor of Arts and postgraduate courses at Monash University taught by four ethnomusicologists and a Javanese gamelan performance teacher, with a substantial fourth year Honours course in ethnomusicological theory and practice involving field- or theory-based thesis writing.
Gradually the universities of Sydney, Adelaide, and Western Australia, then Queensland, Melbourne, New South Wales, New England, ANU and Griffith Universities appointed at least one ethnomusicologist each. In the early 1990s, under a new Head, Monash expanded its ethnomusicology/musicology orientation to include popular and community music studies in its curriculum and research, as did several other universities, including Melbourne, Macquarie, and Newcastle.
Some Monash postgraduates went on to found ethnomusicology courses in other Australian tertiary institutions and some taught overseas. In the early 1990s Monash expanded its ethnomusicology and musicology orientation to include jazz, popular and community music studies as well as Western performance and composition, with Macquarie University leading the study of popular music research in the country.
In 1975 Monash established a music archive (MAMU, the Music Archive of Monash University) containing staff and student field collections of recorded music, musical instruments, puppets, masks, films, letters, field notes and memorabilia, and including bequests of musical materials from various parts of the Australia-Pacific, Asia, Baghdadi Jewish culture, Europe, Africa and the Americas. It is still expanding its rare holdings, including many student theses, under the name of the Music Archive of Monash University. New expanded premises are planned for it under the name of the Gallery of Musical Instruments and Artefacts.
Are there areas of special concentration for ethnomusicology as practised in Australia?
From the beginning in the late 1960s, Australia’s area studies teaching and research focused on Australian Aboriginal, Pacific, and Southeast, South and North Asian music. This concentration is likely to continue given the accumulated library and archival resources and instrumental ensembles in universities. Areas of special concentration for ethnomusicology as practiced in Australia at present include the music cultures of (i) Indigenous Australians, especially the Yolngu in Northern Territory, Walpiri, and Pitjantjatjara; ii) Southeast Asia – especially Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and Cambodia; (iii) Northeast Asia, including China, Korea and Japan; and (iv) the Pacific, including Easter Islands; and Chile.
Periodicals that publish articles by Australian ethnomusicologists
Australian ethnomusicologists publish in the peer-reviewed Musicology Australia, the scholarly journal of the Musicological Society of Australia. Its articles and reviews cover various aspects of the world’s traditional musics, indigenous music practices, ethnomusicological theory and analysis, sociology and psychology of music, organology, performance practice, contemporary music, jazz, and popular music. Australian ethnomusicologists also publish in peer-reviewed international journals such as Ethnomusicology, Yearbook for Traditional Music, Ethnomusicology Forum (formerly known as the British Journal of Ethnomusicology), Wacana Seni/Journal of Arts Discourse, and other journals published in various countries that are active in the field of ethnomusicology. Ethnomusicologists engaging with popular music also publish in the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM), Australia/New Zealand Chapter.
Australian ethnomusicology’s international connections.
Most Australian ethnomusicologists are members of the International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM), a non-governmental organization in formal consultative relations with UNESCO which aims to further the study, practice, documentation, preservation, and dissemination of traditional music and dance of all countries. Other fraternal societies include the Musicological Society of New Zealand, the Society for Ethnomusicology in the USA, the British Forum for Ethnomusicology, and various national societies in Asia, Africa and beyond.
Special achievements of Australian ethnomusicology
In summary, Australian music scholars and research students have made substantial contributions to ethnomusicological research through their diverse publications on many music cultures of the world, contributions to ethnomusicological theory and musical practice, and their establishment of music archives that contain world-class materials. They have also passed on their knowledge to generations of students who maintain the discipline in many music schools in Australia,
DATE PUBLISHED: 22 March, 2018