Discussion of the Month – April/2016



Welcome to the second installment of a new feature on the MayDay Group website: Discussion of the Month. For the next several months, this feature of the website will reprint the collection of short articles that first appeared 10 years ago in Ecclectica. The collection was edited by Wayne Bowman, and published online by Brandon University; this particular issue explored the topic, “The Future of Music Study in Canada.”  Contributing authors to this collection represent a diverse range of music scholarship and interests. The first installment was an article by Deborah Bradley; this contribution is from John Shepherd. The MayDay Group obtained permission to reprint these articles from Ecclectica and the various authors for the purpose of discussing the ways music in higher ed has changed since these articles were written ten years ago. The original publication may be viewed at http://ecclectica.brandonu.ca/issues/2006/2/

Our hope is that as you read, you will think about what has changed in the past ten years, what may not have changed at all or very much, and where there are signs of shifts in both thinking and practice. While the Ecclectica issue dealt primarily with music in higher education in Canada, the issues, we believe are universal, and this reprint seems timely given the 2014 report from the College Music Society calling for sweeping changes in the approach to undergraduate education in music. Please take a moment after you read to share your thoughts, so that we may generate the kinds of discussions that will lead to the kinds of changes the original Ecclectica authors call for.

The Future of Music Studies in Canada

John Shepherd, Carleton UniversityScreen Shot 2016-03-29 at 11.04.59 AM

What does it mean to talk of ‘music studies in Canada’? At one level, of course, the answer is easy: the study of music carried out by individuals living and working in Canada, primarily, presumably, academics. This answer could be broadened to include Canadians living and working outside Canada. At other levels, however, the answer is not so easy. The idea of broadening an initial working definition of ‘music studies in Canada’ to include expatriate Canadians immediately raises the issue of what Canadians studying music might have in common in terms of approaches or orientations that might as a consequence be perceived as ‘Canadian,’ and thus distinct from the study of music in other countries or by other nationals.

The safe answer to this is ‘not much.’ This answer is in no way to question the contributions made to the study of music by individual Canadians or to suggest that the contributions of Canadians as a whole is less valuable than those of any other national group. It is simply to recognise that the study of music in Canada is as equally fragmented as it is in other nations, and that issues to do with what should be studied, how it should be studied and who should study it are contested—sometimes hotly! To this should be added—and this is where these reflections begin to become interesting–Canada’s avowedly multicultural character, first enacted politically in 1971. The prizing of cultural diversity in Canada’s universities has underpinned intellectual climates that are no less diverse and open, and this has undoubtedly affected the study of music. Finally, the study of music always has been—and has increasingly become—an international activity. Alliances formed around objects and methods of study transcend national borders and frequently act as instruments of exclusion within those borders.

And what does it mean to talk of ‘the future’? Futures beg histories. Histories, in turn, are narratives, constructs that serve the present as much as they seek to elucidate the past. The study of music in Canada has evolved as much within an international context as a national one. Indeed, Canada’s positioning as a multicultural society resonates with ties across borders, making elements of the national international. All this means that any reflections on the future of music studies in Canada have to be rooted in a past that is as much international as national, and in an understanding of the past that will inevitably be inflected by biography, culture and intellectual predisposition. And in understanding this past, it is important to be wary of the tendency to inscribe continuity. Scholarship tends to progress by ‘lurches,’ each rush to understanding informed by specific intellectual and cultural conjunctures whose influences sustain, challenge and fracture.

This having been said, I would venture that, over the last thirty years or so, there have been three broad, major and inter-related developments in the study of music. Until the 1980s, and despite the influence of ethnomusicology, the study of music in universities was remarkably narrow in its scope and methods. Since then, there has been a veritable explosion in the kinds of music that can be studied and in the methods by which they can be studied. To a degree, these changes have been generational, a phenomenon for which there is historical precedent. Joseph Kerman, for example, notes the influence that the horrors of World War I and the deprivations of the Depression years exercised on Charles Seeger, commonly regarded as the father of US ethnomusicology (Kerman, 1985, 155ff.). It was ethnomusicology—in particular through the advocacy of the Society for Ethnomusicology—that in the late 1950s and early 1960s began to successfully challenge exclusivity in music studies through the securing of positions in faculties, schools and departments of music. Again, the way in which jazz became accepted in mainstream white culture and also in the academy can be traced to major cultural shifts in the 1920s, shifts associated with the end of World War I and the advent of radio and electronic recording (Leonard, 1962). Jazz entered the US academy in the late 1930s and 1940s as a younger generation of scholars raised on jazz began to obtain academic positions.

A similar phenomenon occurred in the 1970s as a younger generation of scholars growing up during the major social and cultural shifts to take place with the end of World War II, and weaned on ‘the sixties’ and various forms of rock music, also began to obtain academic positions. It was this generation that paved the way for disciplines such as sociology and social anthropology, and intellectual trajectories such as cultural studies, feminism, structuralism and semiology, post- structuralism, postmodernism, post-colonialism, Foucauldian discourse theory, and gay and lesbian studies—which had far-reaching consequences in terms of the ways many scholars think and write about music. With this intellectual broadening came a broadening in the scope of music deemed legitimate (at least in some circles) for study in the academy. To ‘traditional’ musics and jazz, various forms of popular music were added.

The second major development was the manner in which distinctions between the disciplines of academic music became less clear as similar questions and issues arose within them. In 1985, for example, Joseph Kerman could make the following observation about historical musicology and music theory: ‘Where the analysts’ attention is concentrated on the inner workings of a masterpiece, the musicologists’ is diffused across a network of facts and conditions impinging upon it.’ Kerman concludes: ‘if the musicologists’ characteristic failure is superficiality, that of the analysts is myopia’ (72-73). Those days are long gone, largely as a result of the influx of new ideas from disciplines and intellectual trajectories not principally concerned with music. Numerous scholars in historical musicology, music theory, ethnomusicology, popular music studies and music education now share concerns rather than define their professional activities by preoccupations thought of as largely exclusionary. It is again important to acknowledge that this development is not without historical precedent. Charles Seeger, for example (1977), had a particularly catholic view of music studies, and Alan Merriam was in 1968 questioning the disciplinary boundaries that give rise to the particular character of questions asked about music.

A prime example of this crossing of disciplinary boundaries is provided by the conjoining of ethnomusicology and popular music studies in the 1990s. Until that time, the development of popular music studies had been driven to a significant extent by theoretical concerns derived from disciplines such as sociology and intellectual trajectories such as cultural studies and post-structuralism. Ethnomusicology, on the other hand, had tended to be preoccupied with ‘traditional’ musics of the non-Western world and had seen fieldwork in these contexts as its raison d’être. An observation by Sara Cohen was emblematic of the change that was to occur. ‘What is particularly lacking in the literature on [popular music],’ she wrote, ‘is ethnographic data and micro- sociological detail’ (1991, 6). Seminal in the conjoining of ethnomusicology and popular music studies was Jocelyne Guilbault’s book, Zouk: World Music in the West Indies (1993). Fieldwork informed theory and theory fieldwork. Zouk was the first major ethnomusicological study to include complete texts written by informants, thus giving voice to those who perform and enjoy the music under examination, and recognising the frequently fragmented and contested meanings of most musical traditions. Beverley Diamond expanded on this notion of fieldwork five years later when she observed that ‘for me as for many others, fieldwork is not bracketed by travel, or by Otherness with a colonial “O”.’ Fieldwork, she concludes, ‘is engaging in multiple expressive worlds’ (1998, 13).

The third major development has been the contribution to the study of music made by scholars in disciplines other than the musical. Again, this is nothing new. One has only to think, for example, of scholars such as Theodor Adorno (1973 and 1978), Alfred Schütz (1964) and Howard Becker (1963). However, the trend became increasingly noticeable after the advent of popular music studies as a continuous intellectual tradition in the late 1970s. Indeed, music scholars of whatever disciplinary persuasion have been comparatively rare in popular music studies, which has been dominated by sociologists and communications scholars, with healthy representation from a wide range of other disciplines. What has been important about this development has been the openness of many music scholars to the ideas and perspectives of their ‘non-musical’ colleagues.

So where does Canada figure in all this? Just before the turn of the millennium, I was invited by the editorial board of the Canadian University Music Review/Revue de musique des universités canadiennes to edit a special issue entitled Music Studies in the New Millenium: Perspectives from Canada (Shepherd, 2000). In my introduction as guest editor, I felt compelled to comment on the phrase, ‘Perspectives from Canada.’ I noted that, at a conference in the mid-1990s, a well- known US colleague had observed to me that Canadians had made numerous, distinctive and important contributions to progressive work in the study of music. We could not, of course, pin a specific character on these contributions. In reflecting on this conversation, I ventured that whatever distinctive character this work might display lay not in being recognizably Canadian, but in coming from Canada. If the prizing of cultural diversity in Canada’s universities has underpinned intellectual climates that are no less diverse and open, then this appears to have come through in the profile of progressive music studies in Canada. In his Preface to the special issue as the Review’s English-language editor, James Deaville notes how, right from it inception, the Review had a policy of crossing borders within the academic study of music, and was soon open to contributions from disciplines other than music. Deaville goes so far as to ask whether ‘this bridging of disciplines is characteristic . . . of academic life in Canada,’ and whether ‘the intellectual climate of Canada is conducive to such multidisciplinarity . . .’ (2000, 4).

These questions are, of course, difficult to answer. Nonetheless, there is significant evidence of the trends identified by Deaville, not only in an earlier special issue of the Review dedicated to Alternative Musicologies/Les Musicologies alternatives (Shepherd, 1990) but, almost a decade later, in a special issue of repercussions: critical and alternative viewpoints on music and scholarship (Shepherd, Guilbault and Dineen, 1999-2000). Both volumes contain contributions by scholars from a range of disciplines within music and by scholars from disciplines outside music. In addition – and echoing the notion that Canada’s positioning as a multicultural society resonates with ties across borders, making elements of the national international—while Canadians are prominent in both volumes, neither volume is exclusively Canadian. The Canadian genesis of both volumes was to look outwards, not inwards.

Could it be that this openness to crossing disciplinary borders within music, to crossing disciplinary borders beyond music, and to reaching beyond national borders in creating collaborative discourses about music be linked to what has been characterized as the lack of an autonomous Canadian rhetoric? As Ian Taylor observed in the late 1980s, ‘. . . assumptions about “Canada” derive . . . from the sense that this is a national culture that has not developed and may not develop its own . . . autonomous rhetoric . . .’ (1987, 217). While some, such as Taylor, see this as problematic, others view it in a more positive light. In reflecting on the formation of the Canadian state (in the context of an Australian/Canadian/New Zealand conference on ‘Post-Colonial Formations’), Allor, Juteau and Shepherd observed that ‘ . . . public intervention aimed at facilitating the east-west flow of commodities and public communication has functioned as a legitimation of the central Canadian state and of a centralizing version of national culture’ (1994, 31). The emphasis, in other words, seems to have been on the ‘how’ of nationhood, rather than on the ‘what.’ The authors are quick to ‘signal both the positive and negative consequences of this technological version of national cultural development framed around the paradigm of broadcasting and the central state.’ There is no doubt, they continue, ‘that the creation of a public sector sphere of communication has created the space for political and aesthetic constituencies to speak.’ However, ‘such empowerment works differently, and to different extents, for different regions, classes and ethnicities; and for different cultural spheres, markets and dispositions’ (1994, 32). While multiculturalism is an official state policy, in other words, forces of exclusion and marginalization continue to work.

In his Introduction to The Cultural Study of Music, Richard Middleton comments on the way that ‘a tendency towards increasing concern with “culture” has been manifested in musical scholarship for some time.’ He continues, ‘Different approaches are interacting, and with increasing intensity, such that it is clear that a new paradigm may well be on the horizon’ (2003, 1). The prospect of a new, overarching paradigm for the study of music would appear to run counter to the Canadian profile of what has elsewhere been referred to as the ‘new musicology’ or ‘critical musicology.’ It is only too easy to assume that what appears consensual in one historical conjuncture will appear so in others. Beverley Diamond reminds us of this in commenting that ‘current questions about negotiating identity . . . which concern me are sometimes irrelevant to First Nations scholars who think in terms of broader environmental relationships’ (1998, 14). And if a concern with the diversity of regions, classes and ethnicities and the forces of empowerment, exclusion and marginalization that accompany this diversity has been what to a degree has fuelled the openness of Canadian critical musicology, then this motivation might not be appropriate elsewhere. It is again Beverley Diamond who underscores this in noting that ‘my attempts to theorize music and nationalism in Canada have emphasized the positioning of diverse musics and the contingency of constructions of regionalism, ethnicity, class, and gender.’ This positioning, she continues, ‘which seems politically as well as intellectually urgent in Canada, seemed [in attending a conference on ‘Music and Nationalism’ in Dublin] strangely self- indulgent in Ireland’ (1998, 16). As it moves into the future, the value of Canadian critical music studies will be its ability to remain critically aware of the genesis of its openness, and to not allow this openness to become uncritically normative (the ‘new paradigm’) or to become reduced to any one set of generative concerns. It will be important to remain open to and actively engaged with ‘multiple expressive worlds,’ as well as to what they can teach us about music and its study.


Adorno, Theodor W. (1973) Philosophy of Modern Music. London: Sheed and Ward (First published 1948).

Adorno, Theodor W. (1976) Introduction to the Sociology of Music. New York: Seabury Press (First published 1962).

Allor, Martin, Juteau, Danielle and Shepherd, John. ‘Contingencies of Culture: The Space of Culture in Canada and Québec.’ Culture and Policy, Vol. 6, 29-44.

Becker, Howard S. (1963) Outsiders. New York: Free Press. Cohen, Sara. (1991) Rock Culture in Liverpool: Popular Music in

the Making. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Deaville, James. (2000) ‘Preface,’ in John Shepherd (ed.), Music Studies in the New Millenium, special issue of the Canadian University Music Review/Revue de musique des universities canadiennes, Vol. 21, No.1, 1-6.

Diamond, Beverley. (1998) ‘Colloquy: Theory and Fieldwork.’

Canadian University Music Review/Revue de musique des universities canadiennes, Vol. 19, No. 1, 13-18.

Guilbault, Jocelyne. (1993) Zouk: World Music in the West Indies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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Leonard. Neil. (1962) Jazz and the White Americans. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Merriam, Alan P. (1964) The Anthropology of Music. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.

Middleton, Richard. (2003) ‘Introduction,’ in Martin Clayton, Trevor Herbert and Richard Middleton, eds., The Cultural Study of Music, New York and London: Routledge, 1-15.

Schütz, Alfred. (1964) ‘Making Music Together: A Study in Social Relationship,’ in Collected Papers II: Studies in Social Theory, The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 159-178.

Seeger, Charles. (1977) Studies in Musicology, 1935-1975. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Shepherd, John (ed.) (1990) Alternative Musicologies/Les Musicologies alternatives. Special issue of the Canadian University Music Review/Revue de musique des universities canadiennes, Vol. 10, No. 2.

Shepherd, John (ed.). (2000) Music Studies in the New Millenium. Special issue of the Canadian University Music Review/Revue de musique des universities canadiennes, Vol. 21, No.1.

Shepherd, John, Guilbault, Jocelyne and Dineen, Murray (eds.). (1999-2000) Crossing Over. Special issue of repercussions: critical and alternative viewpoints on music and scholarship, Vols. 7-8.

Taylor, Ian. (1987) ‘Theorizing the Crisis in Canada,’ in R.S. Ratner and J.L. McMullan (eds.), State Control: Criminal Justice Politics in Canada, Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 198-224.

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