Thursday, January 17, 2008

Day 07 "In the Trenches" (low-gear edition)

Quick hit today, as not much to report. We're now a week into the semester, all classes have met at least twice, things are starting to take shape. Today is "African Diaspora" seminar. Good group, good cross-section of student profiles, but a little quiet and shy yet. That makes sense: especially for the undergraduate students, a course like this may represent a bunch of "firsts": first upper-division academic course, first seminar/discussion-style format, first time in class with graduate students, first time with 30-50pp of reading to be prepared per session. So it's understandable that they might feel a little overwhelmed.

But it's time now to shift the goalposts and the focus of attention. Students need help in interacting more with one another, so today, when I go in, I will lateral the focus (to continue the metaphor) and ask various grad students to facilitate by each leading the discussion on a particular discussion question. Texts for today are two relatively
brief excerpts from Chernoff's African Rhythm and African Sensibility. This text is curious, because it strikes me as simultaneously an excellent articulation (for Westerners) of African musical and social aesthetics: accurate, accessible, engaging, well-informed. And meeting Chernoff and hearing him play would seem to confirm the impression given by the text.

But every time I've mentioned Chernoff to other ethnomusciologists specializing in Ghanaian music, they've raised questions: not so much about the quality or the expression of the insights, but rather about his particular fieldwork experience and the accuracy of the performance information he received. So any use of the text in the classroom--as is actually true of any text--has to be mediate by a discussion of strengths and weaknesses. That'll be my job today, while the grad students lead the discussion.

Otherwise: brief historical survey of the pre-Colonial West African empires: organization, size, complexity, sociology. Most undergraduates (and some grads) don't know anything about W Africa prior to European contact, and a major part of our semester's work is to trace African retentions in the Black Atlantic. That means we need to know what those (cultural, musical, cosmological, aesthetic, etc) Africanisms originally were.

Later: a couple of vernacular-student lessons (Irish flute, percussion). Then an Irish gig tonight.

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Now playing: Luke Kelly - Raglan Road

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