Saturday, January 26, 2008

"The Office" (workstation series) 089 (keep-on-keeping-on edition)

Meta: In this, the third weekend of the semester, I can definitely tell I'm back from sabbatical. Dharmonia's out of town, but so far I can still keep to the schedule that's shaping up: whereas over the course of the sabbatical, it was five-days-a-week of "The Office" series (charting research and development of the minstrelsy book proposal), and weekends were for "100 Greats", the procedure that's come into focus for the semester of return is five-days-a-week of "In the Trenches", with weekends for "Office" work and, when I can give birth to 'em, the last third of the "100 Greats." Even if the topics of the various series are different, they share reasonably consistent goals: to use this medium to try to boost the transparency of a public scholar's life, either for the morale or sense of solidarity of those in parallel situations--that is, colleagues, or for the (hoped-for) edification of those who are aiming toward this kind of life--that is, students.

So the "Trenches" series is an attempt to make-more-transparent the 5-days-a-week reality of teaching musicology to undergraduate and graduate populations; the "100 Greats" an attempt to both turn folks on to great music (the High Fidelity "Top 5 records" syndrome; cf the "Comic Book Guy" on The Simpsons) but also to try to show how great music might help shape, and save, somebody's life and sanity; the "Office" series to depict the process by which a large-scale project of musicological research might be conceived, mapped, pursued, and submitted for publication.

I suppose it's metaphorically apt that all three of those are still very much works in progress. That's life, I guess.

Back to "Office" work today: I will be waiting on notifications from the target publisher's outside readers for some time yet (at least another 3-5 weeks, I'd guess), so the only work I can/should do on the minstrelsy project would be that work I know I want to do anyway, regardless of the readers' favorable/un- reaction. So I'm filling in the gaps in some of the background reading:

  • Robert Toll's Blacking Up, one of the important and relatively early (1974) studies of blackface. I didn't prioritize this in the initial Lit Review for the proposal, because Toll's book is mostly about the shows and their content, not their cultural/sociological intent or meaning (cf Lott and Lhamon), their roots in European carnival as well as African festival (cf Cockrell), their musical construction (Nathan) or performance practice (Carlin). And its focus is late: the shows only really became the focus of the idiom in the mid-1840s, which is approximately where Toll begins. I'm interested in the 'Teens and '20s, when the creole, improvisational, boundary-crossing street idioms that would be borrowed for the stage were first coming together on the Lower East Side;
  • Lynne Emery's 1972 Black Dance, to which I'm returning, having previously read and note-taken, because the proposal in its final form identified movement vocabularies (specifically as captured in my target painter's oils) are going to be a key topic for analysis of cross-cultural borrowing; re-reading a good text in light of an evolved thesis is never a bad idea, because you see different things than when you are looking for evidence of a prior thesis;
  • Leonard Curry's The Free Black in Urban America, 1800-1850, because another theme that has emerged throughout the research, particularly in the urban outskirts of antebellum New York (to north, west, and east of the city--especially on Long Island), is that free versus bonded and white versus black categorizations were nowhere near as consistent, impermeable, or contemporaneous as as been thought. The reality is that, even if there were not a great deal of mixed-race children born, outside the very low-income environs of Five Points, where blacks and whites, natives and immigrants lived, worked, danced, and slept together, there was a great deal of cultural exchange, and that cultural exchange blurred not only cultural but also racial boundaries. My crucial insight: that such blurring of cultural/racial/musical boundaries happened in rural areas--very much ignored by the scholarship, in favor of the more colorful, better-documented urban environments.
Gotta go to work.

[Oh, and by the way: if you're within striking distance of the South Plains, feel free to come out for this]

Now playing: Dave Swarbrick & Martin Carthy - The Pepperpot/Sailing Into Walpole's Marsh/Bunker Hill

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