Monday, September 23, 2013

Society for Ethnomusicology - Special Interest Group: Ireland

Group moderator asked fora bio and suggestions for SIG's topical focii; here's what I said:

Chris Smith here, director of the Vernacular Music Center at Texas Tech (; full bio here: Play (for this music) tenor banjo, bouzouki, button accordion. Record, tour, produce, etc. Day job is Chair of Musicology at TTU. Have published practical methods (Celtic Backup), book chapters (relevant to this group: on Irish film, session culture, community arts, Renaissance-period harmonic languages in Ireland, Seamus Ennis), CDs (3-disc set with Altramar: historical performance settings of medieval Celtic repertoire), theatrical dance show ( ), new book on Anglo-Celtic and Afro-Caribbean interactions before the US Civil War (, new book project on street dance as rebellion in American popular history. I'll be presenting at Indy on a related topic. I've served as External Examiner for dissertations at UC Cork and U Limerick, and for the BA program in traditional music and dance at UL's Irish World Academy; may soon be starting similar appointment with the MA program. Teach an annual spring-semester course ("Music, Folklore, and Tradition in Irish Cultural History") at TTU, whose capstone is a 2-week Maymester "roving seminar" field-trip to Connacht; lot of friends in Galway, Clare, Limerick, and Mayo. Drive the damned mini-buses ourselves :-/

I also know a ton of Irish musicians in Indy, Terre Haute, and Bloomington, as well as the spots where sessions are likely to break out. If the SIG wants it, I'm sure I can arrange a nice session with local players at a pub not far from conference site--I have one in mind.

As far as special questions or focii for the group during the Indy meetings: 

* In my observation, there's an unnecessary (not doubt inadvertent) distance b/w ethnomusicologists and musicologists working on Irish themes in the USA versus Ireland/UK. In part this is because musicology in Ireland is relatively young--the Society for Musicology only just marked its 10th anniversary--and in part because there has been disciplinary distance. A lot of my Irish friends (Aileen can attest to this) wind up presenting more research for ICTM/etc. What could SEM-SIG "Irish" do to build bridges both here and overseas?

* Similarly, how can we enhance partnerships with (especially Stateside) scholarly societies? I am thinking here, for example, of American Council for Irish Studies, which hosts good conferences and scholarship, but in which music is very, very subsidiary to other topical focii.

* I'm biased on this next, because it impinges on my own approach, but I'd always be a proponent for enhanced integration of historical approaches to ethnomusicology on Irish topics. Fieldwork is the core experience, of course, but historical methods have a lot of insight to provide, especially in Irish Diasporic contexts. 

* Enhanced contact b/w SEM-SIG "Irish" and ITMA (Irish Traditional Music Archive) in Dublin could only be good; Nic Carolan and his staff are a remarkable resource and responsive to partnership; another way to build trans-Atlantic bridges.

* Here's a big one, and a buzz word I hear a lot these days in university administration: how can we help one another brainstorm ways to frame our Irish music & dance research as "interdisciplinary" or "employing interdisciplinary approaches." This is more a matter of advocacy and marketing than a shift of procedures; ethnomusicology inherently draws from multiple analytical methods--that is, "we already do that." But how do we FRAME our interdisciplinarity such that it helps us with tenure, promotion, institutional support, and so forth?

* Likewise, there is currently a political opening for scholarship which can be "multi-modal", especially in the visual and performing arts. That is, how can a given piece of research manifest insights AND outreach (both traditional and non-traditional) in multiple fora: peer-reviewed essays, yes, but also other kinds of projects (radio, public television, web-sites, films, social-media feeds, etc)? The more that we can help one another and (especially) mentor junior colleagues in this fashion, the more fully those colleagues will receive due recognition of the breadth, depth and impact within the international communities of artists and teachers.

* And--how do we enhance opportunity for us to not only do research on these topics, but also to integrate these topics as part of our "day jobs" teaching? How many of us teach an Irish studies/folklore/music course or courses? How can we enhance opportunities for other colleagues to do likewise?

that's what I got. Oh, and then there's this new book, and stage show....

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