Radical Musicology?

Jonathan Bellman

A CFP (Call for Papers) arrives over one of the musicology lists–there is a new online journal that will be called Radical Musicology.  I cannot get past this.  So, if they publish me, I’m happening and radical and de rigueur and à la mode, and if not I’m…what, Old Musicology, God help me, or just Old?  How damning is it, really, to be Not Radical?  Perhaps the real question is how damning will it be to have your stuff appear in the previous issue of Radical Musicology, not the forthcoming one?   (“Oh, yeah, X’s stuff.  That’s so Winter-Spring 2007…”)

I first encountered UK radicalism during my first year of college, which took place at Portsmouth Polytechnic, on the southern coast of England, because my father was teaching there for a year.  They had no music, so I did history, studying Reformation with a superb Australian named Bob Scribner (who later, I think, went to Cambridge).  This was an introduction to real disciplinary focus that few Americans get at age 18–all the English students had been through “O” and “A” levels, and I had merely been to a public high school in California.  Bob had just finished his dissertation, and buried us in his translations of historical documents, many relating to the Reformation: interviews with discredited churchmen, pro- and anti-Church propaganda, popular literature, stuff from Ulrich von Hutten and John Calvin and all the humanists and…etc.  Though I had no intention of becoming a historian (even a music historian, at that point), I lapped this up; how could I not?  This was my first exposure to real scholarship.  (It was also my first exposure to the historian Norman Rufus Colin Cohn, and to Guinness.  A year for which I’ve been profoundly grateful ever since!) 

There was a certain radical chic, though, that seemed bizarre and comical to me, even as an 18-year-old left-wing Democrat.  I mean, “Kill the blewdy Queen and set up workers’ councils!”??  I did hear this kind of thing, and I suspected I’d walked into a Monty Python sketch.  One of the sociology lecturers commented, after I’d offered an opinion about the U.S. in a seminar, “Ah, yes, America!  The number one enemy of the world’s people, according to the Chinese!”  The same guy (sorry; bloke) asked us another time what we thought of the possibility of violent overthrow of the government.  Being green, I was the only one who actually ventured an answer, with all my 18-year-old confidence.  It wasn’t the one he wanted.

Someday someone can explain to me why “radical” is a desirable label.  Change?  Of course–please, before we all die (either of shame or global warming).  Criticism of authority?  A right and a responsibility.  Resistance?  A personal decision, surely, and there are myriad ways, just as there are for working constructively for change.  But… “radical”?  Isn’t terming a sub-discipline and its government-funded online journal “radical” rather like wearing a T-shirt that says “I’m bad and dangerous and my Mom bought me this shirt”? 

Yeah, I know.  Since I was most interested in Little League in the late 60s I didn’t get it then, and don’t get it now.  Oi!

About jonathanbellman

Professor of Music History and Literature and Head of Academic Studies in Music at the University of Northern Colorado. Author, *The _Style Hongrois_ in the Music of Western Europe* (Northeastern University Press, 1993), *A Short Guide to Writing About Music* (2e, Longman, 2008), *Chopin's Polish Ballade: Op. 38 as Narrative of National Martyrdom* (Oxford University Press, 2010), Editor, *The Exotic in Western Music* (Northeastern University Press, 1998), author of bunches of articles and reviews and so on. Likes to play the piano, the mandolin, and even guitar sometimes. A. M. and Jo Winchester Distinguished Scholar at UNC, 2011.
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2 Responses to Radical Musicology?

  1. Charles Freeman says:

    No comment at all? Surprising.
    Even if “Radical Musicology” itself wasn’t tripwire enough for you, that announcement also got in “progressive,” “new” and “critical” musicology, and other fun words like “interrogate” and also “democratise”. Straight out of Buzzword Central. Certainly there’s something to talk about in the languages of musicology today?

  2. anonymous says:

    wow – you got spooked!!!

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