Musicology’s Annual Potlatch

Jonathan Bellman

Just a few more thoughts on the upcoming meeting, for a contrasting view. Young’uns, graduate students and Baby Docs alike, listen up: AMS national meetings ARE your party. Go hear papers, chat with people, go to your interviews, bring plenty of copies of your CVs and articles to distribute. Shoulders back, head high, friendly, professional smiles and positive attitudes in place, even unto late Saturday night. This is your field, and these are your playmates, and you don’t have time to get intimidated.

A child is getting on the merry-go-round. S/he puts one leg on, grabs one of the bars, kicks off on the ground repeatedly until s/he has, so to speak, enough lift-off to mount.  That’s you—keep kicking off until you have enough momentum to get on! If you have any introverted tendencies, leave them at home. You are here to partake, to network, to exchange ideas, and to make connections. You are not here to get depressed, feel inferior, or get intimidated. Get intimidated on your own time. Instead, get your game face on and your tail on the field. If someone takes you out at second with a cheap slide or cuts you down with a chop-block—Phil’s post links my unhappy memory of one such—sod ’em. (Dr. Cameron from House: “I hate sports metaphors.”) Get up, dust yourself off, and plunge back into the academic/professional fray.

An observer tells me that she thinks that AMS-LA has the best program in years. Surely you can find something to attend, and think about? Is it fantastic? A model. Not so much? Maybe that’s reassuring for when you submit your proposal next year. This is your discipline; where do you fit?

Now, a few random reactions to “A Martian View of American Musicology.” I’ve never been in JAMS, though I’ve been rejected more than once and have served as outside reader a few times. I hope to get in some day, but won’t stew in bitterness if I don’t; JAMS has never been the only game in town. “Imperial,” as this little sheet has it? Puh-leeze. “Accessible only to heroes who can stretch arguments to unreadable lengths”? I see unfamiliar names there. Look, it’s a journal, with human editors and human readers…thus, no more or less flawed than any other journal. About the so-called divide between senior and junior scholars: I don’t think I ever thought like this. My father (a retired English professor) watched my early activities and archly opined that hot young’uns always have the advantage over “fusty old profs.” Yeah, I thought, but we’re not employed. Perhaps we were both right, since with employment comes…duties, and you can just forget those focused days of writing and research. So the dance proceeds. You get employed—somehow!—and accomplish some things, but grow ever more desperate to accomplish others, and . . . mercy, you’re a Full Professor already, and are expected to “take a leadership role” and “mentor junior faculty” and all that. Fair enough, I suppose, but one still fantasizes about serious time devoted to one’s own work. Did I miss the window? Maybe it will happen in retirement? Again: this is not a perfect system, but sullen resentment and anonymous sniping is not likely to help. My own work has never been fashionable (performance practices, not-particularly-political work on musical exoticism) but I found a publisher, journals, etc. Persistence did not hurt.

So: the Wagnerian assumption that the challenges you face are proof of a vast conspiracy aimed at solely at you is not a good thing. Pissy anti-academism, full of chimerical stereotypes, faux-high-minded resentment, and glib calls for “reform” from behind the cloak of anonymity, is likewise a non-starter. (N.B.: Of course, I don’t deny that many of us, at low points, have felt singled out—but as Phil pointed out, you get the job and things change.) I can’t recall having followed or seen “one-two professors surrounded by submissive students and hungry protégés,” but that didn’t spell my professional doom. Nor, in fact, did getting in a public shouting-match with someone in a prime-time paper slot when I did not yet have a tenure-track job. Moral:  Just get on with it.

Then there’s the anonymous author’s smarmy envoy: “Be not afraid of change”? Oh, come on. Be not afraid of actually playing the game.

Personal note: It’s likely to be a bit crazy for me this year; we’re going en famille, and are among the many boat people staying in another hotel, fighting transportation issues, negotiating competing family commitments, etc. At least my paper will be over after the very first slot—bad in terms of crowd, good in terms of my state of mind for the rest of the meeting.

Wishing everyone a wonderful, fulfilling, invigorating meeting!

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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4 Responses to Musicology’s Annual Potlatch

  1. Jeannette says:

    I’m a grad student who’s had a jolly good time for five AMS’s in a row. (My first was Atlanta 2001. Sadly will miss L.A.) And I didn’t have any grad student colleagues from my school to hang out with in my own private bubble. The key? Volunteering. I really recommend it, especially for the shy types. It gets you talking to people you might not talk to otherwise.

  2. Mark Zobel says:

    As a “baby doc,” so to speak, I do recognize the importance of going to conferences. As an adjunct, however, the travel is entirely on my dime and, on adjunct pay, that’s a lot of dimes. I’m not complaining, I scrape enough together and go where and when I can, giving preference to SAM meetings because of my emphasis in American music, and other conferences where I am presenting. I know all of this will change once I land a full-time position.
    What I am curious about, however, is the results of the AMS’s current demographic survey, and what they might reveal about the society’s membership with respect to adjuncts who, like me, find it financially difficult to attend as often as we would like. The only other report that I am aware of is James Deaville’s 1992 study wherein he indicated that full-time, tenure-track faculty only accounted for about one-third of the membership at that time. Of course, that was fourteen years ago so the data are really too old to be of much value now. But I am interested to see the results of the current study. I wonder if there are any substantive changes to the percentages of full-time and part-time faculty, and what that might mean for the future of the society and our profession.
    The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported that since 1996, the percentage of adjuncts in academia increased from 45% to 63%. Adjuncts are now in the majority, and that disturbing trend shows no signs of abating. It will be interesting to see how the society’s numbers compare with the national numbers.

  3. eba says:

    So are you guys going to be posting live from the conference floor in real time providing instant commentary, wisecracks and feedback to the podium? Are there different musicology camps whose influence ebbs and flows over the years, or whose theories rise and fall in influence with the baby docs and toddler docs and tween docs and teen docs?

  4. Jonathan Bellman says:

    I can’t imagine posting from the floor. Evenings after one has shut the hotel room door, more like. If that.
    As far as different musicology camps, they certainly do exist, but the “New Musicology” vs. “Old Musicology” camps of a few years back have now receded to the shadows, largely because both were idiotic caricatures. The best Old Musicology always had a strong interpretive and critical component, and the best New Musicology was not afraid of sources and close reading of scores. Of the also-rans and worst of each side, who were worse than stereotypes…well, I think that’s a blog for another day. (My earlier blog on “Radical Musicology” gives some idea of my feelings about that.) The stereotypes work both ways, though; it was an old mentor of mine–a superb traditional musicologist who works in Medieval and Renaissance worlds, and who does manuscript and source-work and archival stuff and so on on an international level–who once archly referred to the blandest version of traditional musicology as “One watermark + one watermark = one paper type.”
    I have had the privilege of seeing more than a dozen papers of the new crop–grad students–at this year’s meeting, and found almost all of them really fascinating. So, a lot of interesting stuff is being found, and a lot of holes filled in. If only this energy were to be reflected in an invigorated job market…

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