Quite by accident I find myself listed in the Wikipedia New Musicology Article as a New Musicologist. This stopped me dead in my tracks. Moi? After the amount of sounding off I’ve done about it? Wikipedia, noch?
New Musicology was for a long time a label used both as proud, confrontational self-identification and vilifying accusation. This started, roughly, when I was at a very vulnerable point in my professional life: on the job market. Old Musicologists were considered to be, by outsiders, crabbed, unmusical pedants who Controlled The Whole Field and did nothing but root in archives, grazing passively amongst Ockeghem manuscripts, Tudor choirbooks, and Beethoven sketches. Supposedly, they considered themselves to be the Only True Musicologists. New Musicologists, in contrast, trumpeted their interest in all kinds of new methodologies (of varying value, and which I will not critique here), and in the Voices Of The Marginalized: Gays, Minorities, Women, etc. In the late 1980s and 1990s, I and many others believed that the job market was largely controlled by fashionable NM interests, which was cause for great personal bitterness. (It would be disingenuous to act as if some of that resentment didn’t survive into my Sept. 18, 2006 Radical Musicology blog.) Young people associated with this area, by contrast, were of the opinion that their views were being repressed by the Entrenched Powers of Old Musicology, The Man and so on, and they cited—with some justification, probably—departments that would never hire women, that were bastions of the musicological old-boy network…basically, that were everything they were trying to correct. “Balkanized” best describes the situation.
Into the field blundered yours truly, trailing a DMA in Piano Performance Practices and (among other things) an interest in musical exoticism, specifically the style hongrois, the Hungarian-Gypsy style of Schubert and Brahms and many others. In some ways I came in on the ground floor, being one of the first to outline the dialect in terms of its constituent musical gestures, and to map out the sociology of “hearing Gypsies,” including Europe’s wretched treatment of Roma and the idea of using Romani musical accent, so to speak, in formal compositions as a way of getting beyond typical musical discourses of the nineteenth century. It is not hard to see how the connection between my work and New Musicology was made, but my lineage was really neither Old nor New Musicology: as a student of Leonard Ratner, I was really interested in musical styles and topics, and my interest in the style hongrois proceeded from that more than any outsider’s awareness. (I had some good models, such as Thomas Bauman—also at Stanford then—with his treatment of the “Turkish” style in his terrific Cambridge Opera volume on Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio.) The fact that I have not been very sympathetic to post-colonial musicology, which is one of the places musical exoticism led, has been cause for some pretty harsh criticism, particularly in the UK. So being lumped in with some who have—well—pilloried me leaves me a bit bemused.
What this illustrates above all is the idiocy of labels, which we tend to wear much the same way mobs in banana republics wear pictures of military leaders. “I’m with the X group; don’t mess with us.” Is that really, truly, the best we can do, particularly in the intellectual realm? Today (older, and having negotiated the professional rapids to the point of being senior faculty) the labels Old Musicology and New Musicology seem a bit embarrassing, inidicative of a kind of mindless, grade-school, red-team vs. blue-team tribalism. “Old” and “New” as unavoidably values-laden adjectives is reminiscent of Liberal and Conservative. For example, as a political liberal (not so much “left” or “progressive,” really: LIBERAL) I am in a constant state of boiling rage because of the way W, Bill O’Reilly, James Dobson and other Republican Administration, Media, and Church Death-Eaters have hijacked and distorted the term. I am old enough, however, to remember when (at least in the worldview of a Eugene McCarthy-supporting 10-year-old) “Conservative” meant essentially a snaggle-toothed, 60-IQ Southerner cackling at a lynching. How different are those kinds of stereotyping and intellectual laziness, really? We’re liberals, but like most liberals I’ve known our family is conservative (whatever that means) in many ways—sociologically, educationally, economically. The labels persist nonetheless. It seems that as a species, we are hell-bent on convincing other life-forms (should they exist) that we have the mental (and moral) capabilities of plankton. Is there really no other possible model for anything than a binarism? (Guest-lecturing at Stanford, Leo Treitler once suggested, in answer to a question, that we ought to “eschew binarism,” but I’ve never noticed anyone taking him up on this point.)
I hope the authors of the Wikipedia article keep me there as a New Musicologist, if they feel some of my work qualifies me for that designation. Anyone who knows me or my other writing (or my AMS-L posts or this blog) will be puzzled, probably, by that inclusion. Fact is, I would rather not fit snugly into anyone’s category of anything, preferring to sort of fit into several. I think it was LBJ who said “If two men agree on everything, only one of ’em’s doing the thinking,” and that holds true for intellectual categories; a comfortable fit makes you easy to pigeonhole. Being a rank-and-file, card-carrying member of ANYTHING should always be regarded with the greatest suspicion, because the easier your beliefs are to categorize, the easier they are to appropriate and distort.