“Trendy”

Phil Ford

Hey everyone, I'm back. Kind of. I'm wrestling with an article that's due on Aug. 1, and I'm still in my Asperger's-syndrome zone of mental perseveration, which means I'm here, but I'm not really here, y'know?

But I still have a couple of musicology-geek things to talk about. First off, thanks, Brent, for stepping in and keeping the place lively this summer. Also, awesome banner! The backwards-musicology thing is genius. Those of you too young to have ever used an old-fashioned rotary phone should know that the letters on the dial go backwards, like this:

Phonedial

It's kind of amazing to think of an interface staying in regular use for sixty-odd years. Nowadays the iPod click wheel feels like it's been around forever, and it's about seven years old.

Speaking of graphics involving musicology, good ol' Google Images brings up a couple of interesting deployments of the term. From this photo blog, a shop front:

Cmusicology01sm

Try though we might, it's hard to avoid thinking about the symbolism. Does musicology dignify a shabby, failing enterprise? Or does musicology give your exclusive event a touch of stretch-limo-and-sparkling-rosé class?

Musicologyback1

Or does musicology mean fun times in Nashville? Could be! The August AMS newsletter is up at the AMS website, and with it the schedule for the November annual meeting. I'm particularly up for this year, because (a) my paper got in, and (b) it's not going to be on Sunday morning, plus (c) I'm on a panel with Gail Sherwood Magee and David Ake, who are two of best Americanists in the biz plus totally great human beings, and (d) Nashville is easily drivable from Bloomington, which means my family can come with me this time. And (e), the usual, seeing old friends, etc.

It's always interesting to look at the AMS program and see what's up this year. To me, it looks like a lot of new faces, which is nice: it'll be good to see what kinds of crazy things the kids are into these days. This AMS annual meeting is a joint session with SMT, so there's an awful lot to choose from. (Best session title: "The Math Session." Honorable Mention: "Critters and Kids.") There's bound to be a certain amount of grousing about the program; there always is. Whoever is on the program, someone's always going to feel shut out. It's interesting to look at the dialogue on the subject at the musicology jobs wiki. A telling exchange:

– Received [my rejection notice] as well. I'm starting to think you have a better chance
of landing a tt job than getting a paper accepted at the national
meeting.

– Yeah, I'm starting to feel the same way. Maybe it's time to
make all 144 selections based on blind reviews only.

– That may be an
idea. I wonder when the current selection rules were first
instated–probably when the society was much smaller.

– They were
instituted in 2003 after some big names were not selected in 2002.


Wow. Well, part of it may be that it's the big names who provide the
big bucks in terms of donations. Have to keep the donors happy!

– Oh
dear. Even if that had anything to do with it, those are the big bucks
that pay for the AMS 50 or the book subvention that you may or may not
ever get, so don't knock them so glibly. More to the point, the 'big
names' are usually big for a reason, namely that they tend to be worth
listening to even if their abstract wasn't the trendiest. Finally,
don't blame the society for your failure to get a paper accepted; get
feedback from colleagues or advisors on your rejected abstract and
write a better one next time.

There's a certain sour aroma to such exchanges — like the smell of bitter almonds, a sign of poison, in this case the perennial academic resentment against those whose work seems to be getting more attention. I pretty much agree with the last comment in the above-quoted exchange, but something still bothers me: the use of the word "trendy." I hate it when academics run down other approaches for being "trendy" — it just reeks of resentment. This was not this particular writer's point, but still, I couldn't tell you how many times I've heard someone sniff "well, I guess my work just isn't trendy enough for the program committee" when talking about the AMS annual meeting. "Trendy" is the word you use to dismiss an idea that (a) isn't your thing, but (b) is the thing of enough people that you can't just dismiss it as a fringe enthusiasm unworthy of the discipline's support. Sometimes I think that academics have a kind of mental operating procedure designed to insulate them from having to consider anyone else's ideas at all:

Ideas_2

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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5 Responses to “Trendy”

  1. Ralph Locke says:

    Welcome back, Phil! I love the flow chart. This suggests a new version of an old saying:
    “All Roads Lead to ‘Ignore'”
    🙂

  2. Jonathan says:

    Great flow chart, but it needs tweaking–“my” ideas should be someplace. Also, “too close to my ideas,” and “effectively contradicts my ideas, thus too threatening,” and those kinds of things.
    I wonder if I know that last commenter. Seems wise, and measured–characteristics I didn’t have at that point, and probably still don’t.

  3. Jack says:

    I wanted to cite a Ralph Locke article here (how he examined Janet Levy’s ousting of “musicological trend words” such as “organic unity” and “contrapuntal density”), and I was amazed to see that he himself had already commented here! Too funny.

  4. Oren says:

    I, too, agree with the last commenter in the Job Wiki exchange, though I also agree with the aside that was appended to it: if the AMS is not to be blamed for rejected abstracts, then why did the organization feel it needed to revamp its selection procedures to accommodate the big names who were rejected in 2002?

  5. Ribs says:

    As someone who words in a decidedly *untrendy* corner of musicology, I agree that the word “trendy” is often a red flag screaming sour grapes, and that is certainly the case in the wiki exchange. But I wouldn’t dismiss out-of-hand the notion that there is such a thing as trendiness in academic disciplines, including ours. Some further reflections would be welcome on what trendiness is and whether it shapes the field in any way. What is the blend of perception and reality that figures into trendiness? Does the above flow chart have any impact over what people write and publish?

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