Monday, February 6, 2012


SEM is the journal called Society of Ethnomusicology. It was founded in 1958, and was the first dedicated serial publication containing notes about current field research projects, a bibliography and recordings. My first flip through of the journals tells me that their articles generally explores relationship between music all around the world with cognitive science, linguistic study, human emotion, visual arts, religion, identity, health, and so on. The predecessors of the SEM include scholars like Jaap Kunst Coins, who replaced “comparative musicology” by “ethnomusicology”, and Charles Seeger, whose studies in American vernacular music and linguistics helped extend musicology to other disciplines and domains of culture.
Since the founding of the SEM, there has been lots of changes/developments, for example, the ethnomusicologists’ ’identities, locations, approaches and study/research areas. According to Anthony Seeger(past president of SEM), in his article called “Society for Ethnomusicology”, between 1900 and the 1970s, ethnomusicologists were considered to be specialists in non-European musical traditions, while in the 1980s there was an increasing tendency to study immigrant traditions and European/American popular music. In fact, Ethnomusicology, as SEM grew with its distiguished body of literature over the years, has developed into a discipline in its own right. Unlike musicology, it is not limited to a finite set of structures or cultures; instead it absorbs inputs of multidisciplinary and intercultural researches and studies.
In 1970, there was an evolving interest in universal scholars' participation in ethnomusicology perhaps because there would be more truth and reality revealed by comparing and contrasting both the insider and outsider perspectives. In 1973, John Blacking's book "How Musical is Man" advocated anthropological perspective in the study of music and argued that "it is the activities of Man the Music Maker that are of more interest and consequence to humanity than the particular musical achievements of Western man", and that "no musical style has ‘its own terms’: its terms are the terms of its society and culture"

One thing I found interesting was the coexistence of the terms comparative musicology and ethnomusicology. At first I thought the later was a developed/larger version of the previous, since comparative musicology is the comparing, grouping and ordering of songs of various peoples and countries, and ethnomusicology does this too, plus paring music analysis with characterization of value systems behind esthetics via field works. I soon realized that this did not hold true. It occurred to me that the Ethnomusicology is merely a new term designed to replace the traditional one since a great deal of research work accomplished in this field is descriptive rather than comparative. T

One question for further study would be: How does ethnomusicology nowadays defines the mingling of the music from different cultures?

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