What is ethnomusicology?
British scholar Jonathan Stock describes ethnomusicology as the study of "people making music." Another description of this way of thinking about music is “humanly organized sound…for soundly organized humans.” (Blacking, How Musical is Man? 1974)
Why do people make music the way that they do? Some societies do not have a word for “music”: communicating through organised sound is integral to being a functioning member of society. Ethnomusicologists are as interested in the people and social processes involved in music-making as they are in the musical product. We consider the whole context – social, cosmological, economic, political, historical, contemporary, environmental and epistemological – through and within which music is imagined, discussed and made. Studying individuals and societies all around the world, including the West, we aim to discover what music means to particular groups of people: what part it plays in their lives, and why it is meaningful to them. We relate our culture- and context-specific discoveries about music-making to the broader human experience both historically and in the present.
Ethnomusicology nowadays is often described as “musical anthropology.”
Learning to perform music of other cultures
Learning to perform music outside the western traditions is an important part of the process of becoming an ethnomusicologist.
In the Bachelor of Music the gateway subject to ethnomusicology is the subject Musics of the World. This subject is also a great introduction to anyone interested in music outside the western traditions. Later subjects include Sound, Music and the Environment, Latin American Music and Culture, In the Groove and The Ethnography of Music.
Recent BMus graduates with an ethnomusicological major have gone into exciting careers in the academic world, in arts administration, Indigenous advocacy, in museums, multicultural and ethnic arts organisations, in digital archives, and in cultural policy development agencies in many countries.
BMus students can use their breadth subject choice as a valuable path for gaining skills and knowledge for a future in ethnomusicology: subjects from languages and linguistics, anthropology and Asian studies are highly recommended.
Ethnomusicology in the BMus (Honours)
In the Bachelor of Music Honours year you will take the subject Professional Project in Ethnomusicology where you will learn to do fieldwork and conduct an ethnomusicological case study, and you will also write a thesis.
Recent Honours dissertations in ethnomusicology have been about Middle Eastern Music in Melbourne, the Psytrance scene, Music of the Yorta Yorta people, Persian rock music, Maltese music, and Music in Myanmar.
Research in Ethnomusicology
Recent higher degree research has been carried out in diverse fields, including:
- The music of Dikir barat in Singapore and Malaysia
- A musical ethnography of the Kam people, southern China
- Underground rock music in Iran
- Chinese music in the Australian diaspora
- The influence of the Jali tradition on post colonial and contemporary West African popular music
- Ethiopian music in Australia
- The music of the Subanen in Mindanao
- The development of the guitar and guitar music in nineteenth century Buenos Aires
- The funeral ritual of the Hmong in Australia and mainland southeast Asia
- Australia’s musical engagement with Asia.
Recent doctoral graduates Catherine Ingram and Bronwen Robinson established their international networks and credentials during their candidature and are now continuing their research with numerous publications and scholarly presentations.
The ethnomusicology staff are also involved in a number of research projects
Fellows and alumni
- Dr Joseph Jordania, Honorary Research Fellow at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music was awarded the prestigious 2009 Fumio Koizumi Prize in Ethnomusicology for his 2006 book Who asked the first question: origins of vocal polyphony, human intelligence, language and speech.
- Dr Sally Treloyn was appointed inaugural McKenzie Postdoctoral fellow at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music in 2010. Dr Treloyn is the coordinator of the national recording project for Indigenous Performance in Australia. She has conducted extensive field research among indigenous communities in the Kimberley region, received ARC and IATSIS research grants, and authored five refereed publications and numerous reviews. Her Postdoctoral research project is “Strategies for sustaining Aboriginal Australian song and dance: repatriation, recording, documentation, dissemination, cultural innovation and new media.”
- Dr Aaron Corn (PhD Ethnomusicology 2002) was awarded the first Future Fellowship in ethnomusicology in Australia in 2009 and is currently Associate Professor of Music at the ANU.
- Catherine Ingram (PhD Ethnomusicology 2010) won a prestigious 2010 Endeavour Australia Cheung Kong Research Fellowship, which will enable her to continue her work on the music of a Chinese minority group, the Kam, postdoctorally.