The Music of Multicultural America
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The Music of Multicultural America

Performance, Identity, and Community in the United States

Kip Lornell, Anne K. Rasmussen, Kip Lornell, Anne K. Rasmussen

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eBook - ePub

The Music of Multicultural America

Performance, Identity, and Community in the United States

Kip Lornell, Anne K. Rasmussen, Kip Lornell, Anne K. Rasmussen

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About This Book

The Music of Multicultural America explores the intersection of performance, identity, and community in a wide range of musical expressions. Fifteen essays explore traditions that range from the Klezmer revival in New York, to Arab music in Detroit, to West Indian steel bands in Brooklyn, to Kathak music and dance in California, to Irish music in Boston, to powwows in the midwestern plains, to Hispanic and Native musics of the Southwest borderlands. Many chapters demonstrate the processes involved in supporting, promoting, and reviving community music. Others highlight the ways in which such American institutions as city festivals or state and national folklife agencies come into play. Thirteen themes and processes outlined in the introduction unify the collection's fifteen case studies and suggest organizing frameworks for student projects. Due to the diversity of music profiled in the book—Mexican mariachi, African American gospel, Asian West Coast jazz, women's punk, French-American Cajun, and Anglo-American sacred harp—and to the methodology of fieldwork, ethnography, and academic activism described by the authors, the book is perfect for courses in ethnomusicology, world music, anthropology, folklore, and American studies. Audio and visual materials that support each chapter are freely available on the ATMuse website, supported by the Archives of Traditional Music at Indiana University.

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INTRODUCTION
Kip Lornell and Anne K. Rasmussen
The Music of Multicultural America is a collection of fifteen essays on music in the United States that, together, present a sample of music making in a variety of American communities. One of our goals is to introduce the diversity of musical styles, genres, and repertoires that constitute the contemporary American soundscape; another is to highlight the role of music making in community life. Using the methods of historical research, oral history, and ethnographic fieldwork with musicians and their audiences, all of the contributors to this volume investigate how people make and experience music on a local level. E Pluribus Unum, the Latin phrase meaning “Out of Many, One,” is the motto that has both described a nation of immigrants and provided the country with a guiding methodology for governance. Although this maxim has served as the idealized expression of the nation’s identity for more than two hundred years, the assertion that America is a diverse, multicultural nation of immigrants has always been a tenuous claim. Our policies regarding immigration, our continuous renegotiation of political, physical, and ideological borders—indeed our very notion of “American-ness”—are all issues that are subject to public debate and constant reinterpretation. The dialectic between “many” and “one” fundamentally informed the groundbreaking volume Musics of Multicultural America, which we edited and Schirmer published in 1997. Our new, updated, and expanded volume, with its more descriptive title The Music of Multicultural America: Performance, Identity, and Community in the United States, continues the conversation. The tension between the competing notions of American music either as a streamlined product of the American melting pot or as a diverse collective that is inclusive, eclectic, and dynamic continues to be at the heart of our work.
In many ways our collection, because it focuses on music making in America, critiques the hegemony of Western European art music in college and university curricula, by, as Deborah Wong put it in the first edition of our book, “Just Being There.”1 An alternative to the standard canons of music history, The Music of Multicultural America also moves beyond established histories of American popular music characterized by chronological studies of musical styles, offered in courses such as “Jazz History” or “The Development of Rock ’n’ Roll.” Our case studies invite readers to think about American music in ways that are inclusive, nuanced, and complex. Created by communities with a common history, social bond, or agenda, musical activity that falls outside of the generally recognized categories of mainstream American music is woven into the fabric of our culture and plays on, largely unnoticed by the general public. Throughout the United States, regional, grassroots, community-based musical cultures not only exist, they thrive!
WHO MAKES AMERICAN MUSIC?
The impact of the continuous influx of “new” Americans from all over the world remains just as important today as it was around 1900, a time when the phenomenon of immigration to America, at that time mostly from Europe, is widely recognized as the single most important aspect of the nation’s formation. Whereas immigration was conceptualized as a one-way process in the past, many American immigrant communities today are thought to be part of larger diasporas with relatives, friends, and ancestors located in real and imaginary homelands and various locales throughout the world. The gradual settlement of American territory by a crazy quilt of immigrants, mostly from Europe but also from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Central and Latin America, was facilitated at first by the management, removal, and annihilation of a multicultural collective of First Nation peoples: American Indians, who thrived in North America prior to the arrival of Europeans. Based on Christian doctrines of manifest destiny and scientific principles of Darwinian determinism, the European exploration and settlement that gave rise to the nation’s multicultural motto, E Pluribus Unum, was based on practices of both inclusion and exclusion. It is precisely this mix—who and what is “in” and “out”—that informs our constructions of individual, community, and national identity, and, as we show in this volume, music is central to this process.
Parallel to the ongoing process of European immigration and the near obliteration of Native American peoples and cultures, practices and ideas surrounding race loom large among the formative processes in this country’s constitution. As Joseph King, who studies the work of African American authors, writes: “Racial hierarchy and American national identity grew up together” in a land where “whiteness was overtly assumed to be a defining characteristic of ‘American’” (King 2001, 145). The end of the Civil War in 1865 marked the beginning of the nation’s commitment to an egalitarian society and the birth of an ever-developing, although sometimes uneasy, recognition of the innumerable contributions that new-world Africans and their descendants have made to American culture. In this postwar period and throughout the twentieth and into the twenty-first centuries, African American expressive culture became one of the most distinguishing features of American life and especially of American music. Qualities of “African American-ness” helped differentiate America from its European ancestors in innumerable ways.
America’s vernacular music has, in fact, been shaped by African American culture since enslaved Africans first arrived. Musical techniques and elements like call and response, improvisation, and bluesy intonation, which sound so familiar to us in the twenty-first century, were originally African American musical practices. Moreover, since the first decades of the twentieth century and the advent of recording and radio, formative African American musics like blues and jazz have influenced almost all types of American popular music. It is impossible to imagine what American music would sound like today had it not been affected so profoundly by the presence and contributions of African Americans.
An Anglo American/Afro American dichotomy has, thus far, shaped most histories of American music. In our volume, however, this model is diversified with a more finely nuanced and inclusive map of American musical terrain. In fact, a desire to move beyond the simple black-and-white picture of American music provides the strongest impetus for this book. Furthermore, we want our collection to transcend the folk/art, Anglo/Afro, secular/sacred dyads that informed the initial establishment of an American music canon, if a canon does indeed exist. We strive to look beyond labels created by the music industry, from race records to iTunes, categories such as jazz, rock, popular, gospel, folk, hip-hop, and blues, along with other twentieth-century genres, that have defined but also limited the taxonomy of America’s music.
As co-editors, our interests in America’s musical diversity grew naturally from our initial encounters with American music histories, our academic training, our personal engagement with mass media, and by way of our own ethnographic fieldwork and scholarship. Anne Rasmussen’s work among Arab Americans led her to wonder about music making in any number of “unsung” communities, even that of her own Scandinavian grandparents in the Midwest (see Rasmussen 2004). Kip Lornell’s work documenting an array of American vernacular musics convinced him that broad categories of American music were neither numerous nor subtle enough to describe the musical landscape he found within the United States (Lornell 1989 and 2002). Our long-standing interests in regional and community music, fueled by emergent trends in scholarship, inspired this project when it began in the mid-1990s and continue to motivate us today.
DIVERSITY AND AMERICAN MUSIC
Readers of this volume will surely have their own ideas about American music. It is well known that music in the United States is indebted to the European and African cultures that were originally imported and implanted in American soil from the early 1500s through the mid-1800s. African and European musical roots have become entangled at various points in history to produce such extraordinarily popular and influential twentieth-century hybrids as jazz, rock ’n’ roll, and hip-hop, styles of music and musical subcultures that have not only become monumental features of our own landscape but that are also played and enjoyed worldwide. As artists, audiences, consumers, and students of American music, we recognize distinctions between classical music, folk or vernacular music, popular music, religious music, music for the stage, and so forth. We also realize that regional differences exist among the musics created in the United States: that music created by Acadians in southwestern Louisiana (or the San Francisco Bay area) is very different from the music created by Finnish Americans living in the Minnesota Iron Range near the Canadian border. Moreover, we are aware of the general differentiations that are made between “high” and “low” culture, between fine and popular arts, distinctions that are liberally applied to music, literature, dance, and other cultural manifestations in the United States (see Levine 1988).
Music Patronage
What makes all of these American musical scenes and subcultures tick? Universities, conservatories, concert halls, theaters, and large arts organizations like symphony orchestras and opera companies are among the elite institutions that teach students, employ faculty, and contract professionals in the “fine arts.” In most countries, including the United States, institutions for the performing arts—for example, the Kennedy Center in Washington, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, Symphony Hall in Boston, along with places like museums and libraries—are not only venues for artistic production, they are also iconic national landmarks.
Arts institutions that support and stimulate musical production for public consumption involve large casts of players and producers, who themselves are products of extensive training. As such, “high” culture events such as opera, musical theater, or orchestral music are very expensive to produce. While large ensembles rely on ticket sales for revenue, they almost always need more financial support than they can generate from paying customers. Corporate support, along with subventions by cities or states, for such “high” culture is crucial for the mere existence of these ensembles and venues. Thus many arts institutions in the United States are funded privately, but often with major grants from state and local organizations, private philanthropy, and support from the federal agencies like the National Endowment for the Arts.
Ironically, although these institutions of “fine arts” symbolize American national culture, they have traditionally been dedicated largely to European artists and their works. When you attend a concert of symphonic music, an opera, or a ballet, or when you yourself study or participate in these kinds of productions, composers like Beethoven, Bizet, or Tchaikovsky, who are German, French, and Russian, respectively, are likely to be on the program. This stratum of musical activity, one that leans heavily toward the music of Europe, is most directly and openly endorsed by American institutions of higher education, by corporations, and by arts agencies. Without institutional support or patronage, few, if any, of these orchestras or opera companies would exist. While the great masterworks of Western art music play on in our music appreciation classes and our concert halls, music educators might ask, where is the rest of the music of the world? Where is music from the twentieth or twenty-first century? Where, in particular, is American music?
Occupying another side of the cultural spectrum from “high-brow,” Western art music are folk, vernacular, traditional, and popular musics. Such grassroots, community-based, “low-brow” musics are likely to be experienced in private contexts, for example in family rituals like weddings and religious holidays. Community musics sometimes spill out into more public venues such as restaurants, bars, parks, places of worship, or neighborhood festivals, contexts that invite a range of participants. One of the ways that community musics have become more public and accessible is through civic neighborhood fairs and festivals, which, in the United States have become among the most common contexts to welcome diverse music making.
Depending on where you live, your local musical landscape might include Mexican mariachi, Scandinavian polka, Buddhist music from the Thai temple, church-based African American gospel music, Middle Eastern dance or concert music, an American Indian “drum,” or old-time music from the Appalachian Mountains. Sometimes such music may be classified as folk or vernacular music by the people who play and appreciate it; but many kinds of ethnic and community-based music in the United States may be more accurately described as traditional, classical, sacred, or art music. Lumping America’s musical diversity into one convenient category tempts misrepresentation of both the music and the people who make it. Furthermore, even though some of these kinds of music and dance have been in the United States for a century or more, they are still often thought of as “world music” or “ethnic music,” something that is other than or outside of the mainstream. Although this attitude has changed considerably over the last few decades, the marginal status of many kinds of American music and of the people who play them is reflected in our cultural institutions, from the concert hall to the university to our public schools. This volume of essays suggests some different ways to think about American music and underscores the importance and pervasiveness of informal music making on local and regional levels.
Mass Media
Mass media are probably the most powerful force in music promotion and patronage in contemporary America. Radio since the 1920s, and major record companies beginning at the turn of the century, are two of the media that have promoted popular music in the United States. Beginning in the 1950s, evening and late-night television programs like The Tonight Show and The Lawrence Welk Show helped boost the careers of countless musicians. During the mid-1960s programs such as Shindig, Hullabaloo, and American Bandstand brought contemporary popular music to a “teen audience,” followed by Soul Train, which began its thirty-five-year run in 1971. Beginning in the early 1980s, MTV and later VH1 became the dominant new media to broadcast popular music to cable-connected consumers twenty-four hours a day with the new format of the music video—a miniature film the length of a pop song, which usually combines live footage of a singer or a band with a dramatization of some sort of storyline set in a particular context.
Since the publication of the first edition of this book, YouTube.com has emerged as a primary vehicle for the dissemination of music. This innovative 2005 site (purchased by Google in 2006) democratized access so that virtually any video clip, whether a commercial and professionally produced music video, an excerpt from a film, a snippet of a bootlegged live concert performance, or an experiment in someone’s living room, may be uploaded in a matter of minutes and made accessible to anyone in the world with an internet connection. The number of “hits” or viewings on most music available via Youtube.com is small (usually in the hundreds or low thousands) but some YouTube clips “go viral”: it took less than six months from its initial posting on July 15, 2012, for Korean PSY’s K-pop, hip-hop influenced “Gangnam Style” to eclipse the billion-hits mark.
It is difficult to overstate the impact of twenty-first-century digitally based media on the flow of music, because such technology enables not only the broadcasting of music but also communicating about music among musicians and their publics. YouTube.com helped revolutionize the ability to post all sorts of video material, from archival historic recordings to entire “channels” devoted to artists that range from Native American rock bands (like Redbone, for example) to the pop diva Beyoncé.2 Social media such as Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, and the app Bandsintown also facilitate instant communication about music...

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