who are the musicologists, anyway?

(before i begin, just a note of apologies for my absence. the past couple of months have been, well…that’s a story for another blog.)

this entry has been long in the making because several things have come up to influence how i feel about this topic. a few months ago in one of my seminars, the question of musicology vs music came up. i noted how we as musicologists are so quick to judge others from other disciplines who write on musical/musicological topics. but on that same note, we also judge musicologists who value their musicianship. so the question is, who are the musicologists?

i’ve never been a fan of that “those who can’t do, teach” adage. i can do and quite well. and my many encounters with musicologists have made it clear that in order for me to have turned to musicology, i must have failed at my musicmaking career. is this some way of passing on past failures? i know many musicologists who are active in their musicmaking and i genuinely feel it makes them the better for it. some would say that there are many reasons for this somewhat irrevocable split. if you read Suzanne Cusick’s article in Rethinking Music, it comes from the battle between the academic and male musicology and the feminine act of musicmaking. i definitely give this idea some credence. but is that all? for some reason, i believe it goes deeper than that. i fear it might be a real hatred of what performing is or is made out to be.

the other day i had a revelation. yes, there is something very physical about performing but there’s something else. your blood is pumping, there’s sweat on your brow (if you’re doing it right) and you’re filled with endorphins. and the best part is the connection your brain feels with your entire person. there’s a wholeness that comes from practicing and performing that is hard to find anywhere else. i realized that my brain has felt disconnected from the rest of my body. uncovering secrets, relating facts, proposing topics are all amazing feelings but not quite like the rush playing provides. how could anyone be against that?

somewhere and somehow, we need to find away to connect the two divided halves of ourself. we need to listen to music in our seminars (because honestly, how can we question and analyze if we don’t listen?) and try to not denigrate our colleagues. believe it or not, insight can come from the strangest places and it’s time for us to accept that. this may be a futile argument but i, if anything, am convinced that in order for me to be the best musicologist, nay, musician that i can be that i must keep cranking out those Bach suites and Vivaldi sonatas while reading manuscripts and writing abstracts. and if i fail, then i fail but i’m not too concerned about that.


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2 thoughts on “who are the musicologists, anyway?

  1. GR says:

    As a performer and someone interested in the inner-workings of music (but way far from being a musicologist) I have felt the need for a similar balance. Being out of school for a few years now, I realize that I don’t spend nearly as much time analyzing and really getting down and dirty with the more intellectual part of a piece and I miss that connection. Not having this connection can make music making a futile exercise, at times. It is the best musicians (or musicologists, I agree) those who can achieve a balance between the two.

  2. XY says:

    I find your post insightful! I am a grad student in musicology and I always feel the need to bridge the gap between making music and writing dissertations and analysis on music. Not being on par with musicians in performing doesn’t make us any less a musician! But we do need to always be on the track of MAKING music and not end up speculating fruitlessly about music while not actually doing it. I just came back after a good session of practice after a long absence from it and all of it starts coming back-the good ol’ satisfaction of flexing and working your fingers (kind of like a good workout) the glow of a rush of endorphins, emotions and energies! Music is great!

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