David G. Hebert
This section introduces the theoretical background of our class project Boston Hybrid Musics.
- MU 827: Special Topics in Musicology: Hybridity and Transculturation (Spring, 2008)
This graduate seminar at Boston University examines how new musical fusions arise from cross-cultural contact. Sociological and aesthetic perspectives are used to explore the changing artistry and identity of musicians in
(1) Timothy Taylor, Beyond Exoticism: Western Music and the World.
(2) Martin Clayton, Trevor Herbert, and Richard Middleton, eds., The Cultural Study of Music: A Critical Introduction.
(3) Yayoi Uno Everett and Frederick Lau, eds., Locating
(4) Frances R. Aparicio and Candida F. Jaquez, eds., Musical Migrations: Transnationalism and Cultural Identity in Latin/o America, Vol. I.
Community Music Activity in
The purpose of the final projects for this Boston University graduate seminar was to document examples of community music activity in the
The study of community music in postmodern industrial societies is of increasing interest to scholars in a diversity of fields that include ethnomusicology, sociology of music, and music education. Community Music, whether recognized as a distinct academic field or merely an interdisciplinary subject area, inherently bridges the gap between theory and practice in musical studies. We are hopeful that others might enjoy and take inspiration from our efforts, perhaps even implementing similar projects in other urban areas in the coming years. It would also be interesting to see the development of a more robust survey in Boston (through a year-long seminar) based partly upon the model developed here, or to see the results of a similar project conducted after a decade or more has passed, providing some sense of how the Bostonian music scene is changing.
Hybrid Musics in Musicology
Margaret Kartomi observed the following regarding the traditional musicological view of hybrid music genres:
Although the exact reasons for the disapproval of musics of mixed Western and non-Western descent were not normally explained, the vocabulary used by writers to describe them has generally implied that they lacked authenticity or were degenerate and oversentimental, having been influenced only by the ‘lowest’ forms of Western music (Kartomi, 1981, p.227).
With this point in mind, our seminar began with discussion of cultural traditions: how they emerge and become institutionalized. Later, we considered the role of creative artists in proposing new innovations that subvert established traditions, and we also interrogated the very notion of “hybrid”. We found that hybrid music genres are particularly notable in terms of musical creativity and innovation, yet they have tended until recently to receive little attention from musicologists. We found that the field of ethnomusicology, however, provides many relevant insights. According to Kay Shelemay (2001), “music historians would do well to draw upon ethnomusicologists’ experience in studying complex urban musical traditions, transnational musical movements, and the manner in which music and musicians actively construct their own social, political, and economic worlds” (p.24). Indeed, we found that an inquiry based on the ethnomusicological practice of empathetic interaction with living musicians - in addition to interpretation of their creative work - is a particularly effective way of examining the topic of hybrid music genres in urban settings.
We also actively sought lessons learned from recent studies of related topics. One key theme that emerged was that of music technology, which is appropriate considering that we decided at the beginning of the class to post our writings on an internet website for free public access. On this topic, Leslie Gay (1998) observed that “Ethnomusicology has mostly ignored cultural practices tied to technological adaptations or simply rejected newly adapted technologies as threats to canonized older ones” (p.92). Recognizing this concern, the class made a point of discussing music technology in some detail, including effects of the recent worldwide digital revolution in the recording and distribution of both audio and visual recordings. It certainly helped that some of the students were experienced as professional musicians and sound engineers, and most were professional educators, for whom such issues are already of daily concern.
Another important issue was how to address the role of individual musicians as active agents within the newly emerging traditions (or social structure) of hybrid music genres. Tina Ramnarine has recently suggested that the political context and aesthetic choices of individual musicians requires greater attention in studies of musical hybridity:
Diasporic music-making should not be understood as merely the result of population movements, the settlements of diasporic groups and cultural contact in the multicultural society. Rather, diasporic music-making can be understood in the ordinariness of creative production, as musicians working as individual agents in their everyday environments, making musical choices that suit them and their audiences. In moving beyond simple understandings of hybridity as musical cultures in contact that result in ‘new’ musical expressions we move towards politically articulated readings of social relations and creative processes (Ramnarine, 2007, p.7).
Therefore, the students were encouraged to consider aesthetic and sociological aspects of the cases they examined, both of which are theoretical areas of great interest to the instructor. Ruth Stone (2008) has acknowledged that theoretical discussions are “typically brief and cursory in most ethnomusicological accounts,” but this seminar aimed to bring theory to the fore of all discussions regarding musical hybridity. We also benefited from the teaching of two excellent guest lecturers: (1) musical theatre composer Nancy Rosenberg and (2)
A Broad Sampling of Hybrid Genres
The graduate students chose to individually examine a fascinating cross-section of topics associated with hybrid music genres in
- Indo-Jazz Music
- Ethio-Jazz Music
- Malian-American Dance Music
- Chinese-American Dulcimer Ensemble
- Afro-American Gospel Ensemble
- American Afrobeat
- An Arab-American Composer
About the Individual Studies
David Adams, in his “Examining Malian Musicians and their Performances in
Katherine Baltrush focuses on one particularly successful musician in her “Arab-America in
Megan Felts examines the Afro-American gospel voice ensemble at a renowned local music school in her “Gospel Singing in a
Sheerin Hosseini’s “In Search of Meaning: Indo-Jazz Music in
Jane Leggiero’s “Afrobeat for the 21st Century: The Superpowers” describes the work of an instrumental dance ensemble that is inspired by African popular music. She examines what performance of instrumental music based on African forms means to people who are not African.
Yi Liu’s “A Qualitative Study of a Chinese Dulcimer Ensemble in
Finally, Erica Yennior provides a detailed analysis of the Ethio-Jazz scene in her “A Mingling of Musical Hybrids: Ethio-Jazz and
Disclaimer: It is important to recall that these writings are student projects completed for a class, and should not be regarded as formal research. Nevertheless, much was learned in the process, and we hope these articles will be informative and useful for readers interested in
Click HERE for Introduction: the Project and its Authors.
Click HERE for the Table of Contents.
 Due to burgeoning interest in this subject area, Master degree programs in Community Music have been launched at some universities in the
 Much of my own research has been on related topics, such as the teaching of graduate courses in music aesthetics and sociology of music (Hebert, 2008a), the transmission of hybrid genres in Japan (2008b), and in Polynesia among both Maori and Tongan musicians (Hebert, 2008c, Hebert, 2008d), as well as the emergence and integration of fully developed hybrid genres – such as rock and jazz – into American schools (Hebert, in press; Hebert & Campbell, 2000).
Gay, L. C. (1998). Acting up, talking tech:
Hebert, D. G. (in press). Jazz and rock music. In W. M. Anderson & P. S. Campbell (Eds.), Multicultural Perspectives in Music Education (third edition).
Hebert, D. G. (2008a). Reflections on teaching the aesthetics and sociology of music online. International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music, 39(1), 93-103.
Hebert, D. G. (2008b). Alchemy of brass: Spirituality and wind music in
Hebert, D. G. (2008c). Music transculturation and identity in a Maori brass band tradition. In R. Camus & B. Habla, (Eds.), Alta Musica, 26 (pp. 173-200). Tutzing: Schneider.
Hebert, D. G. (2008d). Music transmission in an Auckland Tongan community youth band. International Journal of Community Music, 1(2), 169-188. [http://www.atypon-link.com/INT/doi/abs/10.1386/ijcm.1.2.169_1]. [Click on "View PDF with links" for free access.] Hebert, D. G. & Campbell, P. S., (2000). Rock music in American schools: Positions and practices since the 1960s. International Journal of Music Education, 36(1), 14-22. Kartomi, M. J. (1981). The processes and results of musical culture contact: A discussion of terminology and concepts. Ethnomusicology, 25(2), 227-249. Livingston, T. E. et al. (1993). Community of Music: An Ethnographic Seminar in Champaign-Urbana. Ramnarine, T. K. (2007). Musical performance in the diaspora: Introduction. Ethnomusicology Forum, 16(1), 1-17. Shelemay, K. K. (2001). Toward an ethnomusicology of the early music movement: Thoughts on bridging disciplines and musical worlds. Ethnomusicology, 45(1), 1-29. Stone, R. M. (2008). Theory for Ethnomusicology. Weiss, S. (2008). Permeable boundaries: Hybridity, music, and the reception of Robert Wilson’s I La Galigo. Ethnomusicology, 52(2), 203-238.
Hebert, D. G. & Campbell, P. S., (2000). Rock music in American schools: Positions and practices since the 1960s. International Journal of Music Education, 36(1), 14-22.
Kartomi, M. J. (1981). The processes and results of musical culture contact: A discussion of terminology and concepts. Ethnomusicology, 25(2), 227-249.
Livingston, T. E. et al. (1993). Community of Music: An Ethnographic Seminar in Champaign-Urbana.
Ramnarine, T. K. (2007). Musical performance in the diaspora: Introduction. Ethnomusicology Forum, 16(1), 1-17.
Shelemay, K. K. (2001). Toward an ethnomusicology of the early music movement: Thoughts on bridging disciplines and musical worlds. Ethnomusicology, 45(1), 1-29.
Stone, R. M. (2008). Theory for Ethnomusicology.
Weiss, S. (2008). Permeable boundaries: Hybridity, music, and the reception of Robert Wilson’s I La Galigo. Ethnomusicology, 52(2), 203-238.