Reconsidering Theory and Practice in Ethnomusicology: Applying, Advocating, and Engaging Beyond Academia

The branch of ethnomusicology commonly referred to as “applied ethnomusicology” has received comparatively little attention within the university setting. The relative lack of academic debate surrounding research and representation activities labeled “applied” does not, however, denote a paucity of such activity. Nor does it reflect an absence of interest in the subject. The dearth of discussion does reveal, however, long-held tensions between “pure” and “practical” scholarship and ingrained prejudices against matters perceived as atheoretical. These tensions and prejudices have decreased significantly in recent years but nevertheless remain present across the discipline. Arguably more relevant today, the positioning of applied ethnomusicology off to the side of more dominant discourses hints at some of the typical job parameters and work-related stresses faced by “applied” ethnomusicologists, which have tended to limit publications; this, in turn, has limited broader considerations of the subject.

In reality, applied research is central to the field and increasing in importance. Whether or not it is widely discussed, most ethnomusicologists have applied their theoretical training in some way during their careers, if not consistently, then at least on a periodic basis. Moreover, applied ethnomusicology is not a new phenomenon, as has sometimes been assumed. In fact, academic conversation on the subject hails at least as far back as 1944, when Charles Seeger issued a call for the development of an “applied musicology”—although many researchers were engaging in applied activities long before then. Today, applied ethnomusicology stands in firm response to “does it even matter?” and “what does it mean for the ‘real world’?” in an era when intellectual occupations are frequently dismissed as irrelevant and elitist, and the arts and humanities are too often written off as fluff or luxury.

In responding to a contemporary world, we also have some tough questions to ask of ourselves. Among them: across the discipline, are we appropriately preparing new generations of ethnomusicologists, given where the academic and non-academic job market now stands and where it may be in the future? Although some excellent courses do of course exist, formal study of applied ethnomusicology needs to make its way more prominently into current graduate curriculums as part of this preparation for new professional realities. As a group of specialists, do we adequately get out into the community and connect with people about our work other than with those around whom we have done our research? Most likely, we need to talk and write a lot more about our applied and practical activities, in ways accessible to lay readership. And we need to demonstrate that the perceived gap between pure and applied research is really narrower than what it might seem.

The purpose of this essay is to provide background for these discussions. Accordingly, I seek to provide historical context and an overview of the state of applied ethnomusicology today, largely as it has evolved and exists as practice within the United States.1 Although not an exhaustive review of work conducted in this vein, this article is meant to offer readers a starting point for locating resources. Toward this goal, I will: (1) review terminology and definitions, (2) trace the evolution of applied ethnomusicology, (3) lay out explanations for the marginalization of applied research and practice, (4) demonstrate the broadening domains of applied work, and finally, (5) advocate for expanding the scope of theoretical dialogue, which should incorporate evolving understandings of ethics in research and practice.

Wrestling with Terminology and Definitions

Just as the term “ethnomusicology” has been rigorously debated since its implementation in the 1950s, practitioners have struggled with naming the branch of ethnomusicology here in question. The Society for Ethnomusicology and the International Council for Traditional Music, which both support study groups devoted to the subfield, favor “applied ethnomusicology.” Many scholars, taking their cue from public folklore, prefer “public” or “public-sector ethnomusicology” (including Nicholas Spitzer and Robert Garfias). Others find “activist” (Ursula Hemetek), “advocacy” (Angela Impey, Jonathan Kertzer), or even “active” (Bess Lomax Hawes) to be more apt descriptors for their work. More recently, Gage Averill has invoked the term “engaged” to describe ethnomusicology performed by ethnomusicologists who act as public intellectuals, inspired by the Paris 1968 uprising but likely also influenced by his long-term involvement with the mizik angaje (engaged music) scene in Haiti (Averill 2010, 2007, 2003).2

Each of these descriptors has its limitations. While the term “applied” is meant to point out practical applications of the scholarship, some critics feel that the word exudes academic colonialism, whereby the elite scholar risks imposing—applying—his or her erudite knowledge on the supposedly unsuspecting and less knowledgeable culture bearer (Block 2007:88). Also problematic, claiming the adjective “applied” for work done outside of the university implies that academic work is somehow not applied work.3 By comparison, the word “public” is intended to reach out into broader society, beyond the comparatively closed spaces of academic institutions. Yet one might complain that “public” harbors too great an association with governmental agencies and thus automatically overlooks activities initiated by private individuals or groups, including non-governmental organizations or private corporations. “Advocacy” or “activist ethnomusicology,” often taken to indicate a certain type of energy directed toward socio-political concerns, could ascribe motivations to the researcher that are too political in nature for the work actually being conducted. Furthermore, some scholars may favor “engaged ethnomusicology” for its ability to reflect the researcher’s desire for a deep and sustained engagement with the community. But the terminology breaks down much like the word “applied” does: it is incorrect to claim that ethnomusicologists working within academia are not in fact engaged with the groups and individuals who participate in their research.

This partial presentation of ongoing debates demonstrates that the process of refining fundamental terminology is far from complete. For the sake of consistency, I adhere to SEM and ICTM conventions in using “applied ethnomusicology” throughout the remainder of this essay. However, I—as a Haitianist—am inclined toward “engaged ethnomusicology” for the additional depth of meaning lent the term by linguistically linking it to mizik angaje (see footnote 1) and for the ease of translation between English and French or Haitian Kreyòl.

Beyond the challenges of committing to vocabulary, defining applied ethnomusicology is equally difficult. This is due in part to recent interest in uniting, under a single identifying label, many strands of professional activity that have traditionally fallen outside the boundaries of mainstream ethnomusicological scholarship. Additional layers of complexity stem from growth within the field, as the scope of research broadens and domains of application widen. In the absence of any formative manual, one might turn again to the scholarly societies for guidance in understanding what applied ethnomusicologists do.4 For the ICTM study group, applied ethnomusicology is “the approach guided by principles of social responsibility, which extends the usual academic goal of broadening and deepening knowledge and understanding toward solving concrete problems and toward working both inside and beyond typical academic contexts.”5 The SEM Applied Ethnomusicology Section maintains a similar proclivity toward social responsibility, evident in online comments by section members who consistently express their desire to use their skills and knowledge in advocating for and empowering the communities in which they work. The section’s mission statement explains that the group “joins scholarship with practical pursuits by providing a forum for discussion and exchange of theory, issues, methods and projects among practitioners and serving as the ‘public face’ of ethnomusicology in the larger community.”6 Public articulations of these definitions have grown closer in recent years, likely because many of the same individuals participate in both groups.

Individual scholars speak along the same lines. Amy Catlin-Jairazbhoy, in addressing SEM section members through the Applied Ethnomusicology listserv, referred to a “sense of purpose” that permeates applied work and notes a common aspiration “to engender change” through participation and collaboration with practitioners and performers. In reply, Ric Alviso suggested that the applied scholar’s sense of purpose coincides with the moral imperative to “benefit humanity,” or else risk, through non-interested research, perpetuating the status quo of unequal power relations between the researcher and the researched (Catlin-Jairazbhoy and Alviso 2001:1). Nick Spitzer has indirectly echoed the need for balancing power and encouraging researcher-researchee collaboration whenever he has explained that ethnomusicologists should cultivate a sense of “cultural conversation” in the place of “cultural conservation” (2003; 1992:99).7 At the same time, though, some folklorists see “social intervention” as a powerful tool by which to (1) promote learning, problem solving, and cultural conversation, (2) improve the quality of life, and (3) build identity and community (Jones 1994)—a view that readily translates to the practice of applied ethnomusicology.8 In sum, this work involves the collection of knowledge and the re-circulation of that knowledge back into the community studied, often in a way that seeks to advance community-defined goals. Hence, applied ethnomusicology may effectively be understood as “both a discipline and an ethical point of view” (McCarl 1992:121), which results in “knowledge as well as action” (Titon 1992:315).

The proposed definitions are broadly stated and arguably vague—perhaps necessarily so. While precise parameters of the field remain elusive, this looseness enables the flexibility to remain inclusive of a broad array of activities and work patterns.

Historical Context

Several scholars have cautioned against presuming that applied ethnomusicology is a new trend without historical precedence (Seeger 2006; Averill 2003; Sheehy 1992). In fact, its diverse modern iterations have arisen over the course of a century out of an inextricable combination of important individual contributions and larger social processes, many of which are outlined below.

The traceable record of applied music research actually predates the academic discipline of ethnomusicology, dating back at least as far as the conservationist charge to collect disappearing cultural material on the Native American Indian reservations in the late 1800s and early 1900s. As Native Americans were being acculturated into (or forced to comply with) the modern American mainstream, Frances Densmore observed that the recordings she made of music belonging to the Chippewa, Sioux, Winnebago, and other tribes would ultimately be important to the communities from which they were taken. Densmore told those whom she recorded, “I want to keep these things for you . . . [because] you have much to learn about the new way of life and you are too busy to use these things now. . . . The sound of your voices singing these songs will be kept in Washington in a building that cannot burn down.”9 Although her voice reflects now-uncomfortable paternalistic and evolutionist attitudes of the era, Densmore deposited the recordings into the archives of the Bureau of American Ethnology, making consultation of these heritage documents by later generations of tribal members possible.

In testament to the value of similarly archived recordings, Passamaquoddy community scholars Wayne Newell and Blanch Sockabasin have confirmed the importance of Jesse Walter Fewkes’ 1890 wax cylinder recordings for strengthening Passamaquoddy community identity and reviewing tribal history.10 Even though the circumstances under which these cultural materials were gathered would generally not meet contemporary research standards, these cases provide two early examples of applied ethnomusicology.

Other pioneering efforts of applied music research that helped shape contemporary philosophies and practices came from the Lomax family. Of these, perhaps the earliest significant contribution was John Lomax’s early collection of cowboy songs and poems, which attributed then-unprecedented value to creative expressions of previously dismissed “common folk” (1919). This publication opened the doors to future studies valuing “ordinary” creative expressions. A second significant contribution followed during the 1930s, as Alan Lomax joined his father in recording songs from the rural South. Out of their research trips came a well-known act of advocacy through scholarly interest that became part of the Lomax legacy: the father-son team has been widely (and perhaps misleadingly) credited with petitioning for the release of blues musician Huddie Ledbetter (“Lead Belly”) from a Louisiana penitentiary using a recording of the prisoner singing.11 In late 1934, a few months after the parole, the senior Lomax asked Lead Belly to collaborate on a lecture-demonstration of folk songs presented before the Modern Language Association, helping to secure the artist’s place as an iconic figure of the black folk and blues tradition.

The Lomax family contributions to the field continue. From at least the 1950s, Alan Lomax touted the ideals of cultural pluralism from the vantage point of a “stander-in-between” who could moderate between powerful “cultural instruments” and the ordinary people (Sheehy 1992:329). The junior Lomax’s best-known work—Folk Song Style and Culture (1968), the cantometrics study (1976), the Global Jukebox project (largely unrealized during his lifetime)12—underscored a fervent belief in the value of using musical systems to compare and understand social structures of the societies from which music had sprung.13 Alan Lomax’s younger sister Bess Lomax Hawes was likewise involved in leading others to learn about and honor cultural heritage. As deputy director for the Smithsonian Institute’s 1976 Bicentennial Festival of Traditional Folk Arts and later as the first director of the Folk and Traditional Arts Program at the National Endowment for the Arts, Hawes was instrumental in advancing national recognition and federal support for the folk arts.

The promotion and protection of culture and tradition were also propelled under the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration, when the preservation of “living lore” was strongly pursued. Benjamin Botkin (the national folklore editor of the WPA’s Federal Writers’ Project and later the head of the Archive of American Folksong at the Library of Congress) and Charles Seeger (who was involved with multiple federal government programs including the WPA’s Federal Music Project) were both directors of folklore and folk song documentation projects. Botkin oversaw the collection of life histories from diverse segments of the American population, hoping to foster understanding and tolerance for diversity.14 Toward this aim, he published dense anthologies such as The Treasure of American Folklore to make folklore accessible to consumers (Jones 1994:10). Seeger was hired by the Resettlement Administration specifically to use music as a resource to bring communities together “around the project of economic and social self-help” (Cantwell 1992:269).

Of possibly greater significance, though, were contributions that Botkin and C. Seeger made to the philosophical underpinning of applied work. Botkin was a critic of the “pure folklorist” as an Ivory Tower academic too often neglectful of on-the-ground culture, history, literature, and people but excessively occupied with maintaining the boundaries of folklore as a pure and independent discipline (Jones 1994:12).15 Botkin’s broad positioning of folkloric studies within society-at-large was mirrored by Seeger, who believed that individuals engaged in government or public work had the responsibility to encourage “music as a community or social service” (C. Seeger 1944:12). This sense of social service was borne out in Seeger’s suggestion for the development of a field of “applied musicology” that should be principally concerned with “integrat[ing] music knowledge and music practice, especially in the planning and technical coordination of large-scale, long-term programs of development” (18). His position was remarkably prescient to contemporary understandings of applied ethnomusicology.

Francis Densmore, John and Alan Lomax, Bess Lomax Hawes, Benjamin Botkin and Charles Seeger are among the American scholars most frequently credited as founders of today’s applied ethnomusicology movement. Momentum for applied ethnomusicology has grown steadily since the mid-1990s led by a handful of individuals, among whom are Jeff Todd Titon, Anthony Seeger, Svanibor Pettan, Daniel Sheehy, Atesh Sonenborn, Amy Catlin-Jairazbhoy, Nicholas Spitzer, and Martha Ellen Davis. By 2010, proponents of the sub-discipline had grown too numerous to list individually, although together they still represent a small subset of professionals in the field. Recent awareness has increased in part due to several important conferences held on applied work within the last ten years, including one hosted by Brown University in 2003 (“Invested in Community: Ethnomusicology and Musical Advocacy”) and the ICTM Study Group on Applied Ethnomusicology meeting in Ljublijana, Slovenia in 2008 (“Historical and Emerging Approaches to Applied Ethnomusicology”). Moreover, annual SEM meetings have featured panels sponsored by the SEM Section for Applied Ethnomusicology.

Besides being shaped by early influence from specific individuals, the rise of applied ethnomusicology has been driven by five additional overlapping factors.16 The first of these factors is the rise of public folklore and applied anthropology as distinct disciplines, both of which are closely related to applied ethnomusicology.17 Pivotal events building up these fields include the founding of the American Folklore Society in 1888, the designation of folklore and anthropology as “scientific” subjects suited for study in the university setting, and the promotion of “cultural conservation,” which yielded important dialogues on heritage protection.18 Also strengthening the applied fields was the backlash against “armchair scholarship” and “Ivory Tower elitist isolationism,” which prompted calls for fieldwork concerning “regular folks” and research relevant to real life. Much of the early fieldwork took place among rural, indigenous populations and was rooted in evolutionist thinking, but it ultimately strengthened the connection between the university and the community. Although folklore was initially deemed a phenomenon of rural life, fieldwork soon expanded to embrace urban dwellers as well, especially when leading folklorist Richard Dorson suddenly “discovered” that folklore existed in the city (Abrahams 1992:22).

Applied work received another boost from the explosion of interest in staging festivals to commemorate folk life. Through productions such as the National Folk Festival, Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival, and the Newport Folk Festival, the population can consume and participate in its own representation simply by attending a performance (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 1998). Likewise, archives have played a role in presenting the community to itself, by permitting community members to enjoy performances safeguarded on audio and visual recordings. Finally, in advancing the applied side of these disciplines, the past thirty years have seen a rapid expansion of scholarly societies geared toward promoting “useful” research, including the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology (NAPA), the Southern California Applied Anthropology Network (SCAAN), and the Society for Applied Anthropology (SAA) in addition to the previously highlighted ICTM study group and SEM section.

The second factor is that applied ethnomusicology, like public folklore and applied anthropology, has been pushed along by particular trends, sensibilities, and needs held by the American population during certain eras. The Great Depression compelled anthropologists to look for practical ways to solve problems impacting society, which explains the implementation of the New Deal cultural documentation projects. By contrast, the post-World War II environment and mid-century independence movements encouraged the questioning of Eurocentric and colonialist values while simultaneously heightening concern for and interest in marginalized communities. As Eurocentrism and colonialism were being examined, public discourse also turned to explore cultural pluralism and cultural equity (see A. Lomax 1972). New appreciation for culture of the masses spurred the folk revival movement, until McCarthyism and Cold War politics administered a heavy blow as the FBI investigated folk artists and supporters for alleged communist sympathies.19

Like scholars of any other discipline, applied anthropologists, folklorists, and ethnomusicologists have found themselves navigating discursive challenges that change over time: cultural relativism and salvage ethnography, for example, are no longer deemed intellectually sound arguments even as they were once academically fashionable. During the twenty years following World War II, the paradigm of fieldwork shifted from “building a national culture out of regional folklore to using performances of folklore to give a public presence to underrepresented cultural groups” (Hufford 2006:846). As Anthony Seeger has explained, while the history of applied anthropology in the United States is long, it has also been “somewhat conflicted” as it progresses through successive ideologies (2008:272).

Third, public agencies and private sector organizations acting on behalf of the public have played a significant role in developing the atmosphere and infrastructure necessary for the growth of these three parallel disciplines. The availability of federal jobs for anthropologists and folklorists (with the WPA, for example) plummeted after World War II. However, other public sector programs, such as the Smithsonian Institute, grew in popularity and replaced previous models. In addition, international, federal, state and local funding agencies acting in support of the arts—including the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the New York State Council on the Arts—gained prominence.20 Legions of non-profit private organizations working in the public domain have sprung up as well, such as the National Council for the Traditional Arts, the California Traditional Music Society, and CityLore. Independent folklore groups (La Troupe Makandal, Csárdás Dance Company, Barynya, Jean Appolon Expressions) are innumerable, as are independent record labels ostensibly less concerned with profits than with benefiting the artists and society more generally (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, Cumbancha, Ethical Music).21 These organizations have employed applied ethnomusicologists, folklorists and anthropologists and contribute to the overall climate supporting applied work.

A fourth factor contributing to the rise in applied work is simply observed: exponentially more Ph.D.s have been awarded than there are academic positions available. Several years ago, Susan Wright reported that the United Kingdom graduates roughly one hundred anthropologists from doctoral programs per year who must compete over one or two academic openings—a phenomenon that has only become more exaggerated (2006:28). In the United States, a similarly extreme imbalance exists between holders of humanities PhDs and the number of university positions vacated or created in any given year. At the most fundamental level, graduates must seek out jobs anywhere they are available, which includes the public sector, the development sector, the commercial sector, and the like. Such employment tends not to be so-called “pure” ethnomusicology.

The fifth and most recent factor revolves around growing preoccupations with music therapy, cultural tourism, violence reduction initiatives, and post-disaster recovery efforts. Although just beginning to receive scholarly attention, these side interests are unquestionably directing the trajectory of much of the most recent applied ethnomusicology work. Specific examples of applied ethnomusicological work addressing violence, illness, and disaster are considered below.

The Well-Fed False Dichotomy between “Pure Research” and “Applied Work,” and Other Explanations for the Marginalization of Applied Researchers

While it is becoming less and less accurate to insist that applied work is scorned within the academy, a striking residue of institutionalized tension between “pure research” and “applied practice” remains. As Anthony Seeger has suggested, the dualism may be lingering literally from the Middle Ages, when ars liberalis were pitted against ars practicalis.22 Sixty years ago, folklorist Richard Dorson’s well-known confrontation with applied practice—what he dubbed “fakelore”—potentially overshadowed the debates over the relationship between theory and practice that have taken place throughout most of the history of folklore as a discipline (Baron 1992:309).23 The net effect of Dorson’s campaign to solidify folklore as a legitimate science in the academy, which was epitomized by his 1950 article entitled “Folklore and Fake Lore,” was to polarize and perhaps over accentuate the distinction between theoretical and practical work. Dorson’s principal target for criticism was Benjamin Botkin, declared guilty of being a folklore “popularizer” who (supposedly) stood in the way of research and simplistically packaged tradition for mass consumption.24 Botkin defended his position by emphasizing the inadequacy of theorizing folklore for the sake of theorizing folklore alone, finding that while “the study of folklore belongs to the folklorist, the lore itself belongs to the people who make it or enjoy it” (Botkin 1953:199). By the mid-1980s, the growing rift between “academic” and “nonacademic” folklorists left Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett questioning whether all of this bickering comes down to “a mistaken dichotomy.” In perpetuating this dichotomy, academic programs in folklore have “consistently refused to examine their own essentially and inescapably applied character” (1988:141). Applied scholars, for their part, have contributed to the chasm because while “folklore in the public sector . . . has its own intellectual tradition,” much of it “remains to be written” (149).

In essence, then, applied ethnomusicology suffers a publicity problem, which will likely be the source of greater long-term consternation if it is not addressed soon and with vigor. At the root of this problem is that little has been published specifically detailing the “intellectual traditions” perpetually being built, deconstructed, maintained, and revised by those engaged in this line of research. The literature gap may be attributed to physical constraints of the labor: writing grant applications, concert programs, press releases, and reports to funding agencies often takes the place of writing articles; the contract-to-contract nature of much applied work too often necessitates a scramble for employment in between gigs that puts job application writing above all else;25 addressing the immediate needs of performing musicians during a concert tour takes precedence over publication, which is put off as something that can happen sometime in the future. Furthermore, the reality of the applied scholar tends to be super-saturation in the local affairs of those on whose behalf the researcher advocates, and therefore the priorities of the researched communities may conflict with the demands of academic publication. Still, even with the acknowledgement that writing about applied research project outcomes is difficult because results are not always directly measurable, a paucity of literature translates to a scarcity of critical evaluation (Hawes 1992:341-42). Ironically, publishing formal evaluations of research and results is one of the primary ways in which applied ethnomusicologists can stake their claim to scholarly, theoretical thinking.

Other points of friction may contribute to the peripheral status of applied ethnomusicologists. Applied scholars are sometimes accused of being self-interested or arrogant in their activism (Hale 2007:123). Frequently, applied research is not perceived as “serious” research, with the fallacious assumption that applied work does not necessitate the same high level of thinking and analysis required of scholars confined to the university setting. Applied scholars may be perceived as naïve and idealistic in their quest to “better humanity,” which sometimes contributes to the dismissal of their work and solicits questioning of their scholarly legitimacy. Detractors of applied folklore find that folklorists do not merely objectify the culture they are aiming to represent in festivals, museums, and concerts, but, more significantly, they remove agency from the control of the practitioners of the traditions being objectified (Baron 2010:63-64). Possibly worse, critics have located “colonialist, imperialist, or other socially regressive imperatives” in applied anthropology (Block 2007:88).

As alluded to above, shifting priorities in the national government and society at large have also impacted the negative perception of both applied and academic work. From the decline of Roosevelt’s New Deal through the era of McCarthyism and the Cold War, the university has been neutralized and cordoned off as an entity separate from mainstream society.26 A trend accelerating since the Reagan administration, many academics find that they are no longer considered the public intellectuals that previous generations of scholars employed by the WPA, for example, once were. In fact, Charles Hale, Anthony Seeger, and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett have each mused over the role of academics in Europe and Latin American as politically engaged players expected to comment on social issues, in contrast to the comparatively “anemic” display of civic participation by current American academics (Hale 2007:103; A. Seeger 2003; Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 1988:152). The perceived juncture between the university and “real life” and the anti-intellectual bias in American society today may further reinforce impressions that a split between “pure” and applied work actually exists.

Broadening Domains of Application

At one time, applied folklore was thought to be simply about preserving songs and folk tales or curating museum exhibitions and concert series. Within the past two decades, however, the domains of application of applied folklore, applied anthropology, and applied ethnomusicology have expanded to incorporate law and politics, medicine, development, and post-conflict and post-disaster situations, among other issues.27 The selected listing below demonstrates a range of current work.

(a) Artistic representation. Applied work has traditionally revolved around artistic representation. Ethnomusicologists frequently act as “culture brokers,” mediating symbols and traditions and bridging diverse populations and practices (see Kurin 1997). For example, they are central to the organization of music and folklore festivals (National Folk Festival, Smithsonian Folklife Festival, WOMAD) as well as to commercial and non-profit record labels (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, Putumayo, Cumbancha) and radio programs (American Routes).28 More recently, they have been involved in the making of music documentaries profiling everything from musicians’ resistance efforts against the South African Apartheid (Hirsch 2003[2002]) to Rio de Janeiro’s Afro-Reggae nonviolence movement (Zimbalist and Mochary 2007[2005]), besides engaging with social media and running websites, blogs, and journals accessible to people around the world.29

(b) Law, Politics, and Ethics. Music research increasingly demands scholars to be conversant with law, politics, intellectual property rights, cultural heritage protection, and ethics. The risks of not being adequately aware and responsive to such issues, as Anthony Seeger has pointed out, are serious: “(e)thnomusicologists have not only failed to consider legal issues in an intellectual way, many have also failed to assist the people they record to protect their own rights to their music, dance and performing arts. Our failure to act both intellectually and practically in this area can only vitiate our analyses, damage our reputations, and make us suspect in the communities in which we wish to work” (1996:88).30 Moreover, Seeger continues, ethnomusicologists sometimes neglect to archive recordings made in the field, adequately understand copyright laws and intellectual property rights, and properly navigate the politics of commercial recordings to protect the rights of those who made the music (1996:88-89, 91).

Some scholars have productively engaged with these issues. In detailing his experiences with ’Are’are musicians of the Solomon Islands, Hugo Zemp has described the ethnomusicologist’s growing responsibility to mediate between local musicians and forces of the global marketplace. This task often entails supporting musicians’ aspirations for commercial success while limiting exploitation and protecting the cultural heritage of the community (1996:41-49). An international initiative based in Copenhagen called Freemuse promotes musicians in a somewhat similar way, battling censorship and defending the right to free speech for musicians.31 Having taken the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as its foundational doctrine, this independent membership organization does not espouse the musician’s decision “to say or sing anything under any circumstances” (Cloonan 2008:15). It has, however, defended artists worldwide, by publicizing harassment and denouncing violence levied against musicians; battling taboos that threaten musicians’ rights to full participation in cultural life; lobbying to release musicians from jail; and supporting musicians who have fled homelands where they have been persecuted.32 Anthony Seeger, meanwhile, has been called to assist in legal matters not directly pertaining to musical production. He used his detailed field notes on the history and geography of the Suyá of Matto Grosso, Brazil to advocate for this indigenous group’s land rights. When Suyá leaders were charged with criminal trespass after an attempt to reclaim their land from encroaching Brazilian ranchers, Seeger was able to prove where former Suyá settlements were located by presenting his field notes to the judge. He observed, “Sometimes the results of field research have a profound impact on the lives of the communities or individuals we study for reasons unimaginable at the time we undertake the research” (2008:283-84).

(c) Medicine. Medical ethnomusicology may be the fastest growing area of study for applied ethnomusicologists.33 Rooted in the integrative, complementary, and alternative medicine approach to health and healing, medical ethnomusicology examines how music can be used to access “biological, psychological, social, emotional and spiritual domains of life” (Koen et al. 2008a:4). Effectively, music may become “the bridge by which the physical and spiritual are connected and can be the most vital component of a healing ceremony or practice” (Koen 2009:4). In contrast to music therapy, which more often draws on Western music practices, medical ethnomusicology explores world cultures and “musicmedicine” healing traditions as a means to address disease care and prevention.34

Foundational texts on medical ethnomusicology were based on research carried out in the Malyasian rainforest (Roseman 1991), Central and Southern Africa (Janzen 1992), and Malawi (Friedson 1996).35 More recent studies largely center on music and HIV/AIDS, documenting the “theatre for development” movement in South Africa and Mali (Bourgault 2003), establishing music as a low-budget intervention for combating HIV transmission and encouraging “positive living” in Uganda (Barz 2008 and 2006), and demonstrating how community group-sponsored music initiatives have tackled HIV/AIDS education in Nairobi (Van Buren 2006).36 The most recent resource on culture and AIDS in Africa updates and expands previous publications, bringing together perspectives of dozens of individuals from many fields and backgrounds who view music as a source of education, hope and healing (Barz and Cohen 2011).

Studies on music and autism and Alzheimer’s disease have also been represented in key texts. Among the vast number of chapters in The Oxford Handbook of Medical Ethnomusicology is one that describes Florida State University’s Music-Play Project, an applied ethnomusicology program that seeks to reach children with autism spectrum disorders (Koen et al. 2008b). The editor of the Oxford handbook has also published a recent musical medical ethnography (Koen 2009), which examines the work of practitioners combining music, prayer, and meditation in Badakhshan, Tajikistan. One of the most unique aspects of this study from an ethnomusicological point of view is that the researcher measured blood pressure and heart rates and conducted an electrocardiogram experiment as part of his fieldwork in the Pamir Mountains.

(d) Development.37 Anthropology has been put to work both in service of large-scale development schemes instituted by the World Bank, international NGOs, and other wealthy development bureaucracies and smaller programs led by local institutions, grassroots groups, and indigenous organizations (Little 2005:35). The latter groups have been most involved in applying music to development-related issues, and their community projects have lately captured the interest of applied ethnomusicologists. The challenge with studying these community projects, though, is that many such programs are short-lived due to limited funding or lack the supporting infrastructure that make longer-duration projects feasible.

One fascinating development-minded project that recently succumbed to operational stresses was the Internet-based music source Microfundo, which conducted a campaign entitled “tune your world” to garner support and publicity for impoverished musicians from around the world. The program, initiated by individuals with backgrounds in ethnomusicology, was unique in the music industry as an independent venture premised on crowd-sourced microfinancing and social networking.38 Another well-known case of applying music to the “development problem” is Venezuela’s El Sistema classical music education program, which has inspired dozens of similar programs in more than twenty-five countries, including the United States, Honduras, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Peru.39 These programs fall solidly within the realm of applied ethnomusicology research, yet while music documentaries on the subject exist (Anunson and Armstrong 2011; Smaczny and Stodtmeier 2009; Arvelo 2005), scholarly writing on the topic remains sparse.

However, a few formative articles on the intersection between development and music have been published. One article discusses a project conducted by Samuel Araújo and the Grupo Musicultura that grew out of a study on sound practices and the production of violence in Rio de Janeiro. Notable for exemplifying Paulo Freire’s dialogic process (1985[1970]), the ethnographic research represents “a dialogue of different voices” resulting from a two-year cooperative effort between university students at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro Ethnomusicology lab and youth involved in NGO-run community outreach programs based in Maré, Rio’s second largest favela (Araújo et al. 2006:303). The study endeavored to evaluate the ability of NGO-sponsored community funk music groups to reduce neighborhood violence.40

Another article relates a program designed and carried out in South Africa’s Northern KwaZulu-Natal province. Eco- and cultural tourism have been deemed the region’s “primary route to poverty alleviation.” Accordingly, the Dukuduku Development and Tourism Association of Northern KwaZulu-Natal commissioned ethnomusicologist Angela Impey to survey the music of the endangered Dukuduku Forest region and to use survey results to draw tourists into the area (Impey 2002:403). In the spirit of action-based research, Impey sought the collaboration of local residents in establishing an ongoing documentation/archival project to preserve Dukuduku’s unique musical assets, which facilitated discussions of “‘traditional meaning’ (as claimed and understood by Dukuduku residents), identity and self-representation” (404). She then guided the residents in mounting a long-term exhibit to share with visitors. The Dukuduku community ultimately took over control of the entire program, which was designed to advance social conservation, community reconstruction, sustainable development, and cultural tourism.

(e) Post-Conflict and Post-Disaster Recovery. Ethnomusicological research relating to war and disaster is among the most important trends in contemporary scholarship.41 Svanibor Pettan’s edited collection on music made during the Serbo-Croatian war and the ways in which cultural expressions can be used to undermine or strengthen nationality (1998) has led the way for subsequent research, including important publications on music and 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (Fisher and Flota 2011; Pieslak 2009; Ritter and Daughtry 2007; Cusik 2006). In addition, there have been retrospective studies made on music and the Holocaust (e.g., Gilbert 2005; Flam 1992). In one of the most recent publications on Music and Conflict, editor John Morgan O’Connell encapsulates what might be motivating many ethnomusicologists engaged in such studies: “Music rather than language may provide a better medium for interrogating the character of conflict and for evaluating the quality of conflict resolution” in part because music “liberate[s] interpretation” by permitting multiple viewpoints to coexist within the shared space of audience response (O’Connell and Castelo-Branco 2010:2).

Turning briefly to look at threats to humanity from a slightly different angle, ethnomusicology has begun to cross paths with crisis intervention and cultural tourism, as cities and nations seek ways to promote re-growth in the aftermath of disaster. Hurricane Katrina and the Haitian earthquake are two of the most obvious recent examples that have compelled applied ethnomusicologists to step in. Ethnomusicological writing on Katrina has begun to appear, but the 2010 earthquake is still recent enough that virtually nothing has been published in scholarly venues, although solid research has been and is being carried out in post-quake Haiti.42

In the case of New Orleans, scholars are exploring the use of cultural resources like music (see Yúdice 2003) to encourage the city’s “rebirth”—a clear application of craft to crisis that parallels the values of many applied ethnomusicologists. Current discussion revolves around the “cultural resiliency” cultivated by some communities that can aid recovery (Lyon 2009; Vale and Campanella 2005). Some recent writings suggest that cultural specialists—ethnomusicologists, musicians, and the like—can be active in post-disaster rebuilding, for instance in helping to guide “the conscious conservation of a place’s cultural values” (Mason 2006:259) and in promoting cultural and music tourism as a critical means of reestablishing the local post-disaster economy (Macy 2010). Besides preservation and promotion, scholars and artists alike can assist the important process of “re-memorying” a lost, beloved location, which can be accomplished by using music to reset people’s imaginations and to remind them of what New Orleans used to be (Jabir 2009).43 As Nick Spitzer has phrased it, “Only music—and related cultural expressions that conjoin New Orleans’ deep history with its once vibrant neighborhood traditions of cuisine and carnival, jazz funerals and saints’ shrines, costumery and vernacular architecture—can lead the city famous for its urban culture to a future that is not terribly different than what existed prior to the deluge” (2006:306). Yet music has been observed in a role even more fundamental: it has, at times, become a critical component of a society’s infrastructure. Namely, music has stepped in to demonstrate exactly where the government and civic participation have failed; it has become a tool to reveal political and social tensions that have arisen during the recovery process (Porter 2009:594), and it has been used to call attention to failures of relief efforts to reach those in greatest need (Kish 2009).

In this young but growing body of literature on post-disaster trauma, music is seen as a tool for recovery, and culture is identified as a viable resource that the applied ethnomusicologist could use in applied projects as easily as many musicians and artists already do.

Pushing the Boundaries of Theoretical Discourse

In some circles, it remains a well-perpetuated myth that applied work is devoid of theoretical thinking. It is true that much remains to be written on the theories behind the practice of applied ethnomusicology. Yet, applied ethnomusicology lends itself to the same theoretical discussions that have kept “pure” academics occupied for at least the last fifty years. Some of the most popular issues within conventional scholarship especially relevant for applied research include those of representation, recontextualization, reflexivity, objectification, preservation, tradition, ritual, authenticity, performance, identity, nationalism, colonialism, post-colonialism, globalization, power, politics, resistance, agency, and violence. This list, of course, could be easily expanded.

More importantly, while applied ethnomusicology intrinsically draws on more general ethnomusicological debates, applied research has itself opened avenues of theoretical exploration not entirely accessible to the rest of the field. Several examples of extra-musical issues productively introduced into ethnomusicological discourse by scholars known for their applied work include international theory (Pettan 1998), principles and techniques of immigrant integration (Skyllstad 2003),44 and peace and resolution studies (Titon 2003).45 These scholars have positioned the researcher as a mediator of cultural conflict, a role for which the ethnomusicologist is uniquely trained because of his or her analytic abilities to highlight similarities between warring factions that are articulated through cultural expressions (see Pettan 1998).46 In standing not just in between cultural traditions but also in between groups of people who are in conflict, the ethnomusicologist must recognize boundaries and learn how, when and where he or she can and should cross them (Pettan 2008a). It seems, provided their role is openly discussed and thoughtfully formulated with the contributions of those parties involved, ethnomusicologists can lead an international conversation open to people outside the fields of music and ethnomusicology, using a medium (music) more frequently perceived as “safer” or “less threatening” than many other cultural markers or expressions.

Furthermore, theorizing is key to assessing the value of relevant methodologies, tools, strategies, and approaches used by music researchers. Applied ethnomusicology builds on current popular practices such as participant-observation and open-ended interviewing, but often goes a step or two further, for instance, to promote collaboration and exchange between the researcher and the researched. Many applied scholars have latched on to Paulo Freire’s pedagogy privileging “native” knowledge, educative action, and the dialogic process (1985[1970]): it is a philosophy that resonates in the engaged and participatory action research employed by, among others, Samuel Araújo and the Grupo Musicultura (2006) and Angela Impey and the residents of KwaZulu-Natal (2002) as discussed above. In these settings, both researchers and researchees take on a more active role in information seeking and analysis, and automatically assume greater agency from their respective positions. Indeed, Gelya Frank considers such active engagement (or “performativity”) necessary “for the iterative process that makes collaborations truly work” and in order to balance the process of collecting information with that of supporting community members in advancing their own goals (2007:80). Along these lines, while Clifford Geertz’s “thick description” (1973) has been foundational in ethnographic writing since at least the 1980s, Benjamin Koen suggests that an approach incorporating both reflexive and objective strategies may permit an even deeper look into a culture or community (2009:11-12). In many regards, engagement on this level results in greater proximity to the issues at hand.

Yet, this added level of engagement—meddling, as some have called it47—demands immense care in treating the delicate issues of ethics. As applied ethnomusicologists inevitably intervene in the course of their work, they must strive to structure and coordinate their interventions with the community. Striking a balance between the needs of the scholar and the needs of the community can be exceptionally difficult, but applied ethnomusicologists typically consider finding this balance part of their ethical responsibility. One means to accomplish this, it seems, is for applied researchers to be vigilant in asking themselves questions concerning the motivations behind their efforts, their positionality within their field or work site, the nature of their collaboration with the individual or group, the effectiveness and fairness behind their representations of those being researched, and the overall benefits and drawbacks as experienced by the community as a result of any project. When one consciously intervenes, the stakes are often higher, the margin of error is often larger, and the ramifications and responsibilities are often bigger. Moreover, the potential for damage is much greater, even as the potential for doing good is much greater as well. This points to one of the biggest challenges we all want to get right, but sometimes struggle to meet: codes for ethical conduct in research and representation must protect human rights and dignity while respecting moral and legal obligations.48 Arguably, these are the issues that really matter when ethnomusicologists go to work.

In short, the material is rich, but we need to do much, much more to flesh out theoretical discussion as it relates specifically to applied ethnomusicology. Why? Simply put, thinking through theory presumably prepares us to do our jobs better. The process of stepping back from a situation for critical evaluation allows for greater immediacy when we go back to the project. It also can help to protect the interests of those with whom we work as well as our own. If applied ethnomusicology is premised on the notion that research can directly benefit humanity, then on the most basic level we need to know how we define results (especially as we deal with frequently immeasurable entities and activities) and how to optimize our efforts and be accountable for our work. Certainly, theorizing must be among the most critical activities of applied ethnomusicologists if we are to “get it right.”

In Closing

In reality, the distinction between pure and applied research is blurred. Lingering prejudices remain in some circles, but some individuals may not know, remember, or acknowledge that there was a heated discursive split between academic philosophies not more than ten or twenty years ago. A growing number of contemporary scholars engage in both pure and applied work in their day-to-day activities, increasingly motivated by the idea that their work should be of direct, practical use. Benjamin Koen argued exactly this: “outward-looking orientation results from an aspiration to do work of value, import, and of benefit to others” (2009:6). The sentiment resonates with Anthony Seeger’s assertion that “knowledge should be used for practical purposes, and also to produce more knowledge” (Seeger 2008:271).

Richard Kurin has modeled the process of applied work in somewhat greater detail, indicating that in the course of research and representation, the anthropologist often moves past simply being a culture broker to becoming a catalyst for movement and change. Kurin states that as anthropologists, folklorists, and ethnomusicologists and equally as curators, implementors, and catalysts, we are obligated “to expand the ability of people—regular people, common people, people at the grassroots—to create, debate, and manipulate their culture, and to share it with others.” This is an important act, he continues, because “When culture is not created, it dies. When people cannot share, they fight. And where the cultural dialogue stops, it is replaced with violence, death, and destruction” (1997:284-85).

To add a final perspective, Jeff Todd Titon has explained that applied work really comes down to the idea that “We learn from each other, when it goes well, and we collaborate; we are partners in a common cause.” As a humanist speaking in the context of the Iraq War (in 2003), Titon shared the importance of fully mobilizing applied research when dealing with weighty matters: “Our efforts to sustain music, on behalf of the shaping power of art that each human being possesses, and that all of us use in our lives every day, as we shape those lives, create our environments, celebrate spontaneity and creativity—these efforts will outlive and outlast the negating powers of control and destruction, of slavery and empire building, of greed and the desire for material wealth.”49

Given the current global political and economic climate, I suspect that the practice of applied ethnomusicology will continue to position itself as one of the more compelling reasons to study the “light stuff” of music and culture.


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The following websites have also been consulted in preparation of this article (last accessed September 2012, unless otherwise noted):

Adina Music: (last accessed March 2008, site discontinued)

Alliance for California Traditional Arts:

American Routes:

Arts Education International:

Association for Cultural Equity:


Calabash Music: (last accessed March 2008, site discontinued)

California Traditional Music Society:

City Lore:

Critical World:

Csárdás Dance Company:

Cumbancha World Music:

El Sistema USA:

Ethical Music


Gathering of Nations Pow Wow:

International Council for Traditional Music Study Group on Applied Ethnomusicology:

Jean Appolon Expressions:

Library of Congress National Jukebox:

Microfundo: (last accessed May 2010, site discontinued).

mp3 mondomix: (last accessed January 2011, site discontinued).


Music Seeds International:

National Council for the Traditional Arts:

National Endowment for the Humanities website:

New York State Council on the Arts.

Playing for Change:

Rounder Records:

Santa Monica Youth Orchestra:

Sierra Nevada World Music Festival:

Silk Road Project:

Smithsonian Folklife Festival:

Society for Applied Anthropology website:

Society for Ethnomusicology Applied Ethnomusicology Section:

Society for Ethnomusicology Special Interest Group for Medical Ethnomusicology:

Society for Medical Anthropology website:

The Quincy Jones Musiq Consortium:

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO):

Verdugo Young Musicians Association:

World Music Network:

Youth Orchestra LA (YOLA), LA Phil:


1 Notably, contributions advancing applied research and scholarship are regularly made outside North America, and some of the leaders shaping this special interest area are currently based in Slovenia, Brazil, Finland, and Australia. Several recent efforts from international colleagues are highlighted here, in recognition that the conversation is really a global dialogue. Admittedly, though, my presentation of foreign discourse on the matter is incomplete. This is not meant as a slight to the international scholars working toward similar goals as their U.S.-based counterparts, but is rather a means to ensure the coherence and relative brevity of this piece.

2 Mizik angaje—literally, “engaged music”—is a genre-crossing expressive form that usually features politically and socially engaged lyrics. Mizik angaje has been one of the most important and prominent musical forms throughout Haitian history, extending from the colonial period to the present day.

3 Nick Spitzer, folklorist and curator of the radio program Roots to Routes: American Vernacular Music on Public Radio, advanced this argument at the First Conference on Applied Ethnomusicology hosted by Brown University in 2003 (, last accessed September 2012).

4 Shortly after this essay was written, an edited volume of articles developed from papers presented in Ljubljana, Slovenia at ICTM’s first symposium of the Applied Ethnomusicology Study Group was published (Harrison, Mackinlay, and Pettan 2010). While not really a manual for the field, the collection presents perspectives on historical and contemporary understandings of applied ethnomusicology as well as providing case studies from around the world.

5 From the ICTM Applied Ethnomusicology Study Group webpage located at (last accessed September 2012).

6 See (last accessed September 2012).

7 Determining an appropriate degree of collaborative balance is surely a challenge, but it is a topic not fully addressed in the relevant literature.

8 Others have explained that much like public folklore, applied ethnomusicology revolves around “research and advocacy, observation and intervention, scholarship and partisanship” (Proschan 1992:149).

9 Quoted by Judith Gray in her presentation “‘A Building that Cannot Burn Down’: Cultural Heritage Documentation in Archival Institutions” at the First Conference on Applied Ethnomusicology, Brown University, 2003 (, last accessed September 2012).

10 As expressed by Newell and Sockabasin at the First Conference on Applied Ethnomusicology. Their presentation, “A Conversation with Passamaquoddy Community Scholars,” is available at (last accessed September 2012). Fewkes, responsible for the 1890 Passamaquoddy recordings of the Zuni in Calais, Maine, is generally recognized as the first researcher to use cylinder recordings in an ethnographic setting.

11 Legend maintains that Lead Belly sung his way to freedom by charming the governor with his musical skill; the Lomaxes were said to have sent a recording to the governor’s office, and the governor supposedly pardoned Ledbetter upon hearing the tape. This tale may have been concocted to add mystique to Lead Belly’s persona. He may have simply been released early due to good behavior or due to Depression-era imperative to cut municipal costs.

12 A. Lomax struggled to get funding and failed to find sympathy for the Global Jukebox project, envisioned as database of his thousands of audio recordings made accessible to the public. An idea ahead of its time, archived recordings were released posthumously by the Association for Cultural Equity in 2012, thanks to the persistence of his daughter Anna Lomax Wood, available at (last accessed September 2012).

13 Anthony Seeger addresses A. Lomax’s position as a foundational, but often maligned, figure in ethnomusicology. Despite maintaining deeply controversial viewpoints and practices, Lomax, in Seeger’s view, remains “a model—however imperfect—of a combination of applied and theoretical ethnomusicology” (2006:218).

14 Manuscripts from the American Life Histories collected under the auspices of the Federal Writers’ Project, including transcriptions of jazz and blues lyrics, are accessible at (last accessed September 2012).

15 Botkin has his apologists, but he also has his critics, the most outspoken of whom has been Richard Dorson. The conflict between the two men and their respective critiques of “pure” and “applied” scholarship is briefly addressed in the following section.

16 This contextual positioning has been condensed from a variety of sources. More sophisticated histories on the development of public folklore may be found in Jones (1994), Baron and Spitzer (1992), and Feintuch (1988); on applied anthropology in Pink (2006) and Kedia and Van Willigen (2005); on applied ethnomusicology in Seeger (2006), Davis (1992), and Sheehy (1992). Through my evaluation of these sources, I have sought to represent only the most relevant details categorized according to their relation to the primary factors that I identified as contributing to the rise in applied work.

17 Public folklore, applied anthropology, and applied ethnomusicology are closely intertwined disciplines, although each field of study possesses to some degree its own practices, values, and methodologies.

18 The notion of “cultural conservation,” as discussed above, has been flipped in recent years to the more productive “cultural conversation.”

19 Alan Lomax and Benjamin Botkin were both subjected to rigorous investigation by the FBI for their presumed, but never proven, “subversive” activities.

20 The economic downturn of recent years has severely jeopardized the influence and fiscal power of some of these institutions.

21 Because of their prioritization of musician welfare over business, many of these organizations chronically face challenges with funding and sustainability. The prominent French online distributor mp3mondomix is a recent casualty in an era of music listening dominated by online streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, and Jango.

22 A. Seeger presented this argument during his keynote address at the First Conference on Applied Ethnomusicology, Brown University, 2003 (, last accessed September 2012).

23 Technically, Dorson coined the term “fakelore” years prior to his 1950 article in reaction to several publications for the broader public, including a book on Paul Bunyan by James Stevens, that Dorson deemed little more than “mass edification.”

24 The polemic was more complicated than represented here. For more in-depth discussion, see, for example, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (1988).

25 See A. Seeger at the First Conference on Applied Ethnomusicology, Brown University, 2003 (, last accessed September 2012).

26 See A. Seeger at the First Conference on Applied Ethnomusicology, Brown University, 2003 (, last accessed September 2012).

27 For the sake of space, two additional domains of application that have gained prominence of late have been left out of this review: education and cultural tourism. For ethnomusicology in relation to education, see Alviso (2010), Averill (2010, 2003), Van Buren (2007, 2006), and Pardue (2004). For the intersection between ethnomusicology / anthropology and cultural tourism, see Macy (2010), Gibson and Connell (2005), and Wallace (2005).

28 Nick Spitzer presented on “Roots to Routes: American Vernacular Music on Public Radio” at the First Conference on Applied Ethnomusicology, Brown University, 2003 (, last accessed September 2012).

29 Sources commenting further on folklore / music and representation include Seeger (2008), Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (1998), Kurin (1997), Feld (1994), Davis (1992), Karp and Lavine (1991).

30 For additional scholarship on music law, intellectual property rights, cultural heritage protection, ethics, and archives, see Siegel and Righter (2011); A. Seeger (2008), (2001), and (1992); Rees (2003); Scherzinger (1999); and Mills (1996).

31 Freemuse is funded by the international development sections of the Danish and Swedish governments (Cloonan 2008:14).

32 Musicians represented by Freemuse come from oppressed communities in Pakistan, Lebanon, South Africa, Turkey, Afghanistan, Cuba, Iran and elsewhere and include Pussy Riot, the Dixie Chicks, Thomas Mapfumo, Marcel Khalife, Ferhat Tunç, Deeyah, Gorki Aguila, and Mahsa Vahdat. Ethnomusicologists Martin Cloonan (Chairperson of Freemuse) and Krister Malm (member of the Executive Committee) both serve on the board and played a role in founding the organization (Malm 2008).

33 SEM boasts a recently formed special interest group on medical ethnomusicology, and a parallel society of the American Anthropological Association for medical anthropology incorporates musical healing practices. Information on the respective groups may be found at and (last accessed September 2012).

34 The term “musicmedicine” is widely employed by music therapists to refer to music as healing. Historically, a disconnect between music therapy and medical ethnomusicology has resulted from the failure to consult or share research across disciplinary boundaries. Music therapists have tended to be interested in the practical aspects of music healing potentials, whereas medical ethnomusicologists have tended toward documentation of shamanic or ritual healing practices (Chiang 2008:1-2).

35 Although these studies detail how local practitioners use indigenous healing practices to address individual and community needs and therefore emphasize various applications of knowledge, they do not necessarily describe applied action on the part of the researcher. However, these ethnographies merit mention for the principles of “musicmedicine” raised and their role in informing subsequent applied research.

36 Strangely, Bourgault’s Playing for Life: Performance in Africa in the Age of AIDS (2003) ethnography is virtually unknown, eclipsed by Barz’s similarly named Singing for Life: HIV/AIDS and Music in Uganda (2006). Nevertheless, it is a valuable source.

37 Notions of development are complex and conflicted but will not be addressed at length in this setting beyond the basic description of specific projects that have claimed to deal with developing communities.

38 Microfinancing music is an interesting applied project that has not yet been written about in a formal, academic setting, although I presented a paper on a fair-trade microfinanced record label model at the SEM annual meeting in 2007. The founders outlined the rationale and principles underlying Microfundo at (last accessed May 2010; original content no longer accessible). Music fans using the Microfundo site were asked to donate small sums through the website to support new music production. Donations were then forwarded to musicians to fund recordings and other music-related projects.

39 Further information may be found at (last accessed September 2012). Praised for the dramatic success of the program in changing the lives of youth, El Sistema founder and conductor José Antonio Abreu was awarded a TED Prize; his TED talk may be found at abreu_on_kids_transformed_by_music.html (last accessed September 2012). El Sistema has received great publicity as of late because of the highly successful world tours given by the program’s top ensemble Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar and with the recent appointment of El Sistema prodigy conductor Gustavo Dudamel to the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The Organization of American States has implemented programs modeled after El Sistema throughout Latin America, and other organizations have followed suit. At the same time, however, El Sistema has been staunchly criticized for its colonialist implications and “imposition” of Western classical music on populations that are not “supposed” to consume this type of music. This conflict is the subject for a future publication.

40 Also concerned with music, human rights, and responses to violence in the favelas, Silvia Ramos and Ana María Ochoa have described how favela residents, especially young, black men, have faced lethal, drug-related violence and police abuse and corruption. Focusing on the AfroReggae Cultural Group as a grassroots initiative essential to creating an alternative means of non-violent sociability, Ramos and Ochoa concluded that by participating in such programs, marginalized youth were able to escape stereotypes of criminality associated with their position in society and location of birth (2009:232). Derek Pardue (2004) and George Yúdice (2003) have similarly written on getting youth involved with social movements by engaging them with hip-hop and funk, respectively.

41 Many important sources on music and violence, music and conflict, and music and threat are not included here because the current listing is vast and most such studies do not readily exemplify role of the applied ethnomusicologist. Nonetheless, the entire collection of publications on these overlapping subjects is critical for developing ideas on how applied work can and should work in these complex contexts.

42 The mix between music, disaster, and recovery unexpectedly became a primary focus of my work, as I completed thirteen months of dissertation research in post-quake Port-au-Prince in 2010 and 2011, after having spent nearly as long living in pre-quake Haiti cumulatively since 2003. Other ethnomusicologists who have spent time in Haiti after the earthquake include Lois Wilcken, Rebecca Sager, and Mary Procopio. Wilcken, Sager, Procopio and I collaborated on a panel called “What Hope Sounds Like: Music and Healing in Haiti’s Pre- and Post-Quake (Re)Construction” at the 2011 Joint Annual Meeting for the Society for Ethnomusicology and the Congress on Research in Dance in Philadelphia. While my presentation concerned the models for cultural engagement and grassroots development presented in my dissertation, the other panelists focused on the roles of Vodou and Carnival music (Wilcken and Sager) and classical music (Procopio) in the healing process. The SEM panel was an updated version of a well-received presentation we gave at the 2010 Haitian Studies Association Annual Conference in Providence. In addition, musicians Janet Anthony, John Jost, Carolyn Armstrong, Robert Stacke, and Jean Montès among many others have been committed to musical work throughout the country both before and after the event. Much of this work has been applied in nature.

43 Johari Jabir cautions, however, against the prevailing mentality in post-disaster recovery that celebrates only the tourist dollar and “reifies romantic notions of New Orleans as an American city where its citizens only live to serve the tourists.” Some degree of normalcy must be reestablished for the permanent residents, and commemoration and re-memorying can be used toward meeting this objective, so long as the commemoration is “one that interrogates the politics of race, place, knowledge, cultural production, citizenship and public remembrance” (2009:653).

44 Skyllstad discussed integrating displaced immigrants into Norwegian society by promoting musical education programs in elementary schools that explore music from the immigrants’ homelands at the First Conference on Applied Ethnomusicology, Brown University, 2003 ( Skyllstad.html, last accessed in September 2012).

45 See Titon’s closing remarks at the First Conference on Applied Ethnomusicology, Brown University, 2003 (, last accessed September 2012).

46 See also Pettan’s presentation at the First Conference on Applied Ethnomusicology, Brown University, 2003 (, last accessed September 2012).

47 Jeff Todd Titon remembers serving on the NEA 1981 Folk Arts Panel when one first-time panelist felt that funding a certain proposal would involve the Folk Arts Program to the point of “interfering.” Bess Lomax Hawes is said to have replied, “That’s right, we’re meddlers” (1992:316). Although the practice of willful intervention is contentious, Titon has insisted, “The issue isn’t whether intervention is an option; like it or not, ethnomusicologists intervene” (1992:316). To this point, one might ask, “Is intervention necessarily ‘bad’?” For in fact, fieldworkers may have access to unique skills and resources the community lacks, and they may be able to use their connections to help the community meet particular goals.

48 With specific regard to music studies, too little has been written on ethical practice in research conduct; ethnomusicologists must defer to literature in other fields. One brief but useful overview of ethics and applied anthropology may be found in Kedia and Van Willigen (2005).

49 See Titon’s closing remarks at the First Conference on Applied Ethnomusicology, Brown University, 2003 (, last accessed September 2012).


Rebecca Dirksen's picture
Rebecca Dirksen

Rebecca Dirksen is a 2012-2014 Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She graduated in June 2012 from UCLA with a PhD in Ethnomusicology, after having completed fieldwork in pre- and post-quake Haiti. Her dissertation concerns socially and politically engaged music, cultural action, and grassroots development in Port-au-Prince. Other primary research interests include creative responses to crisis and disaster and Haitian classical piano music.