Monday, February 11, 2013

Society for Ethnomusicology, Northwest Chapter Annual Conference

I went to a conference over the weekend. I did not send in a proposal to present because of the two presentations I have March 1st and March 15th, but I went in hopes of academic stimulation.

I am so glad I decided to go. The conference was well organized and inspiring. The UW staff, faculty, and graduate students who organized the conference deserve accolades for their efforts to not only host the yearly event but also the way they seamlessly combined it with a celebration of 50 years of Ethnomusicology at the University of Washington.

On Friday evening the festivities began with a reception at Jack Straw Studios. When I arrived, I was immediately excited to see Professor Lee Byong-won of the University of Hawai'i, whom I had not expected to see as he was not presenting a paper (and indeed Hawai'i is part of the same chapter of SEM as UCLA). Moments later I noticed Katherine Lee, a scholar working at UC Davis whom I got to know at previous conferences. While I was talking with her Nathan Hesselink arrived. I was overjoyed to see him because Nathan was not on the program, although as a professor of Ethnomusicology in the Northwest Chapter I should have guessed he might attend. Nathan's research on Korean music is brilliant, but more than that he is always ready to give me solid advice via email, and I am quite indebted to him. I must admit I spent much of the reception talking with Nathan. If that had been the only thing to happen in the evening I would have been excited, but as I left the reception Robert Garfias was also leaving and we had a really sweet one-on-one discussion of Korean mask dance dramas and the job market-- the upshot was that he is giving me access to his marvelous archival footage of Bongsan Talchum and Yangju Byeolsandae from the 1960s. Just that was worth the drive to Seattle!

If I described the entire conference, you might get bored. But here are a few highlights.

- Katherine Lee was the only Koreanist presenting. Her paper discussed nation branding and the former brand image "Dynamic Korea." She demonstrated how Dynamic Korea was connected to the Dynamic music of samulnori and how this connection actually contributed to the change in slogan/brand image because the government remains nervous about the connection of drumming with protests.

- Sean Williams (Evergreen) managed to sing Kentucky murder ballads, Irish folk songs, and Javanese song from the Bandung area all during one highly engaging presentation explaining the value of having visiting artists in a program of ethnomusicology based on her own experiences at the UW as a graduate student (MA and Ph.D.) Yes, she sings very well.

- Robert Garfias (UCI) presented life lessons that I really needed to hear. The former UW professor extolled us to record everyone's stories, understand that things are not what they seem, don't allow others to discourage us, and much more. He also explained a lot of the history of Ethnomusicology along the way.

- The evening concert on Saturday night was two groupings of mbira ensembles and a marimba ensemble with the fastest hands I've ever seen. Although mbira always puts me to sleep, no matter how skilled or famous the players, the marimba had me dancing in my seat until we finally got up to dance in the aisle (which was not easy as it was a ramp and I was in heels).

A book honoring Garfias (as a young man on this cover)

A book Sean wrote with her friend-- a writing process she discussed in her talk

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