Working in a relatively under-researched field – cultural ethnographic approaches to classical music – has its pluses and its minuses. One of the minuses is the lack of studies to stimulate my own ideas and help clarify the important questions in the field. So I was disproportionately excited to hear from a colleague about a recent ethnography in this area which seems to be relatively unknown on this side of the Atlantic – Mari Yoshihara’s Musicians From a Different Shore (Temple University Press, 2007), a study of Asian American classical musicians.
Yoshihara, as she explains in the autobiographical introduction, is a Japanese American academic who works on American Orientalism. She learned piano intensively as a child and teenager but let go of her pianist identity as she moved into academia. This book is therefore in part a revisiting of that earlier self, an exploration she ties in gracefully with the broader themes of the book. She defines Asian American musicians as immigrants from East Asia (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China) to the US, or Asian Americans who grew up in the US. Her starting point is the discourses about Asians as a ‘model minority’ in the US for their overrepresentation in higher education and many professional fields, which coexist alongside discourses about Asian musicians as being ‘automatons’ who have amazing technical skills but play like robots. She contrasts these ideas with other ways that Asians are positioned in the classical music world in the US – for example, they are under-represented in management and positions of power – taking this as an indication that being Asian counts as a ‘racial marker’ for these musicians. Interestingly, this goes against her informants’ own views that being Asian doesn’t make any difference to them as musicians… of which more later.
Welcome to our re-vamped blog! I hope you like it. The re-browning, I mean, re-branding, of the page is to prepare us for the influx of posts that are going to follow.
We are going to have several themes running over the next few months: first, a series on fieldwork, including discussions of access, and people’s reflections on their experience. Also, we’re going to have regular posts on What We’re Reading, which I will kick-start with a review of Mari Yoshihara’s Musicians From a Different Shore. Please feel free to post summaries, reviews, or discussions of what you’re currently reading, whether it’s for the EDG reading group or your own reading.
Finally, I’m hoping that some of you who have sent me photos to use in the blog will also take the opportunity to write about them. In Paul Gilroy’s chapter in The Auditory Cultures Reader (2004, eds Bull and Back) he discusses a photo of a crowd listening to reggae in London in 1974. The photo doesn’t show any music or musicians – just the faces of the crowd who are mostly listening intently, some frowning, some looking down. Gilroy writes ‘this was cultural work that incorporated defensive and affirmative elements: working over and working through the memories of slavery and colonialism, past sufferings and contemporary resistances, so that they could provide resources for interpreting the present and imagining a better future for blacks and for the whole world’ (2004:388). It’s a beautiful passage, and it’s worth reading all of it, but maybe this snippet will inspire you to look at your fieldwork photos and think about the ‘cultural work’ that is occurring in them.
And finally, seeing this is a music-themed blog, maybe we should have some music in it – go ahead and add clips or links to some of the music you’re studying.