Friday, April 29, 2005


My supervisor suggested a while ago that I may have found my 'balinese cockfight' in the music performed at NYC. Here is the (very funny) ethnographic description that informed that suggestion.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005


Ok, so that was somewhat better than Adorno. It has a lot to do with how it's approached. The lecture on Althusser, that we had earlier today was much more dynamic that the Adorno one, mainly because it was participatory. And not too jargon laden. That's a tough one, because I use jargon for its convenience, and sometimes forget that it can be confusing. Still, I feel a lot less pessimistic than yesterday. In fact, I'm feeling quite energized.

Monday, April 25, 2005


Damn him to all hell! would it was his shins Roan Atkinson kicked on behalf of centuries of students doomed to wade through his obtuse prose in airless, poorly-lit lecture halls, while the vast 'ethnographic field' rumbles on unabated outside. It's not that I don't think this ideas are valuable. I read related material all the time, and I love it, but I hate finding it stuffed into such uninspiring, elusive, depressing prose. Seems there are times when reading about someone really is more valuable than reading what they themselves wrote.

I was so fed up earlier, I was really looking forward to this little rant. But somehow all the puff has gone out of it. Ah well, time to turn my burned out mind to Althusser.

Friday, April 22, 2005

research proposal

We're working on research proposals in music history at the moment. I have been through so many drafts of this one, I don't seem to be able to read it and make sense of it any more. Still, I thought I might post it anyway, more for the record than anything.

Draft research proposal: Singing South African-ness. March 2005

The purpose of this research is to investigate the way that youth choirs in the present South African context work, primarily on a socio-cultural level, as environments facilitating the imagination and construction of South African identity. I intend to argue that choirs provide non-threatening, creative spaces within which choristers can explore the idea of “South African-ness,” both as it applies to their own and their peers’ roles within the nation, and their roles as South Africans within the international community. I aim to do this by exploring:
the identities choristers construct for themselves, and the identities they imagine for their fellow choristers
the identities choristers construct for their choirs, and imagine for other choirs
the ways that choristers imagine South Africa and the rest of the world
choristers understanding of music in terms of these identities.
This could be divided into three sections:
Constructing the individual
Constructing the choir
The South African choir.
In the first, I would examine the individuals reasons for singing, their choice of a specific choir (with particular attention paid to repertoire and performance practice within that choir), what music they identify with, and why, what music they like to sing, and why, and their conception of South Africa and their place in it. I will examine these questions in relation primarily to issues of race and language, and the way in which individuals imagine themselves, and their place in society, through music.
Under the second heading, I will again address why specific choristers select the choirs they do to sing in, but will deal more with they identities they construct for the choirs in question, than with individual identities. I will deal with individuals understanding of their own roles, and their perspectives on the roles of their peers in the choirs, and I will deal with the way choristers differentiate their choirs from 'others'. Finally, I will look at choristers interpretations of “South African-ness” in choirs, and where they believe their choir fits within this continuum.
In the third part, I will deal more specifically with the South African choir. Based on choristers interpretations of “South African-ness” in choirs, I will attempt to understand how choirs fit into broader discourses constructing South Africa, with particular refrence to the construction of a South African culture, and discourses of the “rainbow nation.” I will address the performance of South African-ness through choice of music, and performance practice, as well as issues of sound and singing technique.

Rationale: Ongoing research supported by the European Commission, and conducted by the Children's Identity and Citizenship in Europe thematic network project has recognized the challenges of identity construction in a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual political and social organization. The 2001 report of the network identified that “Children and young people make sense of their social world as they encounter different groups of people and different forms of social behaviour,” and that “Tolerance of differences and empathy, recognition of underlying similarities and solidarity will become key elements of social life.” The challenges faced by South Africans are similar, though perhaps even more intense, as South Africans are facing formulating identities within a single country, and not just within an organization that connects several countries. In fact, the need to understanding identity and the process of identity formation in order to create an effective, coherent and tollerant society is widely recognized across many academic disciplines, as evidenced by the sheer volume of writing on identity.
While postcolonial and orientalist studies, among others, have spent a lot of time theorising identity in relation to oppressed or previously oppressed groups, little cultural theoretical space has been devoted to identities of previously powerful groups. In the South African situation, particularly, the fact that white South Africans, the previously dominant cultural group, are relatively few in number, and are not aboriginal to the continent, places their identities as South African in question in the present post-apartheid context. Furthermore, attempts by various significant social/cultural actors to institutionalize modes of cultural production that have their origins in black cultures, as “African” have, to some extent, alienated white South Africans, who do not necessarily identify with these modes of production. The choral environment, however, offers the ideal forum for the negotiation of more inclusive concepts of cultural production, and by extension, identity, as it is heterogenous and inclusive by nature.
This study, in its attempt to understand and codify these modes of production and identity, thus both bridges a particularly glaring gap in current music scholarship, and bears relevance to the interdisciplinary, and largely non-scholarly project of constructing “South African-ness.” It could also have a direct impact on the cultural players who constitute the South African choral music scene, in that it can not only facilitate the development and management of more socially efficatious choirs, but can also influence policy makers and funding bodies' decisions concerning the validity of choral music as a socially significant mode of cultural production.

Theoretical framework:

I am basing my theoretical understanding of the concept of identity on Tajfel and Turner’s social identity theory as discussed by McGarty and Hasslam (1997), largely because this social psychology model deals with the individual identity as constructed by participation in community. Tajfel and Turner propose that the process of identification can be split into three stages: categorization, identification and comparison. In the first, the individual distinguishes groups of people from others based on specific criteria. The criteria for categorization can range from age, gender and race, to behavioral differences, ‘class’ or constructed social status. In the case of choirs, categorization is often, though not exclusively, based on repertoire and performance practice. Once criteria for categorization have been determined, the individual then determines whether they fit into particular groups based on a process of identification. Some characteristics already associated by the individual with their self will determine what groups they most closely identify with, but thereafter, the normative behavior of the groups they have determined they belong to, will prescribe some of their behavior. Once an individual has determined what groups they belong to, they will construct a level of prestige for those groups by comparing them favourably with other groups. In order to reach this favourable comparison, the individual must compare groups based on categories in which they believe their group to be particularly strong, while underplaying categories in which their group’s performance is weaker.
This understanding of identity is quite obviously connected with Foucault’s concept of “technologies of the self,” and as no discussion on the notion of identity can ignore the impact of Foucault on this area of philosophical debate, I feel the need to address some of Foucault’s theory here. While the focus of social psychology has been an understanding of the process of identity formation with a view to identifying what is ‘normal’ for the socially constituted individual, twentieth century philosophy has, of necessity, addressed identity within the context of hegemony and social organization. The result is that Foucault’s approach to the issue of identity formation has been largely from the perspective of prescriptive, oppressive impositions of identity on the individual. While I recognize the descriptive value of his concept of “technologies of self,” I prefer to approach this as a necessary element of the constitution of the individual, rather than, as Foucault suggests, an oppressive, hegemonic technique. I have therefore adapted Judith Butler’s notion of identity as performance, and the queer theory concept of identity as self-defined and flexible, as an alternative way in to an understanding of “technologies of self.” I am not suggesting that identity performances do not, in some instances, have a hegemonic basis, but rather that in order to avoid essentialist interpretations, one needs to afford the ego informant the right to choose, and change, their identities, rather than assuming the position of privileged commentator, and labeling, or prescribing identities ourselves.

Literature review:

The idea that music is used by individuals and groups to construct or reflect identites has been addressed by many music scholars. Summarizing the findings of theorists exploring the development and articulation of subcultures, Keith Roe (1996) notes that subcultures usually develop around specific musical genres, and that music is used by subcultures to articulate their chosen identities. S. Hall & P. Du Gay (1996) address questions of cultural identity, while Kristin Kuutma (no date) deals with issues of cultural identity and nationalism in relation to Estonian folk singing traditions, and George Nurse (1964) investigates the use of popular songs in the construction of Malawian national identity. Martin Stokes (1994) examines music as a site for the articulation of ethnic and national identity, and Niall Mackinnon (1993) investigates issues surrounding musical performance and social identity in the British folk scene. Several studies have addressed the construction of ‘others’ in musical practice (Erlmann 1999, Born & Hesmondhalgh 2000), while Jane Kroger (1996) has dealt with difference particularly in relation to the formation of adolescent identities. Specific to the South African context, Nadine Dolby (2001) addresses the construction of racial identity in a South African school in the mid 1990s, with particular reference to the impact and use of popular culture, and Christopher Ballantine (2004) has commented on the engagement, or lack thereof, of white South African musicians with South African identities. To the best of my knowledge, however, no work has yet been done on the issue of choral music as a tool for the construction of identity, particularly in the South African context. Erlmann


As the questions informing this research came out of my own experiences of choral singing in a South African context, I have decided to approach this research mainly through a process of participant observation. My own experiences singing in various South African choirs, and my observations of these and other choir rehearsals, performances, and choir-related social interactions, inform the semi-structured interviews I am conducting with various choristers. I am supplementing the interviews, which focus mainly on choristers reasons for singing in choirs, and personal reflections on the impact of their choral experiences on their identities, with questionnaires which ask specific questions about categorizations of choirs and music. The use of these two methods in conjunction with one another affords me the opportunity to draw some generalized conclusions about various groups of choristers, without losing the individual voices and experiences. I aim to use discourse analyses of interview material and video recordings of rehearsals and performances to inform my readings of questionnaire results, and to structure my analysis of collected data.

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Kong, Lily. 1995. “Popular Music in Geographical Analyses” Progress in Human Geography 19 pp. 183-198 [48]
Street, John. 1995. “(Dis)located? Rhetoric, Politics, Meaning and the Locality” Popular Music: Style and Identity pp. Will Straw, et al (eds) pp. 255-263. Montreal: The Centre for Research on Canadian Cultural Industries and Institutions [14]
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Juste-Constant, Vogeli. 1990. “Haitian Popular Music in Montreal: The Effect of Acculturation” Popular Music 9(1) pp. 79-86 [35]
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Nurse, George T. 1964. “Popular Songs and National Identity in Malawi” African Music 3(3) pp. 101-106 [47]
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Street, John. 1993. “Local Differences? Popular Music and the Local State” Popular Music 12 pp. 43-55 [38]
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Thursday, April 14, 2005


I had to submit a copy of this blog to be marked for a music history class, yesterday. It was so ironic, but when I first started doing this, it was just because I thought it would be useful and fun. Then my supervisor suggested I keep a field journal (for obvious reasons) and this bacame it. But trust chance to work like this: suddenly we were required to keep a research journal for class, and it's to be marked! how do you mark this stuff? certainly not for spelling and grammar, or I'll fail. my spelling is atrocious. For relevance? even that won't work really well, as I have a lot of stuff here that I won't necessarily use. It's quite a personal thing, even though it's work. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to wait and see...

A new choir

tonight was the first rehearsal of a new choir. And how different from the last time I saw one of those. This was a really small group. The last one was huge. certainly they had a fairly solid grounding, and a lot of advance planning. This group is quite a mixture from all over, and there was a lot of disorganization before. This afternoon I was still sending messages and making phone calls to get as many people together as possible. We've had a few false starts, and there was a lot of negativity before this choir was formed, and so I expected a small group. What I didn't expect, but got tonight, was enthusiasm and energy. We laughed a lot. Walter and our fellow choristers were full of jokes, and people were eager to sing.
Tonight was one of those wonderfully warm, still, clear nights you get occasionally at this time of the year. More late summer than early autumn. I saw the lights of the city from a distance on my way in tonight, with a clear sky overhead, and the leafy suburbs between me and my glowing destination. At wits, I stopped to look at the stars, slightly blurred by a haze, but bright and glowing. The South West engineering building, which contains the Atrium where we were practicing, is pale stone, fronted by tall pillars. It would be imposing were in not next to the bigger, grander central block. On a night like tonight, the buildings are tinged blue by the starlight, and the deep purple sky. I walked gingerly up the stairs (I was wearing new shoes, and my feet were a little tender), and in through the tall entrance doors. The foyer was lit by a gentle glow from the office on the one end, and the atrium to the right, and I could hear hushed voices from both rooms. Turn left into the atrium. Walter was standing beside a table that stands against the one wall, talking in German to a friend of his. He was wearing a dark shirt, open at the neck, and pale coloured pants. He often wears similar. Walter once commented to a friend of ours that he wore his blond hair long for a while in his twenties. Now it's cut short, and always combed neatly to the side. I got my permission to film, and began setting up my camera. I had to crawl under a table to plug in. The atrium was dimly, and cozily lit, and from under the table, Walter's already soft voice was further muted. He always sounds like he's telling a dramatic story, and even more when I can just listen to the sound of his voice, and can't understand his words. I was on my knees under the table when my friends Sean and Nicole arrived. It was the first time I saw them since they returned from a holiday in the Cape, and I hugged Nicole, and squeezed Sean's hand as I asked them about their holiday. Lots of smiles all around. Sean in particular has been eagerly anticipating tonight. Gradually, other choristers arrived, and we made our way to the chairs. Walter passed around two bits of paper to collect contact details, and we chatted about future concert plans, and attracting new members. Walter wants a minimum of 40, but the rest of us think we can get started with fewer. I caught the end of a conversation between Sean and Walter about another choir Sean thought we could sing with. We mentioned other people who could perhaps join, and I got really excited when Walter suggested that a friend of mine, previously mentioned on this blog as the conductor of the African section of the National Youth choir course program, should be invited. There are a few students who will only be returning to varsity tomorrow, and so will be joining our new choir next week. Walter and I have spent hours on the phone over the last few weeks trying to come up with a name for the choir, but no mention was made of it tonight.

Walter handed our some music (cartuli Carmina) and invited us to bring our chairs around the piano. No move was made at first, so I got up and went and stood beside Walter. I didn't worry with a chair, and the others soon joined me, standing around. We gathered in our voice groups, which I guess is to be expected. I have always considered myself a fairly good sight-reader, once I have my note, but I sometimes battle to find the first note. With me standing so close to Walter, he could hear where I was battling, and help me. It made me feel more secure, but also, in some ways, more exposed. I could hear the individual voices around me, and I knew they could hear me. It's one of the advantages, and disadvantages, of a small choir. We laughed lots about the meanings of the words we were singing, and at Walter when he played new music too fast. It was fun, light-hearted and energizing. The rehearsal ended early, but the timing was perfect. the energy was still high, and people were enthusiastic.
As we were packing up, I chatted with Ewan, an ex-Drakie, and a friend from NYC, and we decided to exchange contact details so that I could keep him up to date about events at Wits. I then followed Walter out, and he asked me how I thought it had gone. I expressed enthusiasm, and he, as usual, expressed some doubt and uncertainty. I reassured him, and he still sounded up-beat. Ewan, his mother and I piled into the car so that Walter could drive us to our respective cars, and we chatted enthusiastically. We dropped Ewan and his mother off first, and then on to my car. I was reluctant to leave. I was eager to get home, but I was having fun, and didn't want it to end. I drove home singing all the way.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Cultural Studies and Critical theory
Came across these when looking for info on critical theory for a Music history class. I am just beginning to recognize the importance of Marxist theory to some of my own research, and hence this stuff is all relevant. Thing is, I've always had a bit of a distaste for Marxism. I get the point, but I just feel that it's too utopian and simplified. Still, the language of Marxist theory and Critical theory is useful, and I do need to understand them more fully before I can engage them.