Re. Grove

I wrote the entry “ecomusicology” for the Grove Dictionary of American Music (Oxford University Press, 2014) in 2010, and thanks to the kind cooperation of the editors at OUP it appears on this and the ESG websites. While I take full responsibility for the content of the entry, I must admit that I had a lot of help in crafting an appropriately broad definition.

The following describes the background to my writing the article: why I needed help, and how I went about including a broader perspective than I could provide as a singular author.

Why did I need the help? After all, the article is only about 750 words. The reason is simple: the entry on ecomusicology was a new one for the venerable AmeriGrove, so it had to be done from scratch — yet ecomusicology is (or was?) a new and unfocused, or perhaps one might say “emerging,” field. In fact, I even wonder if it can indeed be called a “field” because even those who ostensibly engage in it don’t necessarily acknowledge the word; furthermore, there are no textbooks on it, no scholarly association or journal dedicated to it, no degree in it, etc. Well, at least not as of 2010. So, in an effort to present more than just my views, I recruited a number of scholars to review my work. These scholars came from a variety of well established scholarly fields such as musicology, ethnomusicology, and anthropology, and even some whose work cannot be placed singularly in any one of those fields.

What did I do to make the article reflect a broader consensus? Of course with 750 words, one can only do so much; moreover, the requirement for inclusion in AmeriGrove was that it emphasize North American scholarship, which is understandable but certainly is a further limitation. Nevertheless, I took steps to include a variety of perspectives. First, I notified the ESG list (now known as the Ecomusicology List) and recruited volunteers to offer ideas and take a look at my drafts, which they did. Second, I emailed drafts to a handful of scholars (i.e. those who didn’t volunteer initially) and asked them to provide me with feedback; they pointed out many lapses in judgment, offered other resources to consider, and helped focus my writing.

Third, and most significantly, at the 2010 AMS annual meeting in Indianapolis, I shared my draft with the approximately two dozen members present at the ESG Business Meeting. Using a projector, I put up the draft for all to read, and we went through it together paragraph by paragraph. We had a ca. 20-minute discussion about what I wrote: I explained some things, defending them and/or realizing they needed to change, and those in the audience critiqued wording, concepts, and organization. This sort of “dialogical editing” (see for example, the second edition of Steve Feld’s Sound and Sentiment) can be uncomfortable, and I have to admit I was a bit nervous being on the spot like that — it’s the ultimate denuding to share a draft with a room full of very smart people and ask them to critique you! I took notes about what they said and later edited the entry accordingly. (The draft that I shared at the 2010 Indianapolis meeting is here.)

I then shared my penultimate draft with a few more folks before submitting it to AmeriGrove editor Charles Hiroshi Garrett, who had commissioned me in the first place. While the final product may not be perfect (I do hope OUP will eventually ask for a longer version for the main Grove encyclopedia), I am pleased with the communal effort that went into making it possible. Of course, I take full responsibility for the content of the final version.

Aaron S. Allen, ESG Chair 2008-09, 2009-11 & 2011-13

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