Howling and Barking in Oxford

The last few months have been a flurry of activity and travel during which I was visitor at the University of Oxford. As I race towards Rome at 250 kilometres per hour on a Frecciarossa train on the last leg of my travels in Europe with Christmas just around the corner, I find myself reflecting on my time as International Research Visitor in the Balzan Programme in Musicology “Towards a Global History of Music”. After he received the Balzan Prize for his service to Musicology in 2012, Reinhard Strohm established the Balzan Programme in Musicology, 2013 to 2016. The goal of this excellent project, whose nature is global in scope, is to bring together mid-career music historians working on topics that will contribute to the research question of how might musicology in the 21st century move towards a global history of music. The discipline of musicology has been traditionally Eurocentric in its orientation, although there are many notable histories of musics of other peoples of the world written by Europeans or those from a European-based culture. Even as I write these words, I am struck by the difficulty with which I might begin to describe music history outside or—more importantly—in concert with European music. The very fact that I have resorted to the adjective “other” hints at some of the difficulties. Continue reading “Howling and Barking in Oxford”

Barbarian Voices: The Role of Song in Encounters between European and Asian Cultures

I have been fortunate enough to have been offered and to have accepted a prestigious International Research Visitorship in the Balzan Programme in Musicology “Towards a Global History of Music” led by Professor Reinhard Strohm. I will be joining Professor Strohm at The University of Oxford for the last few months of this year to undertake a project looking at “The role of the singing voice and concepts of song in encounters between Latin, Persian and Mongol cultures during the time of the Mongol Empire, 1206–1368”. My interest in this area of research has grown over the last year or two after I discovered some interesting accounts of thirteenth-century Mongol singing made by Franciscan and Dominican missionaries. Rather than dismiss their unfavourable judgements of Mongol singing as statements made out of prejudice or ignorance, I set about deconstructing these statements by looking at how Latins from the West also described each other singing “badly”. I found some interesting parallels, and these will be published soon in a leading journal in Medieval Studies (yay! my first article for medievalists in general!). Although these early accounts only reveal small pieces of information about Mongol culture in the thirteenth century, they shed considerable light on how Latins who are not music theorists thought about music. Continue reading “Barbarian Voices: The Role of Song in Encounters between European and Asian Cultures”