In block 3, knowing that I was going to be in this class, I asked Professor Carrizo what it was going to be about. After all, a class titled Musical Lives of Song and Migration could be about a thousand different things. Her response, that it was a class meant to introduce many of the core concepts behind musicology and ethnography through an exploration of our own musical lives and musical histories, had me practically counting down the days until I could virtually set foot in this classroom. After having spent a week in this class, I can say wholeheartedly that the wait was worth it.
There is a lot that can be said about this class that goes beyond just the specifics of what we’re learning. I have had prior experiences (outside of CC) with art classes and poetry classes that are wonderful in that they force you to dive deeply into your emotions and grapple with how to best express yourself. But these classes ultimately fall flat, feeling disconnected from the world or from any particular context. In my experience this has resulted in those classes putting forth questionable sentiments that are out of touch with reality. This class does not suffer from that at all. While it does allow for the same introspection and the same view of art or music as a somewhat ethereal magical form of expression, it is firmly rooted in reality. It allows for those of us in the class to think a lot deeper about the grander context that surrounds the music. We can see a piece as beautiful and moving and expressive and magical and meaningful on an individual level, but we also must see it as a product of things such as forced migration and the slave trade, heteronormativity, etc. It allows us to see music as a powerful individual thing, as a community thing, and as a product/reaction/protest to the broader context. Engaging all these perspectives is the greatest strength of this class in my opinion, as it is by no means an easy balance to achieve.
The class also manages to beautifully balance personal individual experience and guided exploration of topics chosen by Professor Carrizo. This is best illustrated by the work we have done on “ways of listening.” Through the course of several readings we began to create a short list of ways to listen. We discussed ethnographic listening (listening done with the intention of understanding culture and meaning through social relationships), compassionate listening (which works to build connection, trust, and honesty), critical listening (which is more reflexive and engages with the listener’s positionality), and analytical listening (analyzing melody, harmony, texture, etc.) just to name a few. Learning these concepts in a guided way allowed for a deeper understanding of how they work together. We talked about the issues with ethnography and the way that it can be a violent act when done incorrectly and we talked about how using more critical listening (and therefore being more reflexive) while conducting ethnography leads to a disruption of the myth that ethnography is an undistorted look into another culture. The critical listening tells us that this representation is actually heavily distorted by the positionality of the person conducting the ethnography.
Pictured: The decoration at the Flamenco club from my neighborhood, Peña Flamenca La Fragua. It reads “Knowing how to listen is an art.”
But, as I mentioned earlier, this guided learning is punctuated by a more personal and open-ended approach. We learned about the “ways of listening” through reading and discussion, but we also learned through practice. We each brought a list of three sights, sounds, and smells that reminded us of home. Then we were paired off, and shared these lists with our partners. Once we returned to the main group, we would have to retell our partners’ story and they would tell ours. This exercise allowed us to engage with ethnographic listening, compassionate listening, and critical listening on a small scale and in a safe space where no one had to share more than they wanted to. It really helped illustrate the differences between these ways of listening, but more importantly showed us the ways they work together.
That is only one small example. All throughout the week we have had time to share a little bit about ourselves, our stories, and our musical histories with the class. It has been a joy to gain little glimpses into the lives of my classmates and learn from them and their stories. Truthfully, it almost feels like the class itself is a type of small ethnography where we are all listening and asking questions to try to answer the grand question of “what does it mean to be in MU228: Musical Lives of Song and Migration?” You can see this class as having three layers. The first, is guided learning through readings, discussions, and the consumption of professionally written ethnographies. The second, is the block project that asks us to create an auto-ethnographic work. And the third, is the way that we practice compassionate, critical, ethnographic listening every day through sharing little bits and pieces about ourselves.
That’s all for this week folks! I could write another several pages because this class really is quite meaningful to me, but I’ll just have to wait for a few days before I can allow myself to continue gushing about how awesome this block is. Have a great week people!
Top of the page featured image: A mural of Federico Garcia Lorca adorns the façade of the house where he was born. Why is this meaningful to me? How is it intertwined with my history, my present, and how I see the future? What does his face represent to people? How does he tie in to music, especially flamenco? How is he, as well as the image people have of him, informed by the changing contexts of the world? These are a few of the questions this class wants us to think about. All pictures are taken by me.