Musicologist Dr Alicia Doyle | Teen Jazz Influence Interview

HI EVERYONE, THANK YOU FOR TUNING IN TO TEEN JAZZ RADIO. WITH ME TODAY I HAVE DR. ALICIA DOYLE, A MUSICOLOGIST, FRENCH HORN PLAYER AND PROFESSOR AT CAL STATE LONG BEACH AND TODAY WE’RE GOING TO TALK ABOUT THE FIELD OF MUSICOLOGY. HI DR. DOYLE.

Hi Shannon.

THANK YOU FOR BEING WITH US TODAY.

I’m delighted to be here.

AND HOW ARE YOU?

I’m great thank you, and you?

I GOOD, THANK YOU! SO WHY DON’T YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF?

So, I am a musicologist. I am a music history professor and I teach at the university at the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music at CSU Long Beach.

AND WHERE DID YOU GO TO SCHOOL?

For my undergraduate education I went to the University of Southern California and I studied French Horn Performance. And for my graduate degrees I went to UC Santa Barbara in Musicology and French Horn Performance Studies as well.

AND WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO MORE SERIOUSLY PURSUE MUSICOLOGY AS OPPOSED TO FRENCH HORN PERFORMANCE SINCE YOUR DEGREES ARE REALLY IN BOTH?

That’s a good question. So as a young person I decided I wanted to be a musician and of course, to me that meant to be a performer and my instrument was French Horn so I thought, well, I’ll be a French Horn player. And in college I went to a concert and I accidentally arrived early and much to my surprise there was someone at the concert hall talking about music before the concert started and I had never seen anything like that. It was magical to me. And so I went back to my school and I spoke to a professor who happened to be a musicologist who’s class I had been enrolled in all semester. And I said to her, “I think I want to do that! I want to be the person who talks about music before the concert.” And I said, “who is that? What kind of person does that?” And she said, “that’s a musicologist, what we’ve been doing all semester!” But I woke up and she was very inspirational and she told me certain strategies for becoming a musicologist, and the rest is history and I didn’t stop.

SO WHAT WERE THOSE CERTAIN STRATEGIES SHE TOLD YOU ABOUT?

She was encouraging initially because I was already well-read. I had been a reader since I was a young person. I had a large literary background in poetry, art history, architecture, so I understood already the cultural context of music. But I don’t think that would stop anybody if you didn’t have that. I already did have that… She said from there that I should start writing more and to learn how to properly research music and how to write about music in an academic way.

AND HOW WOULD THAT BE DIFFERENT THAN WRITING ABOUT A DIFFERENT SUBJECT LIKE HISTORY IN GENERAL?

Well, when you’re talking about music as opposed to just history, you really do need to look at the music first and begin with the actual piece of music. And then figure out how the composers context affected that piece of music. So putting music in the center and not putting history in the center of your discussion.

AS PART OF MUSICOLOGY YOU DON’T JUST STUDY MUSIC HISTORY IN GENERAL, YOU HAVE SPECIFIC FIELDS OR TOPICS THAT YOU STUDY AND YOURS ARE ACTUALLY REALLY DIVERSE, SO HOW DID YOU CHOOSE THOSE TOPICS?

It was, again, a kind of accident. When I started musicology I thought I would do Mahler, I’m a horn player, of course I’m going to study Mahler forever. And then when I went to graduate school we were made to take classes in other musics – musics I had never heard of. For example my first semester in graduate school I took a class on the music that preceded the Italian madrigal in Italy and I had never heard of any of these things. It was fascinating to me and lovely and there were no French Horns and I still liked it. So then from there I became enamored with Renaissance music and the actual physical artifacts, the manuscripts they were copied into back in the 15th century. And I just kept going backwards and more and more backwards until I ended up into the 10th century and that’s where I remain as a Medieval specialist.

However, to make me more fun at parties… When I walk into the room and people say “hey what do you do?” and I say “I’m a medievalist,” they get a little standoffish. I have a second field and that second field is that I study Latin American popular music.

SO CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT LATIN AMERICAN POPULAR MUSIC?

Um, sure. So Latin American popular music is a post-colonial symptom of our hemisphere. So when the colonists came, of course, they brought there music and then there was the music of the indigenous peoples and then the music of the African peoples that arrived also… So, the resulting blending of cultures makes our music very special and very unique. I chose to study the music of Mexico in particular because I grew up in California, I’m familiar with mariachi, I’m a huge fan of mariachi and then I also spent five years at the University of Texas on the border of Chihuahua in Mexico. And again, I have the utmost respect for that music.

SO STUDYING LATIN AMERICAN MUSIC, THAT COULD BE CONSIDERED ETHNOMUSICOLOGY, COULDN’T IT?

Yes, my personal philosophy is that it’s all music and I don’t really believe that we need to have different compartments within music studies, academic music studies. I think musicology can be all-encompassing. I know in the past it hasn’t been and that’s to the fault of those in the past. But I don’t believe that ethnomusicology and musicology need to remain separate from each other. I think that it’s all the study of music. So, the same way that I would look at a medieval manuscript and figure out how it fit into culture, I would look at mariachi music and figure out how it fit into culture.

SO WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU DO AS A MUSICOLOGIST?

I suppose that the number one thing that I do is that I teach music history to future performers, future educators, future music critics, future who-knows-what my students will do. But I help them have a very strong understanding of music in context and their role in the lineage of music. That’s most of my time. I also write article on topics that I’m a specialist in – I write on medieval topics and I write on Latin American topics. One of my favorite activities is pre-concert talks which is what got me in this mess to begin with. And I love talking to general audiences about music and helping them build a road map for listening so that when they go into the concert they can have a greater enjoyment of the concert. The last thing I do is I teach a class in music appreciation at the university.

WOULD YOU SAY THAT HAVING, YOU KNOW, SOME SORT OF MUSICAL BACKGROUND, WHETHER IT’S PLAYING AN INSTRUMENT OR SINGING, DO YOU THINK THAT THAT’S NECESSARY TO GO ON TO BECOME A MUSICOLOGIST?

Yes, I do. I think one of the things that I believe makes me a more successful musicologist is that my own personal experience with music-making and the repertory that I’ve played… I’ve played, you know o f course, anything that has a French Horn in it, I’ve probably at this point have played through it and that gives you a real insider’s sense of what music is.

OTHER THAN SOME OF THE THINGS THAT YOU’VE HAD PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WITH AS FAR AS WRITING, WHICH IS BOTH BOOKS AND MAGAZINES, AND TEACHING, ARE THERE OTHER THINGS A MUSICOLOGIST CAN DO?

I believe, I’m thinking of the more splashier musicologists that I have know and who have worked with maybe organizations like the Lincoln Center or advocacy for music because musicologists are so well-spoken, they are good advocates in public for music.

YOU COULD BE A HISTORIAN AT A MUSEUM, COLLECTING MUSIC AND THINGS.

That’s true, or you can be an archivist, you could be a librarian. I actually thank you for nudging me, I have several students who have gone on to be music librarians.

SO OTHER THAN WRITING AND RESEARCH, WHAT ARE SOME OTHER SKILLS THAT YOU THINK YOU NEED TO HAVE AS A MUSICOLOGIST?

I think to be a top musicologist you need to have a good understanding of the language of the music, of the culture in which the music was created. So, for example, in my case, I really need to know Latin. I do liturgical music, I sure better know Latin in order to understand what’s being sung. Most literature in musicology was initially written in French or German, so the early scholarship was in those two languages and that’s critical for musicologists a minimum a reading understanding of German and French in addition to the language of whatever music they’re going to study. As a medievalist, I think it’s important to look at primary sources, so I do believe you actually need to see the thing that you’re talking about and not just rely on hear-say. So to actually look at the manuscripts, not just read someone’s description of the manuscript. You go to the archive to turn the pages yourself. Today it’s easier because a lot of these manuscripts have been digitized. In the past, it wasn’t the case. You either had to go to the library and look at them or get a microfilm of them which were often horrific. But that’s what we had and that’s better than just relying on somebody else’s observations.

WELL, WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE ORIGINAL SOURCE, THERE’S A LOT OF RULES AND THINGS FOR HOW YOU CAN TOUCH THEM, THE WAY TO TURN THE PAGES AND ACTUALLY HANDLING THEM, SO THAT’S A WHOLE DIFFERENT THING IN AND OF ITSELF THAT YOU HAVE WORRY ABOUT. SO IT IS REALLY GREAT THAT A LOT OF THE STUFF HAS BEEN DIGITIZED.

Right, because for example with the thing that I studied, there’s really only 8 resources that are, that have survived the ages. One of my favorite stories is when I was doing my dissertation I spent three months in Paris at the Bibliotheque Nationale and I was there everyday working from a microfilm. They wouldn’t allow me to see the actual book except for one day. So for three months I went in and did microfilm, for one day for three hours they allowed me to actually see the book. But it’s from the year 986, if they let anybody in at anytime to see it, it could be destroyed very easily. And they hovered over my shoulder and watched me. I was not allowed to do any marks, no pens, no pencils. Just white gloves and my eyes to observe this manuscript.

BEING IN PARIS, ONE OF THE BENEFITS, YOU WOULD SAY, OF DOING MUSICOLOGY IS THE FIELDWORK?

I love fieldwork, especially since medievalism is to libraries, which for me is fabulous. But with the Mexican music it’s to club and to restaurants and to quinceneras and wedding ceremonies and outdoor festivals, and you name it – and capturing mariachi in context has been fabulous. I’ve gone to racetracks to witness mariachi. I’ve gone to Disneyland to witness mariachi in context. One of the fabulous things about studying an active, living culture is that you get to observe the audience reaction whereas in medieval music it’s impossible. But in my mariachi work I can actually observe how different audiences react to mariachi and whether it’s at a staged performance or impromptu performance, if it’s at a casual event, a larger event.

THAT IS REALLY, IT’S COMPLETELY DIFFERENT TO BE ABLE TO SEE IT IN LIVE PERFORMANCE BECAUSE WITH LIKE MEDIEVAL MUSIC, YOU ONLY HAVE WRITTEN ACCOUNTS OF AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION AND IN SOME CASES SOURCES CAN BE REALLY LIMITED AND REALLY HARD TO FIND. SO ACTUALLY BEING ABLE TO STUDY A MUSIC THAT IS STILL ACTIVE, THAT GIVES YOU A LOT MORE TO WORK WITH AND YOU CAN ACTUALLY SEE IT AND THAT’S SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT THAN WATCHING SOMETHING BE RE-CREATED, LIKE AS FAR AS PERFORMANCES. THERE’S THAT WHOLE ISSUE OF AUTHENTICITY AND THINGS LIKE THAT. SO, MAYBE YOU WANT TO TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THAT?

Right. Authenticity is problematic because when I look at a medieval manuscript, I’m guessing at how it was… Well, I’m not guessing, I’m carefully researching how this was probably performed. But with more contemporary music, or active, living, dynamic music, like the mariachi, I actually spend a lot more time observing the audience. Because the music, I know the tunes, and the music mutates somewhat, but it’s the audience that causes that mutation, so I have a lot of video footage of audiences because I’m fascinated with the way they will react to the same piece in different situations. Take any piece of mariachi performed in El Paso versus San Diego versus Montana – how does the audience react to that same piece of music?

BASED ON TALKING TO YOU ABOUT THIS AND BASED ON THE WAY YOU TALK ABOUT SEEING MARIACHI MUSIC PERFORMED AND THE AUDIENCE INTERACTION AND THE EXCITEMENT AND EVERYTHING THAT GOES ALONG WITH THAT, HOW DO YOU CREATE THAT, YOU KNOW, THAT SAME PASSION, THAT SAME INTEREST FOR A MUSIC THAT YOU CAN’T REALLY HEAR BE PERFORMED IN THE WAY THAT IT WAS MAYBE ORIGINALLY INTENDED?

Well, taking a moment, and my medieval studies is probably the thorniest music to get an audience engaged in because it was never meant for entertainment. It was meant for prayer, it’s a spiritual music. It was not meant for dancing. So having a concert of medieval chant is not… advisable. It’s not, that’s not what it was ever meant to be at any time because it’s a spiritual act. So taking a quick moment to explain to the listener, actually to explain to the performer too, what the origins of this music, the function of this music originally, will help everybody involved to have a deeper understanding of it in the performance.

SO THAT’S WHERE SPEAKING BEFORE CONCERTS COMES IN.

Really, I think the pre-concert lectures are fabulous. They should be kept light and direct and help, like I said, give the listener a roadmap for things to hang their head on during the concert. Because if it’s new music and people are faced with new music that they have no context to understand, they’re not likely to enjoy it as much as they would if they had some sort of hint.

RIGHT, WELL, ON A REALLY BASIC LEVEL THAT COULD BE PEOPLE WHO AREN’T REALLY FAMILIAR WITH CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THEY GO TO A CONCERT AND THERE’S A MULTI-MOVEMENT PIECE. IF SOMEONE DOESN’T WARN THEM BEFOREHAND EITHER IN THE PROGRAM OR AT THE BEGINNING IN SOME SORT OF PRESENTATION, THEY MIGHT CLAP BETWEEN MOVEMENTS AND WITH AUDIENCE EXPERIENCE, IF THEY’RE THE ONLY ONES IN THE AUDITORIUM CLAPPING, THEY’RE GOING TO FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE AND THAT’S GOING TO BE A NEGATIVE EXPERIENCE FOR THEM. AND YOU DON’T WANT THEM TO HAVE THAT. SO ACTUALLY DOING SOMETHING TO PREPARE THE AUDIENCE FOR WHAT THEY’RE GOING TO LISTEN TO AND WHAT THEY’RE GOING TO EXPERIENCE, THAT’S A REALLY GOOD THING. SO I AGREE THAT CONCERT TALKS NEED TO BE A MORE REGULAR PART OF MUSIC PROGRAMMING.

WE’VE BEEN TALKING A LOT ABOUT MUSICOLOGY, BUT YOU STILL PLAY FRENCH HORN. YOU DIDN’T CHOOSE ONE OR THE OTHER – PERFORMANCE OR MUSICOLOGY – YOU STILL DO BOTH.

I do.

SO HOW DO YOU BALANCE DOING BOTH – FINDING THE TIME TO RESEARCH AND STUDY AND TEACH AND FINDING TIME TO PRACTICE AND PERFORM?

It’s tricky. It is tricky… As time goes on I find I have to make a concerted effort to schedule time in for practicing and for performing as much as possible. Over the years, you know, sometimes there’s more performance and less musicology and sometimes there’s more musicology, less performance… It’s never been equal. And I have chosen to be a musicologist so I understood that was an outcome. But I think that keeping performing – continuing to perform – helps me keep it real. I can put my money where my mouth is. I actually have played this music. I do play this music. I am playing this music… tonight… And having people see that not only do I speak about music but that I’m actually participating in the music making, is huge. It gives me a lot more validity.

MORE AUTHORITY.

More authority… As a performer and as a musicologist. So I know about the music so I am a better player and I play the music so I’m a better musicologist.

YOU TALKED ABOUT GOING TO PARIS AND STUDYING IN PARIS, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE OTHER INTERESTING THINGS YOU’VE HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO AS A MUSICOLOGIST?

More recently I have decided to look at objects of liturgical interest, of sacred music in California. And one of the most interesting things that I have found were some lampshades at Hearst Castle in California. And William Randolph Hearst was an enormously prolific collector and he bought some older music manuscripts and had the pages turned into lampshades. Yeah, so if you take a tour, Tour 1, 2 or 3 at Hearst Castle today you will see that in his own personal collection he has lampshades that are made out of the pages of chant manuscripts.

SO YOU STUDY THE LAMPSHADES?

I study lampshades! Lampshades with or without the party are fun.

SO WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU HOPE TO DO IN THE FUTURE AS A MUSICOLOGIST?

In the future, one of my little pet projects is something I’ve come to fall very much in love with which combines both medieval studies and mariachi is the colonial music in California. So the music of the missions. And that’s an ancient liturgical tradition that goes back to medieval times but it also has this Mexican flavor to it, so this is something that I look forward to doing in the future. And it’s right here at home and it’s understudied. It’s not unstudied but it’s understudied and it’s exciting and real and it’s part of my personal Californian history.

YOU’VE TALKED ABOUT WHAT YOU STUDY AS A MUSICOLOGIST, BUT MORE IN GENERAL, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE DIFFERENT THINGS THAT YOU CAN STUDY?

You can study any aspect of music and culture. Any aspect. So, it could be compositional techniques, you could study melody or harmony. You can study gender in music. You can study the instrumentation. Really, anything goes. Patronage – who paid for the music. There’s not limits to what you might study as a musicologist.

WHERE CAN PEOPLE GO TO FIND MORE INFORMATION ABOUT YOU?

About me? The quick and dirty way is to go to the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music website and my name is there. I am the Associate Chair of the conservatory and I’m also in the musicology program. And I also have my own writing website where I can be found at allmusicreview.com.

AND WHAT ARE SOME OF THINGS YOU DO AS PART OF ALLMUSICREVIEW.COM?

You name it, I’ll do it. I can do an artist bio, I can do a CD review, a scholarly treatment of some subject of your choosing, all music.

ALL GENRES?

All genres. Omnivore (points to self).

WELL THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR DOING THE INTERVIEW WITH US.

Thank you for having me.

 

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Published on: April 4, 2013

Filled Under: Interviews

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