South-Central Chapter of the American Musicological Society Conference
Thursday, March 7, 2019
Paul Austerlitz to Perform
by Bailey Basham, Messenger Staff Writer
The South-Central Chapter of the American Musicological Society (AMS) will host its annual meeting on March 8 and 9, in Convocation Hall. The group will gather to discuss music from an academic standpoint and delve into the different standpoints of music.
César Leal, assistant professor of musicology and artistic director of the Sewanee Symphony Orchestra, serves as president for the South-Central chapter of AMS. He said bringing musicologists from the surrounding region to Sewanee creates a unique learning opportunity for students and the community to learn of the field’s current research.
“This is a national organization, and it’s one of the leading organizations in the world for musicological studies. The South-Central chapter serves Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina,” Leal said. “Even though we serve the south-central region, we accept individual members from institutions across the country. During the fall semester, students, faculty members and independent scholars send proposals, which are anonymously evaluated by the program committee. The committee selects a number of proposals and groups them thematically in different sessions.”
Topics of study range from the study of historical soundscapes, which will be presented by the University’s Kenneth Miller, to the role of women in music.
“We’ll talk about things like the role of women in music, music and ecology, soundscapes, music and pedagogy, ethics of music, music and race and new listening perspectives,” said Leal. “These events allow us to see and understand music from a completely different standpoints, to look at music intellectually and pragmatically. We tend to neglect context and what happened historically. What, if any, is the meaning or purpose behind music? What can we learn about us as a society and culture by looking at how composers translated the reality into sound? There are always so many things to discover and these events are the perfect setting to share and work around those questions.”
This year, ethnomusicologist and jazz musician Paul Austerlitz will serve as the keynote speaker. Leal said Austerlitz will be able to provide a contrasting perspective to music and its relationship to issues of class, race and immigration, as well as combine performance and research. Austerlitz will also come to the Mountain early to teach classes in the humanities about cross-cultural interactions.
Austerlitz’s keynote talk is titled “Who Is Babalu?: Afro-Caribbean Revolutions and Western Music,” and will discuss the Afro-Cuban jazz suite Machito. He said in his work, he’s found that the study of diverse music is important to building a true understanding of music.
“Machito played a big role in bringing African rhythms from Cuba to the U.S. The interesting thing is if you think about most of the music people listen to in the word today, regardless of race or cultural background, a very large percentage comes from African culture, like rap, rock and roll, jazz,” Austerlitz said. “Most of the time, people don’t listen to European classical music. Even in Europe, people listen to a lot of African American inspired music. It’s important to understand it and study it because that helps us enjoy it more.”
For Leal, he sees the study of music from cultures outside of the European tradition as being a powerful thing for the students.
“When minority students and scholars see themselves represented in the classroom and the curriculum, that is very powerful in any community,” said Leal. “People associate Latin music as a party and something that is not worthy of study. This legitimizes the musical tradition of those cultures. I have a student from Latin America and at some point, he said, ‘I never thought I would be able to study this in a classroom because it’s one of those areas that is seen as not scholarly enough.’ It’s like those cultural traditions are not good enough for classrooms. For that student, being able to experience music and to study the music of his culture is what changed his experience in Sewanee.”
Austerlitz said he has seen that power in his work as well. He said applying musicological scholarship to music of African influences provides a more holistic understanding of all music.
“Most music classes and departments talk about European classical music,” said Austerlitz. “Our whole mentality and the way we talk about music is very Eurocentric, but most of the music people listen to is not European. For example, Machito would refer to African religions in their songs and use African words in their music. Most people that listen to it didn’t know that. They thought it was Spanish. There is all this stuff going on that if you look at it from a scholarly standpoint, you can really understand a lot better than just at a first listen.”
The AMS meeting will be held in Convocation Hall on Friday, March 8 and Saturday, March 9. For information about presentations or to register to attend, visit
Austerlitz will also perform at 7:30 p.m., Friday, March 8, at Guerry Auditorium. Tickets can be purchased at the door for $20. Tickets for conference participants, Sewanee students, faculty and staff are free.