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Summarization of Columbia University’s 2021 Scholarship Conference: John Vandevert

Updated: May 11

In April, Columbia University held their 2021 Conference entitled Mediums and Media of Public Musicology Today,” dedicated to promulgating the dialectic on educative innovation within Musicology from a myriad of publicly-minded angles. There were three central themes, all of which collectively contributed to the broader discussion on reframing what public engagement and pedagogical modernism looks like in real-time application.


The first session, ‘Considering Digital Pedagogy,’ targeted the quandary of how best to ‘teach music,’ all three speakers showcasing how through utilizing digital methodologies in music-education practices, either through the collegiate inclusion of YouTube, amalgamating music-theory with coding, or teaching contemporary, American music history through Podcasting, a fuller understanding of how learning is functionally completed and made contextually tangible can be achieved. By diversifying educative modalities and utilizing more ‘equitable’ modes of dissemination for music knowledge, thereby ‘emancipating’ learning from conventional classroom confinement and dichotomous, teacher/student stratification, a more reverent, publicly-minded aura can be possibly cast onto music education in light of the ongoing, pre/post-COVID-19 budget-cuts and Institutional devaluing of music which is only further estranging non-specialists from the discipline of ‘Musicology’ in and of itself. It is especially wise to note that as daily life, public personas, and professional identities becomes increasingly more ‘digitally infused', and online posting becomes the norm and not the exception, the pedagogical role of Podcasting, video-sharing, and social media will inevitably grow stronger and more intrinsic to how the contemporary ‘student’ will be able, and want, to learn.



Following was the session, “Amplifying Marginalized Voices,” where two presentations candidly discussed the contentious and long-standing issues of gender-bias, particularly in female-directed critical reviewership and racial advocacy for sociocultural preservation within 21st-century minority-built digital spaces, mainly black, Instagram communities. As momentum is gestated towards increasing accessibility around music-education through the integration of digital modalities into the educative pot, it is also necessary to equilibrize the field by acknowledging that music ‘accessibility’ is not always granted on a playing field made from equal-footing nor does it mean that ‘accessibility’ will present itself as a homogenized entity, beneficial for all communities right from the onset. In female composership, as beneficial as curating and premiering women-made music may be, washing one’s hands clean from the historic troubles of gender representation by using the water of performance is not the final step, and more must be done to bolster such initiatives. Similarly, building off Marshall McLuhan’s immortal axiom, The medium is the message,’ the fact that social-media and digital networking is available for anyone with an internet connection and technological means the ways people are affected by the ‘medium’ and its ‘message’ is directly linked to the unique activities of the individual. Ergo, digital ‘musicking’ does not look a certain way, and the incorporation of digitalization into music-education must be taken with a grain of salt, as every student, even the Generation Alphas, is different.


The final session, “Questioning Musical Institutions,’ illuminated the disquieting reality of when established musical practices become either ineffective in knowledge acquirement or performatively unable to serve its public function; The treatment of musical players and their sonorous contributions in COVID-19 induced isolation, the hierarchical disparities of scholastic ‘knowing’ in disseminative practices, and the jeopardizing yet concertized infactualities in historical re-telling of music history. During what could be called the ‘Long 2020,’ a solemn parody of the turbulent era of the ‘Long Nineteenth-Century,’ the musical discipline in its totality has had to grapple with near-constant, professional change and the inconsistent streams of financial support, all the while forced to educatively recalibrate towards online fluency as a result of the widespread lockdown procedures.


While the loss of performance opportunities, reduced incomes, destabilized career longevity, and the involuntary educative migration towards online classrooms has not been an enjoyable or even welcomed change, as my paper had suggested, the time for Musicology and the intonational arts to drastically improve its relationship with the public, or ‘non-specialist’ communities, is something to be embraced as this is not a new phenomenon and instead, represents a polemic which has caused an insidious riff personally called the ‘Accessibility Crisis.’ Geared initially towards the factional disseminative practices of Musicological scholarship and its inability to bridge the specialist/non-specialist partition, it rears its angry face when the fruits of musical labor are commodified and its ‘humanness’ removed, scholastic content is intellectually gentrified, and the public’s educational welfare disregarded. As I insinuated in my forthcoming article, everyone deserves to grow intellectually, and thus I ask. Whom do Musicologists work for, the Institution or the public?


John David Vandevert is a recent graduate of Westminster Choir College in Vocal Performance and current, independent Music Researcher who will be pursuing a Masters in Musicological studies beginning in the fall.

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