Friday, August 14, 2015

What I Do in Musicology

by Jason Hanley
NOTE: The AMS Newsletter of the American Musicological Society features a series of reflections from musicologists who have pursued non-tenure-track careers. We are pleased to co-publish this essay from the August 2015 Newsletter. Earlier essays in this series HERE and HERE.
As musicologists, one of our greatest challenges is developing and sustaining a meaningful dialogue with diverse listeners and learners.While public musicology is a step in the right direction, we need to establish what we mean when we say “public,” over and above the word simply signaling “not employed in academia.” Every day for the past eleven years, as Director of Education at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, I have engaged a wide-ranging and changing audience through public musicology.


The Hall’s mission is to “engage, teach, and inspire through the power of rock and roll.” In the Education Department, we fulfill this mission through a variety of programs for both students and adults, while always keeping rock and roll at the core. These include numeracy- and literacy-building programsfor toddlers, multi-disciplinary classes for K–12 students, free lecture series for college students and adults, as well as numerous public and community events. All reach a diverse array of learners while fostering artful critical-thinking skills. This requires finding multiple pathways to learning while maintaining analytical rigor and being mindful to keep important musical and historical issues at the forefront of the rock and roll story.

This rigor informs the work I do when working directly with artists, especially those inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Artists are interviewed in front of a live audience, and the footage is archived for later use at the Rock Hall’s Library and Archives. These interviews become a way of digging deeper into the history of rock and roll and preserving it for the future. A few examples include Peter Hook of New Order discussing the use of step-time recording in the song “Blue Monday”; Spooner Oldham talking about writing and performing as a session musician at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals; and Alan Parsons explaining how he worked to effectively translate live music into the studio while recording Dark Side of the Moon with Pink Floyd.

For me, public musicology extends beyond my work at the Rock Hall. This year I published a book on rock music history, Music Lab: We Rock! A Fun Family Guide for Exploring Rock Music History (Quarry, 2015). From the start, I envisioned the book as a work of public musicology using aspects of the pedagogy I helped design at the Rock Hall. Each of the book’s fifty-two labs contains a full listening guide for a specific song. The School Library Journal  wrote: “Though books introducing pop and rock and roll artists to the younger generation are legion, this attractive volume, aimed at families, sets itself apart through its focus on the music itself.” I was happy to read this, given that focusing on the music was my primary goal in writing the book.

I chose to work outside academe, even though, when I did, it seemed like walking into the great unknown. I’m glad I did. I’m also glad the AMS promotes public musicology. I hope this will lead to a time when such work is central to our field.

Jason Hanley is  Director of Education at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
and Museum, in Cleveland, Ohio. More information about their education programming is available HERE.

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