research 2: on paper

This is the second in what will be a series of posts on the value of research to conductors in preparation for encouraging research of value to choral musicians at the next Eastern Division ACDA Conference.

We choral musicians are incredibly lucky to have centuries of repertoire to perform, much of it available in legible modern editions. Unlike orchestral and especially wind ensembles, the tradition of written music in our genre is strong and deep, and the living singing traditions being notated for us by ethnomusicologists is always increasing. This means our concerts can be varied and diverse in both their historical and geographical sources.

It’s concerts where we feel the connection, right? ACDA National was last week, and the thing I hear most about from friends who attended–as I hear and talk about myself every year–is the amazing performances. And they are amazing, and highly valuable; and will likely remain the gravitational center of ACDA conferences for most of us. But let’s remember that none of it is possible without research, and all of it does better because someone properly edited scores, thoroughly researched the sources, and accurately notated the composer’s intentions. That information comes from brave and bold researchers who look outside the music itself, into the context of the world from which the music came.

Here’s an amazing book:

Music Printing in Renaissance Venice: The Scotto Press (1539-1572)

In it, musicologist Jane Bernstein writes extensively about the production, funding, and manufacturing of paper and books in 16th Century Venice.

Why is paper manufacturing any business of a musicologist?! If I had proposed to my dissertation committee that I wanted to study printing press technology, they would have told me “that’s not music,” and refused to approve it. Dr. Bernstein, though, saw the value of reaching out beyond studying the music itself, and finding connections to technology (printing, production, binding), sociology (patronage), economics (financing and marketing), and how they shaped the music of the time and place.

Thanks to work that doesn’t just examine music, but also examines the world that surrounds music, we can identify composers and track the history of individual songs based on type face, paper quality, etc.

Performances are the fruit born of this kind of labor. If you’re interested in the best possible harvest for your ensemble, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty! What questions do you have about where your repertoire comes from? Who wrote it, edited it, translated it? How? Why? Maybe someone has already answered your questions, and all you have to do is walk out into the field and dig a little. Or maybe you are the one who’ll sow seeds of the next crop of answers.

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