One theme/trend we’ve been discussing in this class is the potential for alternate histories or stories. Rather than studying a single history in a survey course where you learn facts and “objective truths” about music, its creation and the historical time period it originates from, we study and entertain many interpretations and ideas about a very specific time period. We have been engaging in intellectual discussion on interpretations of music through various lenses, even if they may seem contradictory or incohesive.
Within the class we have been focusing on themes of gender/sexuality, race, nationality, patronage, etc, and even if my papers haven’t focused these issues specifically they have also provided insight into the nature of history as many differing narratives.
The assignment set forth in the first three papers was to choose a very specific perspective from Paris in the 1920s and to argue a very specific point or position. The interesting challenge was to choose a very specific lens and use evidence from a variety of sources to support your argument. My first paper was uniquely challenging because the subject was a person that the larger scope of music history has deemed unimportant, or not worth noticing. My research was an exercise in discovering an alternate version of history. One where a woman like Marya Freund is influential and important. By using a “current” perspective from the time period we are studying we lack the benefit of retrospective thought, but we gain the benefit of attempting to understand how a moment in time felt.
Besides adapting to a new creative perspective for writing, we were also challenged to tell alternate histories by arguing something new rather than simply regurgitating facts found within our research. This task is daunting in the face of endless scholarship, however it proved useful. I learned to critically analyze scholarship and also to embrace various versions or interpretations of music, art, and history.
Of course this does not mean that we can simply fabricate new ideas as an exercise. I particularly appreciated the days we spent discussing queer readings of music because of exactly this issue. It created heated debate over the validity of ideas such as Sapphonics. Should we talk about music through this lens? Is it possible to analyze music in terms of sexuality? How can we bring this into scholarly discussion?
The thing I value most about this class is the way it encourages us to critically think about history and how it is told. As young music historians we are also trying to add to the field by engaging with new perspectives and/or finding ones that have been overlooked for a more popular, simplified version.