Q&A with the editors of MUSIC MAKING COMMUNITY

Tony Perman and Stefan Fiol, the editors of Music Making Community, answer questions on their new book.

Q: Why did you decide to write this book?  

We wrote this book first and foremost as a way to honor our mentor and professor Thomas Turino. We also wrote it to bring theoretical depth and rigor to the interaction between music and community, both concepts that are at the center of ethnomusicological study but somehow rarely put into explicit conversation with one another. We have incorporated contributors who draw from and have extended Professor Turino’s theoretical toolkit by exploring the dynamic feedback loop between music and community across a range of contexts.   

Q: What is the most interesting discovery you made while researching and writing your book?  

While musicking often can be a social good, many of the scholars in our volume demonstrate the ways that musicking does not live up to its idealized potential in terms of community formation. Some emphasize that the communities formed during musicking have almost no relationship to communities beyond the site of performance; others demonstrate the ways that music can also divide or “unmake” communities. They demonstrate the real value in explicitly emphasizing music’s role in shaping dynamics of difference, similarity, and reciprocal indebtedness between people. 

Q: What myths do you hope your book will dispel or what do you hope your book will help readers unlearn? 

We hope that readers will question the often naturalized and essentialized relationship between “a music” and “a community.” The contributors in our volume apply a broad range of phenomenological, semiotic, and ethnographic approaches towards understanding the dynamic, interdependent, and highly unpredictable relationship between musicking and community-making.  

Q: Which part of the publishing process did you find the most interesting?  

Probably the anonymous reviewers’ comments on the volume, which offered important insights and ideas to improve the organization and clarity of our arguments. Academic writing is most enjoyable when readers take the ideas seriously. But seeing the page proofs for the first time always makes it feel truly real for the first time. 

Q: What is your advice to scholars/authors who want to take on a similar project? 

Our publication process was delayed by the pandemic, but overall, we had an enthusiastic group of authors.  In general, such a book may develop more easily and cohesively if it follows from a symposium or conference on the topic of the project. But if you pick a topic or a purpose that you’re passionate about, the inevitably slow process of corralling contributions and navigating production is worthwhile.

Tony Perman is an associate professor of ethnomusicology and the department chair of music at Grinnell College. He is the author of Signs of the Spirit: Music and the Experience of Meaning in Ndau Ceremonial Life.

Stefan Fiol is a professor of ethnomusicology and affiliated faculty in Asian Studies at the University of Cincinnati. He is the author of Recasting Folk in the Himalayas: Indian Music, Media, and Social Mobility.

About Kristina Stonehill