The Distinction Between Ethnomusicology and Musicology Should Not Be Made

As I read through David B. Pruett’s article titled: “When the Tribe Goes Triple Platinum: A Case Study Toward an Ethnomusicology of Mainstream Popular Music in the U.S.,” I couldn’t help but ask if ethnomusicology is a legitimate field of study, or rather a necessary subcategory of musicology. Pruett has a hard time defending its existence.

 “A fieldwork-based approach to scholarship, particularly in popular music studies, is one of many that frequently distinguish ethnographically-based disciplines such as ethnomusicology from other social sciences and from other music-related fields such as musicology and music theory.” (Pruett 5)

He continues by quoting Ellen Koskoff, who claims that the difference between “historical musicology and ethnomusicology is ‘Not the genres they study, where they study them, who studies them, or even the analytic and interpretative models they use, but, rather, their method of data collection – textwork versus fieldwork’ (Koskoff 2005:93)” (Pruett 5).

What? Since when does the method of data collection distinguish one field of work from another? Musicologists are no longer musicologists if they choose to go outside of their office and talk to musicians? Is a biologist no longer a biologist if he goes out into nature to do research, or is he limited to his lab?  I’m not buying it, and it doesn’t help that no one can agree on whether or not ethnomusicologists can study Western music or not.

Later in the article, Pruett admits to the ambiguity of the field distinctions: “…Given the frequent convergence of ethnomusicology, historical musicology, and music theory in the study of American music, the lines that had previously separated these disciplines have blurred somewhat.” (Pruett, 6) They’ve only blurred somewhat? Were the lines ever there? It seems to me that all musicology is ethnomusicology. You can’t study a piece of music without considering its social and cultural context.

Pruett contradicts himself later on in the article when he explains the concept of “’virtual fieldwork’, where data is collected from a distance using a computer, television, or radio” (Pruett, 5). I thought ethnomusicologists were supposed to be “out in the field” doing research, leaving the rest to musicologists. Pruett claims that this “virtual fieldwork” is “a defining aspect of a twenty-first century ethnomusicological canon.”  Are musicologists limited to print sources then, or are they just not allowed to go “out in the field?” It appears that no one really knows the difference between a musicologist and an ethnomusicologist, and the distinction seems needless, as far as I can tell.


About nubsqueak

I'm a God loving kid who's exploring the world and everything in it.
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