This past March, the department of musicology at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami (U.S.A) hosted its first postgraduate student conference. The conference was entitled ‘Hybridity in Music’, and was devoted to scholarship on musical encounters, negotiations and appropriations, particularly in twentieth-century and contemporary music. Since hybridity studies have become very popular in today’s increasingly global climate, it was not surprising that postgraduates from across the United States (and even a few internationals, such as myself) made the trip to Florida in order to participate in this important exchange.

The presentations demonstrated various conceptions of musical hybridity, which centred around three major themes: cross cultural/national contacts and negotiations, appropriations and repurposing, and compositional framework. Heather Strohschein (University of Hawaii at Manoa) explored the music of Naga Mas, an Edinburgh-based Gamelan ensemble that performs both traditional Indonesian music and Scottish music arranged for Gamelan. Lydia Rilling (Freie-Universität, Berlin) analyzed the use of 16th and 17th-century musical pastiche as a strategy for the representation of ‘love’ in Salvatore Sciarrino’s contemporary opera, Luci mie traditrici (1996-98). My own paper discussed the Israeli appropriation of Hindu devotional songs and their performance in the context of three large Hindu-inspired festivals in Israel since the late 1990s.

Other presentations shed light on some of the more negative consequences of musical interactions, especially the loss of age-old traditions due to immigration. Notable was Hicham Chami’s (University of Florida) paper, which analyzed the gradual decline of Arabic musical parameters (such as maqam) in the music of select Arab-American composers and performers. Similarly, Carlos Odria’s (Florida State University) paper outlined the process of homogenization and loss of plurality in Latin American music, and the formation of musical stereotypes during the past few decades.

Attendance at the conference was divided almost equally between Western music scholars and ethnomusicologists, which made for a very unique environment. While some presentations employed traditional analytical methodologies (motivic analysis, harmonic language, tonal syntax, etc.), the majority of the presentations utilized Western music-analytical terminology in order to discuss the musical ramifications of cultural encounters, and most notably, the concept of Westernization.

As evident from the thought-provoking keynote address given by ethnomusicologist and performer David Harnish, the concept of musical hybridity itself destabilizes fixed musical-analytical constructs and creates new meanings through the interaction of different musical cultures. This conference as a whole has raised important questions on the evolution of musical traditions, and it further addressed the fine line between the positive and negative consequences of musical negotiations in today’s global age.

Yotam Baum
University of Cambridge

The Hybridity in Music conference took place on 26th March 2011 at the Frost School of Music, University of Miami.