It was Never Just about the Music: How Artistic Communication Genres Could Liberate Ethnomusicology

  • Brian Schrag SIL International


In this rhetorical short essay, I argue for the benefits and possibility of grounding ethnomusicological research in enactments of artistic communication genres. I describe the conceptual imprecision and incomplete analyses that often result from our fieldwork being guided by abstract categories like music and dance. I go on to outline the kinds of research needed to better understand any and all artistic acts formally and socially, and point to the promise of richer, more coherent, more productive, more multi-disciplinary output, with more relevance to the world.


Bauman, Richard. 1977. Verbal Art as Performance. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Bauman, Richard, ed. 1992. ‘Performance.’ In Folklore, Cultural Performances, and Popular Entertainments, 41-49. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Beeman, William. 2002. ‘Performance Theory in an Anthropology Program.’ In Stuckey, Nathan and Cynthia Wimmer, eds. Performance Studies as a Discipline, 85-97. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Blacking, John. 1973. How Musical is Man? Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Cooper, Robin. 1977. ‘Abstract Structure and the Indian Raga System.’ Ethnomusicology 21(1):1-32.

Feld, Steven. 1984. ‘Sound Structure as Social Structure.’ Ethnomusicology 28(3):383-409

Hofman, Ana. 2010. ‘Maintaining the Distance, Othering the Subaltern: Rethinking Ethnomusicologists’ Engagement in Advocacy and Social Justice.’ In Applied Ethnomusicology: Historical and Contemporary Approaches, edited by Klisala Harrison, Elizabeth Mackinlay, and Svanibor Pettan, pp. 22-35. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Hood, Mantle. 1957. ‘Training and Research Methods in Ethnomusicology.’ Ethnomusicology 1, Part 2(11):2-8.

Kaeppler, A. 1996. ‘The Look of Music, the Sound of Dance: Music as a Visual Art’. Visual Anthropology, 8(1-2):133-153.

Kaeppler, Adrienne and Elsi Evancich Dunin, eds. 2007. Dance Structures: Perspectives on the Analysis of Human Movement. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó.

Kigozi, Benon. 2014. Music Education in Uganda: An evaluation of Music Education in Elementary Schools in Buganda: A Way Forward. Scholars Press.

Kigozi, Benon. 2017. Interview with author, 15 July 2017.

Kolinski, Mieczyslaw. 1957. ‘Ethnomusicology, Its Problems and Methods.’ Ethnomusicology 1(10):1-7.

Nannyonga-Tamusuza, Sylvia. 2015. ‘Music as Dance and Dance as Music: Interdependence and Dialogue in Baganda Baakisimba Performance.’ Yearbook for Traditional Music 47:82-96.

Saville-Troike, Muriel. 2002. The ethnography of communication: An introduction. Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Schrag, Brian. 2019. ’Motivations and Methods for Encouraging Artists in Longer Traditions.’ In De-colonization, Heritage, and Advocacy: An Oxford Handbook of Applied Ethnomusicology, Vol 2, edited by Jeff Todd Titon and Svanibor Pettan, 187-219. New York: Oxford University Press.

Schrag, Brian and Kathleen Van Buren. 2018. Make Arts for a Better Life: A Guide for Working with Communities. New York: Oxford University Press.

Seeger, Anthony. 2013. ‘Interview with Maurice Mengel: On Epistemology and Applied Ethnomusicology in a Postcolonial World.’ El Oído Pensante 1(2):1-25

Small, Christopher. 1998. Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening. Middleton, Connecticut: Wesleyan.

Stone, Ruth. 1981. ‘Toward a Kpelle Conceptualization of Music Performance.’ 1981. Journal of American Folklore 94(372):188-206.

Stone, Ruth. 1998. ‘African Music in a Constellation of Arts.’ In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Volume 1: Africa, ed. Ruth M Stone, 7-12. New York: Garland.

How to Cite
SchragB. (2018). It was Never Just about the Music: How Artistic Communication Genres Could Liberate Ethnomusicology. The International Journal of Traditional Arts, 2. Retrieved from
Policy and Briefings Section