post-conference vibes

So, first off, the big news: the book is in! I sent the full manuscript to my editor last Wednesday, the day before heading to Boston for the annual American Musicological Society (AMS) conference. It is now off my plate for some TBD amount of time, as it undergoes peer review. In the coming weeks, I’ll focus on some book-related matters like permissions, and other research projects, and teaching stuff. (I’m redesigning the music appreciation course I teach for next semester, so there’s a decent chance that I’ll be talking pedagogy in this newsletter soon enough, we shall see.)

In other news: the AMS meeting was really, really great.

80% of that can be accounted for, I think, in getting to see a lot of my friends whom I haven’t seen in a year (since I skipped the Society for American Music conference last spring). Seeing grad school and other friends is easily the best part of AMS, and I think it’s probably the main reason that most other folks want to attend.

5% of what made the Boston meeting great was that I thought my paper on Bang on a Can and the post-Górecki record industry in the ‘90s went well, and I got some good questions afterwards. It was part of an excellent panel with Andrea Moore and Marianna Ritchey, and the papers worked well together. The great Zoë Madonna livetweeted the whole thing:

The other 15% of what made AMS great was a bit more nebulous, and much more important than the other 85% of why I had a good weekend. A lot of people kept saying that it felt like a different AMS, in a good way, and I’d agree. As a scholar, I’m not one to lean into Zeitgeist-y forms of analysis — some people saying something felt unusual doesn’t always mean that it actually was unusual. (“This is a great time for new music!” is a statement that one can make in 2018, 2008, 1998, 1988, 1978, etc etc., but that doesn’t mean that one time is a greater time for new music than any other; you need more data points.) But there seemed to be a growing consensus that something was in the air. And a few things stood out to me:

1) Maybe the most interesting line-up of papers being presented since I’ve attended AMS. Look at the program; lots of cool stuff! Hardly any of it was directly related to my research, but so much looked, and was, really fascinating. Chalk it up to the great work of the program committee, and also to the fact that, two years ago, we thankfully switched to 20-minute papers. I didn’t see a lot of papers, but the ones I caught were really excellent: Dale Chapman on Warner, Nonesuch, and corporate financialization; Alexander Cowan on eugenics, Spotify, and Ancesty.com; Victoria Aschheim on David Lang’s the public domain; Emily MacGregor on Kurt Weill and, well, trains; Braxton Shelley on gospel ontologies; Amy Coddington on gender and ‘90s rap on the radio. There was a lot of stuff I really wanted to see but couldn’t, most especially Tammy Kernodle’s keynote, which overlapped directly with my own panel. And then there was Marian Wilson Kimber’s amazing elocution recital, which I caught a bit of, though alas not the fan portion.

2) A different vibe. Can’t really articulate what this was about, but everyone seemed friendly, and everyone was talking about how it seemed like a friendlier AMS. A prominent scholar told me that he had brought a suit and tie, as he usually does, but decided not to wear it since things seemed more casual than previous years. There seemed to be more tweeting than ever. (I mostly wasn’t reading it; I’m steering mostly clear, still, these days.) I had a lot of really great conversations with grad students about their research. I heard a lot of generous but still inquisitive questions asked after papers. I also went trick-or-treating with my nephews on Thursday night, which honestly may have just given the weekend a bit more of a pleasant glow for me personally. Also, I got the most incredible, kind, amazing gift ever: a sampler made by Destinee Siebe, based on this Twitter thread. It will hang in my office forever.

3) A changing AMS. The business meeting that wraps everything up on Saturday night, which is always a little too long and also always a crucial part of the fabric of what we do, summed up a feeling of difference. Everyone knows that Suzanne Cusick is a force to be reckoned with as a scholar, and she’s the president now, and she’s doing serious work to make the society better. We had to grapple with a tremendous loss in recent months — the sudden death of Bob Judd, the benevolent force whose incredible work as the society’s executive director has touched just about every musicologist in the country. There were other losses, too, in the past year — the kindhearted Michael Pisani, the groundbreaking American music oral historian Vivan Perlis, and one of my predecessors at Maryland, the Renaissance scholar Richard Wexler. The gravity of the losses — and the enormous work that the organizers had to do in the wake of Bob’s passing — gave some sense of collective effort to the proceedings.

Maybe it was just me, but the prizes that were given seemed to gesture towards something changing, too: Daniel Callahan’s amazing Cage/Cunningham article won both the Philip Brett award and the Alfred Einstein award; Gabrielle Cornish (who just wrote a great Ustvolskaya article!) got an AMS 50 fellowship and won the student paper prize. And my advisor, Mark Katz, announced a bunch of changes for next year’s conference in Minneapolis that might seem inconsequential if you’re not a member of the AMS but radical if you are, including no more evening sessions (this is huge! now we can eat dinner!), and a new abstract review process that will hopefully make paper submissions more equitable.


I think I’m probably forgetting about 90% of what happened at AMS that was interesting, but I’m still operating on post-conference brain, so I’ll leave it there.

Georgia did miss me, and I missed her.