Kate: Ethnomusicology

Kate. Faces of the Festival 2019. Photo by Steven Meckler

When I was very small, like three, the San Diego Symphony had a Sunday afternoon family concert series. And at the end of them they’d always have instrument petting zoos. The musicians would bring out their relatively decrepit, not-very-important instruments, and kids could try them out. Everyone always want to try the trumpet and I always wanted to try the violin. I started asking my parents if I could play the violin. My mom said, Well, we have a piano. I said, it’s awfully big. I started learning the violin at the age of six, and I am still a violinist. I was learning the classical tradition and then discovered that there was folk music in the United States, that Appalachian and Old Time styles existed. Then I found Celtic music. I went to college and discovered Japanese taiko and kept playing it and still play it when I can. I went to grad school and discovered that that was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to music. So that’s the very short story of how I became an ethnomusicologist. Music is a microcosm of culture. It shows us who we are as individuals and members of society. We can understand other people in societies by listening, learning to perform other musics. It’s integral to who we are. Scholars in my field don’t hesitate to say it’s a universal phenomenon. There are many cultures that don’t have a word for music, but we have culturally significant sound. Almost every human community that’s ever been contacted or encountered has such a practice. It is something that seems to be very deeply human.


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