Collections: Anthony Guest-Scott - The EVIA Digital Archive Project

The Social Construction of Knowledge and Culture in U.S. Middle Eastern Music and Dance Pedagogical Events (2007)

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Campers pause to perform in place during the traditional processional down the hill from the Dining Hall to the Dance Hall on the final day of the Mendocino Middle Eastern Music and Dance Camp, California, 2008. Image © Anthony Guest-Scott.

This collection emerged from multi-sited doctoral dissertation fieldwork on Middle Eastern music and dance learning in the United States, with a particular focus on camps, retreats, and seminars. These events include a wide variety of structures for participatory engagement and interaction, including group classes, private lessons, highly choreographed staged performances, more informally organized performances, and student ensemble concerts. The collection reflects this range of activities and also includes personal interviews with event participants. The ten hours included here were all filmed in 2007 at two different music camps, but were selected from a total of sixty-three hours of video recorded at four different research sites between the summer of 2006 and the fall of 2008.

Contemporary life in the United States offers a broad range of contexts organized to provide individuals expressive encounters with cultural Others. Ethnographic study of such contexts has often centered on engagement in tourism, festivals, and the like, but should also include events that are organized as highly participatory modes of expressive learning: music camps, retreats, seminars, and the like. People living in the United States are currently exploring one Other of prominent and enduring fascination by learning to perform at just such events: the culture and music of the Middle East. The focus of this research is to explore these events in terms of the institutional structures, categories of thought and orders of musical experience, and individual meanings that, emerging through participant interaction, simultaneously shape and are shaped by the processes of knowledge acquisition and expressive encounters with cultural Others at their center. The four events I chose as the focus of this research include the Mendocino Middle Eastern Music and Dance Camp at Mendocino Woodlands, CA, the Folk Tours Middle Eastern Music and Dance Camp at Camp Greenlane in Montgomery County, PA, Simon Shaheen's Arabic Music Retreat at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA, and the Heartland Seminar on Arabic Music at the DeKoven Center in Racine, WI.

These events vary in terms of the presence or absence of dance along with instruction on musical instruments, and in the range of musical genres represented. Some of them attempt to cover a wide range of North African and Middle Eastern folk, popular, and classical forms music and dance forms, while others focus specifically on Arabic classical instrumental and song forms. Nevertheless, they all share the following features: 1) attendees tend to be middle-class white North Americans (mostly from the United States), though there are certainly "heritage learners" attending in significant numbers at particular events; 2) the dance and music instructors are usually residents of the United States of Middle Eastern descent; 3) the events are all highly ephemeral; that is, they occur annually, last from four days to one week, and then disband until the following year's reiteration.

This collection is currently in production and is not yet available to the public.

Image © Rebecca Guest-Scott

Anthony Guest-Scott is a PhD candidate in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University with a minor in Anthropology. His research interests include music teaching and learning, cognition and classification, popular music forms, popular and scholarly conceptions of culture and modernity as social forces, and music of the Middle East and the United States. He is currently completing dissertation fieldwork with people in the United States who are learning Middle Eastern music and dance, with a particular focus on those who do so through extended engagements in camps, retreats, seminars, and the like. He co-edited the book Over the Edge: Pushing the Boundaries of Folklore and Ethnomusicology (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007) with colleagues Rhonda Dass, J. Meryl Krieger, and Adam Zolkover.

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