Season 3: Ep. 8-9: Possibilities of Who We Be: Gamelan, A Cappella, and Agency
In this podcast, we take a tour with Dr. Brent Talbot of Balinese gamelan and American collegiate a cappella through the lens of agency, performativity, and leisure. Exploring diverse cultures of Bali and the US, we ask questions of how we construct agency and stories of our performances in collectivist and individualistic contexts. Our performances of gender, sexuality, and identity are often rooted within larger frameworks and can be liberated from these frameworks in exploring new ways of being through musical practices..
Key words: Gamelan, a cappella, agency, performativity, identity, desa-kala-patra, Balinese, Bali, identity, gender, sexuality, leisure, volition, lifelong music
Brent C. Talbot has been a leading voice for change in the field of music education. A prolific author and frequent presenter, Talbot’s work examines power, discourse, and issues of justice in varied settings for music learning around the globe. He is the editor of one of the best selling books in music education, Marginalized Voices in Music Education (Routledge), the curator of an indigenous-centering resource, Gending Rare: Children’s Songs and Games from Bali (GIA), and co-author of the acclaimed book Education, Music, and the Lives of Undergraduates: Collegiate A Cappella and the Pursuit of Happiness (Bloomsbury).
Prior to his appointment as Professor and Head of Music at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Talbot served for twelve years as Coordinator of Music Education at the Sunderman Conservatory of Music at Gettysburg College.
1. What does agency look like in a healthy music classroom? In a healthy school? What is the relationship of agency to peacebuilding?
2. We often believe that agency is the ability of an individual to make decisions for themselves without duty (dharma) or care for others. To what extent is collectivism at odds with modern ideas of agency? How might someone find agency from being committed to the constraints of community?
3. What is agency within ecological frameworks of interdependence, such as that introduced by Talbot in Meong-Meong?
4. What can be learned from Indonesian gamelan regarding the performance of collectivism and community?
5. Talbot speaks of his decision to say “Yes” after being in Bali and how his drive to succeed at first interrupted relationship. What does it mean to open ourselves to “Yes” as we encounter the Other?
6. How might our study of our volitional choices tell us about how we relate and construct meaning and spaces?
7. The notion of performativity is one that speaks to how we perform roles within social structures and systems. How do you sense your own performances taking place within social customs, social structures, and systems?
8. In the study of Mantie and Talbot, how did a cappella choirs open spaces where agency could flourish? How did these same a cappella choirs simultaneously constrain identities from heteronormative, privileged, and patriarchal frameworks?
8. The notion of performativity also has a liberatory turn, where we might question that scripts that structure our lives and enact performances that open new horizons of who we are and who we might be. How might we enter music and the arts to perform ourselves into new ways of being?
9. What is the interrelationship between story (narrative), performance, and identity?
1:52 Dedication to Agency
12:10 Ethics of Gamelan
16:13 Partnerships of Voice
21:28 Inquiry Inspired Teaching
22:32 Made Taro
22:59 Diverse Representations
24:17 Gettysburg Children’s Choir
25:02 Collectivist Agency
36:13 Colotomic Cycle
36:53 Collective Energy
2:01 What Drew Them
5:26 Lifelong Music Making
7:38 Gender and Sexuality
12:02 Addressing Harm
14:52 Implications for Schools
23:03 Convocation Speech
31:04 Who We Be
Conkling, S. W. (2018). Socialization in the Family: Implications for music education. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 36(3), 29-37.
Conkling, S. W., & Conkling, T. L. (2018). I’m the one who’s here: An experienced music teacher, a low-income school, and arts participation as reform strategy. Music Education Research, 20(4), 517-530.
Gold, L. (2005). Music in Bali: Experiencing music, expressing culture. Oxford University Press.
Mantie, R., & Smith, G. D. (2017). Grasping the jellyfish of music making and leisure. In The Oxford Handbook of Music Making and Leisure (pp. 223-240). Oxford University Press.
Mantie, R., & Talbot, B. (2020). Education, music, and the lives of undergraduates. Bloomsbury Academic.
Talbot, B. C. (2018). Marginalized voices in music education. Routledge.
Talbot, B. C. (2017). Gending raré: Children’s songs and games from Bali. Chicago: GIA Publications. https://www.balimusicbook.com/
Brent Talbot Website: http://www.brentctalbot.com/
Gamelan Gita Semara: https://gamelangitasemara.weebly.com/
Gamelan Gita Semara
2013 Convocation Speech
Transcript Part 1
music, agency, space, bali, people, gamelan, ways, students, talbot, teacher, lives, learning, education, work, peacebuilding, songs, balinese, susan, notion, write
Brent Talbot, Kevin Shorner-Johnson
Brent Talbot 00:00
It's that notion that musicianship can be stronger when we all get together to work on this and that we all value, things that we bring to the table. And so our agency is tied to this interdependence between participants so that we can you know, and everybody has some strengths and some weaknesses and we're stronger together than we are individually.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 00:27
You are listening to season three of the music and peacebuilding podcast, a professional development network at music peacebuilding.com Exploring intersections of peacebuilding, sacredness, community, creativity and imagination through research and story. Brent C. Talbot has been a leading voice for change in the field of music education, a prolific author and frequent presenter Talbot's work examines power, discourse and issues of justice in varied settings for music learning around the globe. He is the editor of one of the best selling books in music education, marginalized voices and music education, the curator of an indigenous centering resource, Gending Rare children's songs and games from Bali, and co author of the acclaimed book: education music in the lives of undergraduates, collegiate acapella in the pursuit of happiness. Prior to his appointment as professor and head of Music at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Talbot served for 12 years as coordinator of music education at the Sunderman Conservatory of Music at Gettysburg College. So I want to enter into agency, because your scholarship speaks in so many different ways to agency. And within this work, I think I can draw a line between your scholarship but also your approach to teaching and being whether I think about your work with children's choir or teaching students. And so I think I wanted to open this conversation just to understand if there was a story about how you became a teacher who believes in holding space for agency and voice.
Wow, that's a great question. I, I had, I really didn't understand the word agency until I was into my grad program, Miss Susan Conkling. And I was working on my dissertation. And she said, and those of you who don't know, Susan Conklin, she was just a Maven of incredible musicianship and teaching, and was my dissertation advisor at the Eastman School of Music. And I was working on a research study on an eighth grade, urban females in school and out of school learning. And I looked at her participation as a singer in an all black Evangelical, children's choir, in her church setting. And then also her participation in her eighth grade urban school music program, and how radically different those two spaces were. And Susan started using the word agency. And I had never heard the word before. And I felt really embarrassed, she's like, oh, it just means choice. Or that's how she framed it simply for me at the time and and then it became kind of the the word I saw everywhere, after, you know, when you when you don't know something, and then suddenly somebody introduces it to you, and you realize it's been you've been swimming in it your whole life. And so, and then I was reading all of this sociological work, and philosophical work, and people kept talking about agency. And then, and then my work with Roger Mantie extended that a lot, because he's he, he's deep into philosophy. And Susan was the one who introduced us, she had just moved on to Boston University, and Roger was a new hire there. And so we both were into discourse analysis and wanting to know, power and privilege and control and and how that intersected in a variety of different learning spaces, and instead of competing with one another in our publication process and things like that, about discourse analysis, the two of us were just like, we should do some stuff together. And so and so that that's how that all got interwoven. But I would say going back to the, to the beginning of that story that I was a teacher in the city school districts in Rochester. And it became very clear to me that my knowledge about music education was very different than my students knowledge about music at all, you know, and how they learn was very rich, but it wasn't the way that I had learned. And so I was just grasping for anything I could to have some relevancy in their lives and to connect what they loved and appreciated about the ways that they made music or consumed music. And I just was, so ill prepared to work in that environment, as a white male, upper class individual who grew up in a small town in New Hampshire with very little diversity outside of being Protestant or Catholic, so it was, it was pretty, it was pretty jarring. And I learned a lot and my students have, you know, in these kinds of stories, we hear how much they teach us. And I'm not sure how I, I know, I taught them a lot of really great things. But it was, it was mostly, for me a learning process to kind of really get to know who they were first and what they did on the weekends or in their basements or how they all made music, and then in the process to be like, hey, you know what, this is gonna be important. And for me, it allowed me to reflect on all of the ways that I made music outside of the School of Music and some of the challenges that I faced, as a student at Indiana University, where I did my undergrad, where I had grown up in a small town in New Hampshire and moved to this space, and everybody around me was just so much better. But I came from a space where I was the best, you know, like, a lot of undergrads face this moment, where they,
Brent Talbot 06:44
they've, they've been the kind of big star in their, in their region, and then suddenly, they're you, there's so much more, you realize, you have no clue. And so, I'm in being very humbled about that, but then also being very frustrated that I in the process of that formalized experience, I lost my passion and love for music. And, and I was very upset about that. So I, I found myself participating as in a Latin rock band. And, and that brought me so much joy, or, you know, my time in the marching band, you know, brought me a lot of joy. Or, I taught myself to be a DJ, on turntables. And, and I was a club kid I loved, I loved dancing, and I loved going out partying in these, like warehouses in the middle of nowhere, but I but I definitely that was where I had loved and connected with music most. And I realized that there was something very powerful in those spaces, that didn't always get reflected or understood or valued in school settings. And I knew how to do school music very well, both because I was a product of strong school music programs, and also a family that valued formal music education in ways that, you know, were more site based, and then aural based and, and that, you know, all of that kind of came to a head and I realized, oh, I can do these things too. And, and value those ways of music making. And Susan was very good at highlighting those for me and bringing those to the forefront. You know, when you go to for grad school, in a field, like music education, often you might think, Oh, I gotta continue this way. And that's what's gonna legitimize me in the eyes of all these other people. But she opened up all of those spaces for me, and really neat, compassionate, thoughtful, inquisitive ways that then led me down paths of doing research in that arena, because she could tell that that's what meant the most for me and where I thrived in my own identity. More so than say, being a classical pianist, which I also love doing, but it was different. And also for me it’s the relationships in much the ways that Karen Hendricks writes about in her compassionate music teaching or that way that Juliet Hess writes in music education for social change ￼It's these it's these spaces and ideas about the ways that we we connect the relationships we make with students and their families and their worlds. So that we can, we can develop ways to change things and to do it without the need or assistance of others, to guide us, always in that process and That's where Roger and I really kind of dug into the acapella kind of book that you're referencing in terms of these ideas of agency. And, and the different ways that we theorize about what agency does and how school music can can work very much against the the the altruistic goals that we all write about in our music, philosophies, about, about developing lifelong music makers to go off and do these things. But the reality of how we do it often is the biggest barrier inhibitor. In the process of developing students who can be independent agential musicians In articles on student home lives and teacher burnout, Conkling wrote of diverse concerns of agency. Her examination of student home lives explores student voice, choice and representation within music curricula. In an article on teacher burnout and meaning making Conkling and Conkling ask what makes a teacher stay in contexts of high burnout and deficit labeling. The teacher they study speaks of her yearning for agency, time, resources and shared planning. agency may be a core part of what it means to belong, when we feel heard, valued, and have a welcoming space to make a difference. In my last interaction before Susan's passing, I remember hearing the words Great to see you, Kevin, those simple words from a prestigious scholar were a lifeline to my vulnerable sense of value, identifying that she remembered me from months prior, and that I might belong as a colleague. With her generosity, I see and feel the connection and interaction of belonging, relation trust and dignity and confidence within agency.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 12:03
Yeah, I want to get get to the acapella section on the segment, and I did notice the lovely dedication to Susan at the beginning of the acapella book. So let's start with gamelan first and Balinese children's songs and then work our way back to acapella. So, I want to start first with the ethics of this resource. So you've created this resource for GIA publications, to introduce Balinese children's folk songs within classrooms and activities. But as we talk about voice, I wondered if you would first talk about your decisions to make it an ethical resource. So you've worked with the voices of illustrators and collectors within Bali, you've developed multiple representations of music, whether it be on a street corner with guitar or whether it be in a children's playground, you've empowered children to teach us pronunciations. So talk about your decisions to produce an ethical resource that shares agency maybe.
Brent Talbot 13:05
I, yes, this was so crucial for me, as an ethnomusicologist, and a music education person, I really just was unhappy with the multiculturalism or multicultural approach in music education, which has very good well meaning roots, but I think are quite dangerous, and often recenter dominance of, of a wide variety of types of isms. And I I wanted to do something different. I wanted to, to not center the teacher in the learning process, but to really live, what I preach. And at Gettysburg over the past 12 years has been central to my thinking, I've really fully embraced a critical pedagogy approach a Freirian model, and asked my students to join me in that and so you know, drawing upon readings, like, pedagogy of the oppressed, or, you know, looking through a critical lens like Henry Giroux's work does or bell hooks Teaching to Transgress these, these texts are what guide our thinking and, and I realized breaking down the relationships between student and teacher and teacher, and student, you know, just really kind of have this much more horizontal approach rather than a vertical approach to learning where we inquire together and that really the role of the teacher becomes about Thinking critically and deeply about questions that matter. And I thought to myself when I went to Bali, how difficult that was going to be, as a white researcher from North America coming into the space and trying to promote indigenous forms of learning, especially a space that's that's, that is partly different in in its kind of history of colonization, but that the roots of colonization are so deeply entrenched in the ways that people in those spaces also think. And so I wanted to find a compassionate way where students could learn alongside their teachers and that the teachers didn't have to be the the conduit or the central knowledge bearer for for the students in the in American classrooms or just classrooms outside of Bali, it didn't really matter. And so when I went into that space I worked with, I KETUT GEDE ASNAWA who was my mentor, and a person who I did wrote my dissertation on, I wanted to understand the challenges it was for being a man or a person coming from, from Bali, with this history of this musical practice. And then to uproot that and put it into an American university institutional setting, and what it does to one's psyche and identity, and the ways that one has to negotiate and code switch on all of the layers, whether it be language or music switching, you know, that all of these things had to constantly be negotiated. So I when I entered that space, I wanted to work with him, and also as a way of honoring his knowledge that he taught me and how we can kind of bring all of that to in really accessible ways to students and teachers in outside of Bali. And he introduced me to Made Taro, who was this magical figure like a Mr. Rogers, he has his own TV show. It's kind of special and and that collaboration really led to kind of making some choices about how can, how can we, how can we use music to really teach about this space if you've never been here? So I led with that question. And we developed, we chose 14 songs that would specifically by just singing them or learning about them, we could understand what it was like to navigate some of that space a little bit better. And some of the creative ways that I thought about doing it was just you know, we need to use multimedia in all of this. But we need a rich visual component. So I worked with visual artists that a number of I kind of proposed this idea to a number of them and crowdsource that people came in from all over the place. And so I found two great artists to from Neverland, who just blew my mind with what they could create. And then I worked with videographers that I had known for a number of years from many visits there. And we went to the schools, where Made Taro taught and filmed his his Bali TV show that airs on Sundays to the whole island. And these families were just very generous and excited to kind of share and so we, we chose those, we signed them, and then I worked and I edited all the videos so that when we watched them, no matter who you were anywhere around the world, that you could figure out the rules of the game pretty quickly, because I've spent a lot of time with children and I, and I watched them play. And they work and how they organize themselves. And in the process, you know, like they, they are very good at establishing rules and understanding rules and setting up all these kinds of these guidelines. And when we get out of the way, a lot of beautiful music, making a lot of beautiful social organizing all kind of comes to life. And so I thought, let's just do this through video. Let's do this through. Let's have them think about it. And so instead of the teacher being like, here are the five rules that you need to know about this game, to instead situate it differently and say here are Here's a video of some students playing a game in Bali. do you what do you think the rules are? Let's watch this together and see if we can figure it out.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 19:46
In Talbot's publication of Gending Rare, he introduces Meong Meong a cat and mouse game set to music. As the cat chases the mouse and a dance of ecological balance Talbot writes that the song and ceremony reminds us that we need to, quote, behave in a way that restores balance to the world. Listen, as children and Made Taro enter the joyful musical play of Meong Meong [music]
Brent Talbot 21:20
And to take this inquiry based approach and problem posing approach rather than this direct teaching kind of, you know, expert knowledge positionality and really just changes the whole game, in my opinion. And then there's a you know well great, most teachers have not been to Bali they don't know how to pronounce. And if they have, they're unlikely to have actually learned in the local language. A Basa Bali so they, you know, to have young children slowly do the video of the pronunciation so that the teacher can then just pause it and say repeat after this child. Let the Balinese be the one who teaches you how to pronounce their own language rather than, you know, have to work really hard or to butcher it, you know, in some way. So. So those are the ways that I thought through the ethics to answer your question, and a long winded response is that I really felt that I needed to step aside and think deeply about what I could do that would allow people to show their own their own culture, and to present it in interesting ways.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 22:31
In one interview, Made Taro commented that he was saddened when he saw children who are without the imagination of play, making a toy propeller and flying a kite to awaken children's imaginations. Made Taro commented, I was so happy to see them playing I forgot that I was old, watching Made Taro as a cultivator of play, I embrace the beauty of his continuing legacy. With the diversity of Talbots representations we turn to a street recording of Meong Meong followed by a child sharing the pronunciations of this song Our acknowledgement of diverse ways of musicking and being open a freedom of imagination and creativity. [music]
[child pronouncing words to Meong Meong]
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 24:17
A recording of the Gettysburg Children’s Choir performing songs from the collection. This excerpt was arranged by Matt Carlson and edited by Brent Talbot. Matt Carlson is currently a teacher at Bermudian Springs School District and is the artistic director for the Gettysburg Children’s Choir. [music] So I'm really interested about my own bias and the bias within the United States about what we think agency is. Um, so if, you know, I would speak from my own bias that I think for a long time, I believed that agency is my individual right to make my own decisions or determinations, and here we are encountering a culture that we might describe as being more collectivist. And many of these songs talk about interdependence and collectivism. And so if I think too about concepts like suka duka, Happy Together sad together, or desa, kala patra, this appropriate time, place circumstance, these ideas that our lives are being constrained in some ways by collectivism. I guess the question, this is a really impossible question, is their agency in collective voice? And what what have you learned from Balinese music making both in Gettysburg and abroad that might speak to collective agency?
Brent Talbot 26:05
Again, deep, I, yeah, Bali changed everything for me. I have lived there for for many, many summers. And then had the pleasure of living there and on sabbatical and 2014, to write that resource. And I went there with the mindset of the sense of urgency, because, you know, we had this limited time that we needed to, you know, that I needed to collect these things, to write this thing to do the institutional expectations of getting tenure and all the stress about all the you know, those pressures. And I just know, I remember people would ride their mopeds up to, to my, to [???] home, where I was staying, and, and I, they, the family, they had put a little makeshift table with a chair, because most people don't sit in chairs and boys, it was like, they call it canto-a Brent, which is Brent's office. And, and it was, you know, it was right out the front. Because the, our notion of what a home looks like is very different. It's ??? more fluid and open air. And so I had the space that I had dedicated around my laptop, and I would I would sit for hours writing and doing this this work, and people would come in, they were curious, or they'd come up and ride a moped up and they'd be like, Hey, how are you? We're gonna go to this event, do you want to come? And I say, No, I have to do this work. And I think it was about like, a week in that I finally it was like, you're an idiot. Like, what do you mean, I can't go to this event, because I'm writing? That's the whole point of here is to immerse yourself in this culture and to get as much information and understanding deep understanding so that you can, again, ethically write about the space and these and the ways that people music here. So I just then I just changed my entire approach and said, Yes!, anytime somebody came and said, Do you want to go do this? I said, Yes. And, and so that, that led me on this beautiful journey of witnessing the most incredible behind the scenes, living experiences, you know, things that people you know, just participating in middle of the night ceremonies called Jala Narangs? that where people are all in like trance and seeing the, you know, the sky on fire or whatever, you know, just like these things that you I can't even explain and it's hard to get people to rationalize if they've not been in that space. And and when I do describe it, it sounds like I was on a, doing a lot of drugs, which I don't do so. So it's hard to kind of really articulate in ways that unless you've been there, you you understand it, but but in the process, I started to understand better what collective agency meant, because we do have this rugged individualism that guides our existence. And the structures are built around this independence, and this notion of, of independent, but people live in homes and they care. And there's this really, skala??? is a notion of service, these organizations that, that you're kind of your family you participate in, because your family has been good at doing it for generations. And so because your grandparents or grandparents are doing it, you've learned the skills to do it and you pass it on. But there's a group of people who do them and they may they may be something like the Gamelan is is this type of service organization that when somebody has a major event in their lives that need celebrating and needs music, then people just show up and they do it. And it's the villages kind of gamelan group that does this or the ska??. And in this one for like the subak, which are the, the irrigation canals that, that provide water to every rice farmer from the highest mountain all the way down to the sea, and, and that they need to be cleaned out regularly. So there is a group of people who go around making sure that the waterways are clean and, and being able to flow the water sources throughout the island. And there are others who gather to chop meat and spices and vegetables for a ceremony. And, you know, so we might have a caterer or something like that, well, there they you buy a bunch of the stuff, and then you know, it's a party and 20 people show up and start chopping things for you. So it's um, but this is all part of this kind of notion of service, that that that helps keep things going. And in the process, you know, when you have a ceremony, everyone's invited, and so everyone's fed regularly like it. That's not to say that there isn't homelessness or that there isn't, you know, food scarcity, for a lot of people in Bali, there's certainly that people are living in impoverished ways. But my experience was seeing a lot of generosity of always having a space to sleep and a place to eat, and a meal that, you know, it might not be luxurious, it might not be the most healthy to eat, or whatever. But like people are, people are providing these things in different ways that I just don't necessarily always see in, in US cultural spaces. All of that led me to understand that there was this energy behind the scenes, that govern ways that we, that we perceive the world and understand how we can kind of grow and develop and help. And to and to change, and with that, there's also restrictions and heavy expectations. And so agency is difficult to conceptualize. If we only use a Western framework of agency, then then it tends to be within an individualized kind of component, but there can be some power behind this broader, imaginary, this bigger duty, and it fits in well within Agama Hindu beliefs, because Dharma is your duty, your duty to your family your duty to your, to your community, your duty to your nation. And, and that that sense is, you know, whether we want to do it or not, sometimes we just have to step up and kind of make it happen. And so there's that there is that pressure, but it doesn't, I don't always get the sense that people think about it. Critically in those ways, in the same ways that we might, you know, kind of separate the individual from herself from from the group
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 33:22
notions of Dharma are fundamental to Hindu traditions. Dharma is our Connected sense of duty. That is the cornerstone of relation where I feel the tug of my duty as a father, partner, and teacher. For definitions of agency that need complete freedom. This sense of duty can be a constraint that feels like a closing of possibility. But for new definitions, ones where we need each other in communities of listening and sounding voice, the tension of freedom-constraint, may offer expansive possibilities.
Brent Talbot 34:00
And so it changes our notions and so in gamelan, you know, in my own experience of as a musician, I'm constantly seeing how we connect these together and the Gamelan is a beautiful instrumental ensemble in in that it, it represents all of these tenants from the cultural spaces. So karma and dharma and reincarnation are all represented in the very fabric of the music itself and in the instruments and so the gong cycle, as one example is a representation of, of of reincarnation. It's often it on on an eight beat cycle, though not always. And the counting would start with the last number. So instead of starting with one we start with 81234567, the gang would hit on eight and when we're playing it from a Western perspective We might count it one, two, you know, hit the gong on one. But it's, it's, it's different. Because the end is the beginning and the beginning is the end. And we have the cyclical nature of the whole process. But we also understand that in reincarnation, you know, for a Hindu, that's one of the biggest moments of one's life is one's death. Because you're, you're being reborn into a new, a new level. And, you know, in relation to you have to take into consideration karma and the other kind of elements that that play along, but it's giving good out into the world and receiving it, you know, in that bounty, you know, comes for life cycles. It's not just, it's just not the here and now. And so we see that in the gong, and dharma is related in the kind of duty or the interconnectedness that happens with the interlocking kotekan, or the hocketing kind of musical patterns that happened between two instruments to create a whole composite pattern. And it's, that's both horizontal and vertical and kind of harmonic and melodic ways. So it's, it's, um, we see how we see how these tenants play out in the ensemble itself, which I think is always fascinating.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 36:14
Lisa Gold introduces the colotomic cycle, as a fundamental structure of gamelan, constructed as an interdependent sequence of tones and timbres, the colotomic cycle sounds circular time where the past is played into the present. [music]
Brent Talbot 36:53
And that, to me means that to, to work towards this bigger goal requires collective energy, when I'm running our gamelan the beginning years were so difficult because nobody had a context to grab on to. And now the Gamelan, at Gettysburg has been around for 12 years, half of the ensemble or community members are alumni who've been playing for for years, and just their knowledge and their ability of understanding how this some of this or maybe we play past pieces that have been performed before. Having that in the room, the newer learners can pick up so quickly, and it's and it's different. But there's an element in Bali that I always found fascinating that, you know, somebody's just starts lining out something and then everybody just starts, you know, collectively remembering how this piece emerges or they feel or they can they have the codes to start to kind of disseminate what the harmonies would be and how to hramonize. And it's similar what I've seen, in my time, in Tanzania, working with youth choirs there, you know, who are who are totally all student run, no adult leaders, you know, and somebody say, oh, let's do this thing and line it out. And then suddenly, like, eight apart, harmony is like erupting, and everybody just kind of saying, you know, starts accompanying and different things. And it's, it's that notion that musicianship can be stronger. When we all get together to, to work on this, and that we all value, things that we bring to the table. And so our agency is tied to this interdependence between, between participants, so that we can, you know, and everybody has some strengths and some weaknesses and, but we're stronger together than we are individually. And that I think, is really, really a powerful component that we don't often think about. Or if we do, we don't design it in ways where there's this kind of, you know, evening out to power dynamics or hierarchies. Instead of having like the director standing at the front teaching you and feeding you all of this information that can often be inhibiting rather than being like, hey, you know, I remember this, it goes this way. What do you think we should do in these particular elements and people add, it's the more improvisatory Yes and game you know.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 39:22
The delicate dance of freedom and responsibility is the life of community. May our possibilities for voice and choice be held by the interdependence of listening. Special thanks to Dr. Brent Talbot for his permission to use recordings from Gending Rare children's songs and games from Bali. The book is published by GIA publications and is a beautiful collection of accessible songs and games for general music classrooms. The next episode in this series, will continue our exploration of agency as we place Mantie and Talbot's research on acapella singing side by side with a continuing examination of Balinese collectivist agency. This is the music and peacebuilding podcast hosted by Kevin Shorner-Johnson. At Elizabethtown college we host a master of music education with an emphasis in peacebuilding. thinking deeply, we reclaim space for connection and care. Join us at music peace building.com
Transcript Part 2 - Episode 9
music, people, structure, talbot, space, acapella, lives, education, peacebuilding, bali, agency, podcast, feel, heteronormative, deeply, ways, perform, community, questions, story
Brent Talbot, Kevin Shorner-Johnson, Talbot Convocation
Brent Talbot 00:00
Because Judith Butler's writing this through the lens of of Lifetime's of oppression of not being able to perform you know and then to see in other ways that there can be some elements of performativity that then can be empowering, I think is also important and that it's liberatory you know in a kind of a Freirean sense that we want to build a structure an environment where we can actualize our humanity fully.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 00:25
You are listening to season three of the music and peacebuilding podcast, a professional development network at music peacebuilding.com Exploring intersections of peacebuilding, sacredness, community, creativity and imagination. Through research and story Brent C Talbot has been a leading voice for change in the field of music education, a prolific author and frequent presenter. Talbots work examines power, discourse and issues of justice in varied settings for music learning around the globe. This podcast looks at his newest text along with Roger Mantie education music in the lives of undergraduates, collegiate acapella and the pursuit of happiness, and layers this conversation with continued journeys about agency and Balinese gamelan. Questions that tether this podcast include questions of agency and our volitional choices to pursue music as leisure. In the Oxford Handbook of leisure and music education, Mantie and Smith. Note this area of study opens questions about how we relate how we construct meaning, and how we enter and construct spaces where, quote, music making is enabled, nurtured, challenged and sustained. As Mantie and Talbot spent roughly 10 years to study collegiate acapella singing, they opened important questions about volitional music making choice and influences of sexuality and gender on the structure of singing. Talbot speaks of what drew them to the study,
Brent Talbot 02:01
I think acapella provided a beautiful space for for, for us to think critically about the field of music education, because it it shows or demonstrated to us very clearly as we were doing interviews, because we kind of came out and we were just wanting to know, like, why do you do this? Why do you spend an exorbitant amount of time? Why do you spend six to eight hours a week? On your own working on this thing that has no like, it's not gonna show up in your transcript? It's not like, you know, what is? These were the questions that we were kind of more interested in. And in the process, what we recognized was that a lot of the students who participated had somehow participated in music programs prior. And were, were bringing some of that knowledge into their rehearsal practice, but but only from a vantage point of being like, you know, the teacher, they looked like they did this thing, so I'm going to try doing it, but they didn't really know the reasons or rationale for why it might help you. And what a warm up does, you know, rather than you know, so maybe you might not want to place that place in your registration, you know, any of that, you know, that. Or maybe you don't have to do the notes on the page, you can since its acapella you can just move it up to two half steps, and it might fit everyone's voices, but you know, just those basic elements that just were kind of missing. But they also conveyed and revealed all of the things that we do as music teachers that we think are coming through the don't necessarily come through, but maybe also kind of display the structures that that govern the participation of music making, and schools. So there's that we just, we just dove deeper and deeper and deeper. Initially, this was going to be like an article and then it just turned into this massive kind of book. That was a longitudinal study of, you know, 10 years of our life was that like, working with these groups so so in terms of leisure I, that was the the rationale for starting this project was to really kind of get at like, why would anyone spend as much time as they do on this? And how do they think about it, and everybody we interviewed, every single person we interviewed was like, I'm never gonna do this after college. There's like a time and a place for this and it is college, I'm gonna just call it collegiate acapella. It's, but then we re interviewed everybody we interviewed at the beginning of 2012. And they were all out of college in these big gigs. And not necessarily happy with their careers in were fully satisfied in their lives, you know, with just what their career was. And so these people who are articulate, like, ya know, there's a time and place for it and and it is only now, and I'm not really sure what I'll do musically afterwards, but I think that this is the end. You know, it's like this very depressing and sad response to be like, you know, we'll never play music again. And we're like, oh, Okay, and then we ask them later that almost every one of them sings or gigs or does something in their lives in some leisure music making endeavor, including some who are in acapella groups that are not Collegiate based, but are community based, and they're leading them and this kind of post college, cool, you know, like, thing, musical outlet that they take. And
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 05:25
I think you open up that really important point that if so many of our music education philosophies that we've formed, talk about lifelong music making, except none of us really examine if lifelong music making actually happens sometimes. And also putting together Bali against the United States right there, this the recognizing the ways in which our language in the United States compartmentalizes music, like music is the thing you do at this time. Whereas many other cultures, it's kind of it's through the fabric of your life.
Brent Talbot 06:01
Yes, Bali, definitely, it is embedded in the fabric. And we do and I would say music in America is also embedded in the fabric of what we do. But I think it's the institutional. It's the institutional participation and the way that we structure that we start to remove it, which is why then, when we interview people, as researchers in higher ed, we ask them, you know, like, or we just casually or at a party, and we're talking to somebody and we're like, you know, like, oh, well, what do you what do you do? Well, I, you know, do all these different things. And they start to list all the musical activities that they do, like, I play guitar, and I sing in my church, you know, it's like, but I'm not a musician. Yes, is the follow up, you know, it's a follow up. And I'm like, wow, you literally just listed the three musical things you do, but you don't label yourself a musician because we've created an envir- or structure where, unless you study it formally, to a point where you're going to be a professional, whatever that might mean. Even people who are gigging and have like, bar gigues on the weekends, or whatever they're doing, you know, they're like, Yeah, but I'm not a musician. But you play more than most of the musicians I know, you know, it's like, so I think that's, yeah, that's, that's exactly right. When we have these philosophies, statements, that, that do this, but often we get in the way, and we is because the structure of participation is so rigid. And as design, you know, it just starts spitting people out and separating them and so people just don't see themselves as music makers, even though they may be
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 07:36
So gender and sexuality. So your book names that in some ways this this was not going to be like the primary topic of this book. However, as you did your study, it feels like the middle of the book just started growing, as you're really finding out about how much acapella has to say about gender and sexuality. And so I would I want to name that you found structures that reinforced gender binaries, you found that male singers may be gendered and sexualized as both effeminate and hyper masculine at the same time. You found unquestioned inequalities between all male groups and all female groups, and sometimes those unquestioned even continued years after the people stopped being in acapella. So open up this topic for us gender, sexuality, and acapella
Brent Talbot 08:27
Well, as I said, Roger, his research areas, avocational and leisure music. And I have spent a lot of my career looking at gender and sexuality. So it's, it's not a surprise that that that came into, into play into and I was also working through a lot in the in the marginalized voices. And when I was editing that book, thinking through inequality a lot. So that was the that was in the middle of this entire 10 year project. And I think one of the things that surprised both of us, and I mean, Roger is a student of Liz Gould, so he's, he's thanks very much and, and sees these inequalities too. So I don't mean to paint him in a way that he's not that's not something he thinks he thinks a great deal about that. And, and so I, I do think, for me, and Roger, we were just so disappointed in ourselves later as researchers because we were like, duh, how were we so naive from the very beginning that this wasn't going to be like a major part of our research? When people literally label themselves all hyphen, male or all hyphen female, and they create, you know, it's I don't know, I don't know why that was such a like a surprise and how deeply rooted all of this was. But it's so deeply rooted in heteronormativity and masculinity and of course, both of us as discourse analysts, we just, we had to kind of think in a Foucaultian or you're drawing upon Michel Foucault's work, you know, as a, as an understanding of these genealogies that lead to this his the historicity, you know, like the historical kind of like evolution of how we get to the space and time and place and continue to enact these inequalities and where they emerge from historically, you know, singing in collegiate Spaces got its root, in the early years of, it's about community building, it's the elements of privilege, males being able to attend university, you know, there were no women in colleges and universities in the 1700s. And even into much of the 1800s and, and even into the 1900s, you know, but like, so, then we have, we have these, then separate universities, these all female colleges and universities, and these all male colleges, you know, and then they have these like, sister brother kind of relations, you know, and these are the ways that the upper class sent their, you know, their, their children to study a variety of things or to become gentlemen or women of upper society. And, and these are the ways that people practiced navigating those spaces, whether it be learning specific quadrilles, or, you know, dances, you know, social dances, or whether they were singing, you know, and swooning one another, you know, a different, these are the, these are the roots of that tradition. And of course, then you bring in minstrelsy, you know, and entertainment, you bring in things like barbershop histories, there's, there's a whole element that kind of evolves, and then people, you know, often don't think critically and deeply about how what they're doing is perpetuating some kind of form of, of harm.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 12:01
To address harm, we need to study the architecture of firmly embedded structures of privilege, patriarchy, and heteronormative frameworks to understand how the past is played into the present through new forms of participation.
Brent Talbot 12:18
And then the rhetoric that we heard over and over again, emerges not only in Mickey Rabkin's book Pitch Perfect, and the movies themselves, you know, which is kind of like, farcical components of it, but there's so much truth embedded in that space, and how those also get, you know, seen in our, in our research, is that, you know, female sets are seen as shrill and undesirable, and male, you know, because they have the base suddenly, like, it's really, it's like, that it's all just registration. I mean, there's so many beautiful elements of treble voices or lower voices, or mixed, you know, choral kind of experiences, I just find it amazing how people perpetuate or they do this, but they don't think critically like, Oh, this is totally rooted in this notion of male dominance or masculinity and, and so we see these played out too. And then there's the fear that all happens. This is where the sexuality kind of comes in. There's this fear of being in an all male acapella group of not being able to be out. And when I first started in 2012, yes, there were gay people in the choir, but they were not out and, and not at all the sets were about swooning women and courting women, you know, it's like it's all the songs were about this and etc. They do these acapella gram's here in for a fundraiser during Valentine's Day. And I, you could choose a number of love songs, and they would sing it to you, and you could you could even buy them like $5 or whatever, and you could buy them and they would sing them on your like, you know, on a answering machine or something. And I bought one, I bought one for my husband. And and it was and I said you choose, it doesn't matter. They all chose the song and they realized halfway through as they're singing it, it's all like, you know, these female references that they realize, it was like this perfect moment of discovering their own heteronormative framework, you know, and, and I and I'm speaking of agency, I gave them the full choice to choose whatever song they wanted to sing. So it was it was just Yeah, it's these moments I think just revealed to me how often we move through these spaces and traditions without questioning why we do what we do or how we do what we do or how we do what we do can be problematic. I think this work is really special is that it reveals some of this for for the practices and traditions that we do in schools and how we might not think about the costuming choices that we have, or some of the selections of repertoire that might be positioning, you know, these kind of courtships and only heteronormative ways or, or the way that the arrangement itself my prioritize male or female, you know are the ways that often we're like so worried about recruiting men or boys into our choirs and, and ignoring the like, the amazing participants that are currently there who may be majority female, you know, or not, like, you know, or the ways that we have to kind of move beyond the binary separations here to think about how we, we understand and label and create spaces for people who are non binary to, or identify as trans who can participate and are participating and can be valued instead of constantly reminded and oppressed in these learning spaces about the structures that we live,
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 16:09
we live within structures that draw the lines, the boundaries of our performances of who we are. On one hand, Butler writes about how agency is constrained, as we may feel predetermined by enormous historical structures that form our being. On the other hand, Butler names a liberatory move, one where we have a power between the iterations. Talbot talks about performativity and agency, and how this became a theoretical frame for the study of acapella.
Brent Talbot 16:43
So performativity is a is an interesting thing, in that we, we've been born into this binary structure of seeing ourselves in opposition, but not understanding that we may live, and I would even argue that all of us live somewhere in between these, and that we live in these in between spaces, all the time. And that in each time that we move to a new space or place that we shift our identity or our perception of these ideas in those spaces, too. And so I joke with my friends, and I have this group of, of all straight men, friends who, who helped me open up a lake house in Vermont, that is my, owned by my parents. And we go up there, and I always, I always joke with them, I'm like, Oh, I'm going up to perform masculinity this weekend. Because in that space, it's, you know, our favorite things to do is to pull out a meat smoker and have great cheese and eat and drink, you know, amazing craft beers. And we are, you know, mostly in flannels, and, you know, and looking like an LL Bean catalog. And it's, and we're doing, you know, we're wielding chainsaws and drills, and we're, you know, with a lot of these things. And I think, you know, in that moment that like, I feel, authentically myself, like none other with this, this group of friends, they just, they mean the world to me, and they accept me fully as a gay man, I'm out fully like, but, but my masculinity can be fully on display, and that in that type of space, and that does not feel odd or weird to me. And at the same time, I can then go to South Beach, Miami with a bunch of, with my husband and two of our, like, best friends who are gay, and you know, and go enjoy a weekend, you know, and we just we go, we, on the flip side, say we're doing a gaycation, so, so I can have, I can have both of those things. And, and they are, they're all complex, and they are all me and I get to live in all those spaces. And I get to and, and on the, on the spectrum, I'm sliding in between these, you know, sometimes I might be more effeminate, in one space or another I might be more masculine in a different space I my sexuality comes to the forefront or or receives isn't as not as important. And all of those things, I think, play into this notion of performativity that we're always performing and that we may not always be thinking about that. And so there's a level of code switching that is occurring regularly. I love that complexity, I think it's one of the things to return to agency that, that I feel empowered by. And I know that my friends, parents who, you know, I think, whom I've grown up with, and we've gotten to know each other think differently about me in some ways, because as some of them said, like, you're just unabashedly out. And I'm like, like, like, I shouldn't be or something. It's like, Yeah, but like, I may have been the only person that they have met, who, who felt as comfortable as, as, you know, who is gay and feels as comfortable being gay around other, you know, it's like just being myself and, and that I'm just being me. But there's a power in me being me. And I think Judith Butler is advocating for that, in this description, and also warning us that we may be preventing ourselves from from living our fullest existences. In those spaces. Now, there's the dark side of the all of that, which is oppression, and where people cannot be that because there there are great risks to reveal those things, and they may induce harm, or it might, you know, depending on the kind of cultural space, I live a very privileged existence as an academic, I have navigated this world and put myself in places where I'm not always safe, but I don't feel at harm. And I know that others may not necessarily get get to do that, I also have the privilege of having a family that supports me and a group of friends that support me, and that has given me strength to be out as a model for my students, but also, for my colleagues. And I think that that is, that isn't always available to every person. And so the performativity can be, can be such that people have to perform things that they don't want to be, they may have to play the role of being masculine, when that may not feel comfortable to them. Or they may be more effeminate and times when they that may not feel comfortable to them. Or they may not be able to express their sexuality in any way, shape, or form or date or be you know, it's like and live a more kind of lonely existence, that's forced upon them that they don't get, they don't feel they have the agency to navigate. So I, I take that in, in you know, when you it's deeply depressing, well, it can be because Judith Butler is writing this through the lens of, of Lifetime's of oppression of not being able to perform, you know, and then to see in other ways that there can be some elements of performativity that then can be empowering. I think it's also important that I and that it's liberatory in the you know, in a kind of a Freirean sense that we want to we want to build an A structure an environment where we can actualize our humanity fully.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 23:03
As I sat with this podcast, I returned to Talbots 2013 convocation speech, where Brent juxtapose story building agency, individuality, collectivism, and how we perform our way into being. This speech into edited excerpts offers a powerful closure to the time of this podcast.
Talbot Convocation 23:27
You have probably heard multiple times over the past year that you are a part of a unique group, that you are special, and that you are the future. These type of narratives are common ones among high school commencement and college convocation speeches. They are designed to build you up, show that you have accomplished feats that others could only dream of, and to motivate you to continue to do great work. These types of narratives, like all narratives are powerful tools, they can inspire us have the power to change us make us consider differing perspectives and open us to new values and beliefs, but they can also inhibit us, marginalize us and fill us with fear and doubt. Narratives are stories of who we are and who we want to be. At the core. They are the discourse surrounding our lives surrounding our identities, and they are powerfully shaped by the contexts relationships and activities in which we are most deeply invested. Connelly and Clandinen are two researchers of narrative who have developed a methodology of research called narrative inquiry that I use regularly as a professor of education to analyze the meanings students create of their own learning. They indicate that humans individually and socially lead storied lives. People shaped their daily lives by stories of who they and others are, and we interpret our past in terms of these stories. Story is a portal through which a person enters the world, and by which our experience of the world is interpreted and made personally meaningful. So I invite everyone here to engage with inquiry into your own narrative right now. Let's reflect on how you came to be here in this time in this place in this circumstance. What's your story? Close your eyes. Ask yourself, ask yourself, How did I get here to this particular place? To this particular time? What were the circumstances that led me here today? Were the decisions that led me here entirely my own, who helped me come to these decisions, who made these decisions for me. Everyone has a story to share. You and your family have probably developed a story you've shared countless times already with family, friends, teachers and mentors and members of the Gettysburg College community. One that all well almost feels like a script now. I will share a story of a former student of mine as an example and I encourage you to explore yours in journals with your advisors, roommates, a newfound friends over the upcoming weeks. Jeff, not his real name, was the son of a preacher and a school teacher. He was the oldest of five and had a beautiful voice. He played piano organ and guitar and performed music during most Sunday services. As the oldest child, Jeff had lots of experience helping her young people and organize activities. So naturally, when he became old enough, he was selected to be a Sunday school teacher, and a counselor at summer camp. When it was time to consider where to go to college. And what to major in, Jeff told me that his family and church community encouraged him to become a music teacher. You are so good with children, and you love music, you'd be great at it. They told him after going through this reflective experience that you just went through. In our class, Jeff emailed me telling me he had been unable to think about anything else, and was stressed out about it all. I happened to be working late like most of the faculty do here and told him to come to my office, Jeff told me he realized that becoming a music teacher was not his story, that it was everyone else's for him. He told me that he certainly loved performing and did love working with children, but that this part of his identity had been partially created by the needs and desires of others. See, that's the interesting thing about identity. It is both shaped by how you see yourself, as well as how others see you. You begin to make decisions because others expect you to do something to behave a certain way to enter a certain profession. Others project identities and futures on you. So let's return to the reflection part and ask yourself, Who am I? Are the activities I engage in the things that define me? Or is there more than that? Without others influencing your decisions and behaviors? Who would you actually be? Who would you want to become? How would you actually behave? And what activities would you actually engage? What are the things you love most? In Bali, we experienced how time is not a single entity, but rather part of a relationship between place and circumstance. This perspective, shaped by our many immersive experiences provided us new insight into our own social and cultural expectations of how we construct time, what we call home, where we place value, and how we create meaning. It ultimately led to the gift of transformation of self and group. And I think it is best captured in a journal entry by Rachel Grande of the class of 2016, who joined me in Bali this summer. So in closing, here is her narrative. Listen for markers of how she was faced with understanding her culture, her identity and how she was transformed by experience. Tuesday, July 16. I feel so grateful that we were able to work with people in the village of Banjur Wani??. Hanging around eternally optimistic people makes me feel like anything is possible. There have been many transformative aspects of our time in Bali. But one of the most eye opening things that I have noticed is the lack of selfishness. There is no sense of I as everything revolves around community and how you fit into the larger puzzle. It is certainly going to be hard to maintain this group mentality when we are head home to the land of individuality. But it was nice to experience a more communal way of life. For a little while. It felt comforting to know that I was never alone in what I was doing, or how I was feeling. I am also going to miss the lack of timekeeping. I noticed when we stopped worrying about scheduling how many things we can fit into a day. We get the opportunity to live each blissful moment as it comes, life is so much more pleasant this way. I have learned so much during my time in Bali, I couldn't possibly recount all of it here. However, I think that the one thing I will always retain from this adventure is that the world is a better place. When we explore how and strive to be the best versions of ourselves. There is much to learn from Rachel's story. First, we are not alone. Find your support group and make it one that is positive, because then you'll feel anything as possible. Second, you are part of a community stand up for others be kind, volunteer, we all have needs. Third, you have four years here, don't over schedule yourself, take time to not be stressed. Lastly, let's all explore and strive to be the best versions of ourselves. So we can create a powerful story that is responsive to our time, to our place, and to our circumstance. Thank you.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 31:04
In his introduction to marginalized voices and music education, Talbot poses the question of who we be. Talbot writes, our work as music educators has the potential to change the world if we are willing to listen to create and celebrate our diversity, to evoke the work of folklorist Alan Lomax. Arts produced by diverse groups of people are socially valuable. They offer us ideas, approaches and values that help us negotiate and understand how to live together. May we find our authentic voice, one that is unique liberatory and sings the song, The story of who we are, and might be. May we perform ourselves into embrace where we might be happy together, sad together in shared senses of time, place and circumstance. May our lifelong songs mean something in their relation, in opening new possibilities for the fullness of who we be. Special thanks to Dr. Brent Talbot for his time and thoughtfulness in sharing his scholarship and personal stories in this podcast. And special thanks to Dr. Talbot for his generous permission in allowing me to use recordings from his archive. In the context of this podcast. Gending Rare children's songs and games from Bali is published by GIA publications. Education music in the lives of undergraduates, collegiate acapella and the pursuit of happiness is published by Bloomsbury press. Resources, website links and other information can be found on our website. This is the music and peacebuilding podcast hosted by Kevin Shorner-Johnson. At Elizabethtown College, we host a master of music education with an emphasis in peacebuilding. thinking deeply we reclaim space for connection and care. Join us at music peace building.com