ethnomusicology, personal

Let me die in my footsteps

It may seem a bit contradictory, but from studying ethnomusicology I am learning how much I love American music. Not because I don’t like other music (I love it, and I love learning about it), but I’ve just realized that most of my favorite types of music are what you would call “American” genres: rock and roll, blues, motown, country, bluegrass, ragtime. But the interesting thing is, all of these genres have their origins in other countries or cultures, in some way. I guess that goes for America in general. We are just one big melting pot, which is part of the beauty of it all.

I starting thinking about this a few weeks ago when we had a guest lecturer in music class, Mark O’Connor. He’s a pretty big name when it comes to violinists and classical contemporary composers. He demonstrated the versatility of the violin by playing all sorts of stuff, Irish jigs, folk tunes, blues, classical…it was really cool.
But what really interested me was his explanation of his latest work, Americana Symphony. He talked about the influence of landscape and travel on American music: the “great wide open,” the constant migration West, the trials and tribulations of the Pilgrims, Indians, and African American slaves. There is a common spirit in all of these people that really seems to manifest itself in early American music, well, even current American music, which he proved with his symphony.

It’s true, when I hear certain music, I can envision the Great Plains, the Rockies, the West…prairies, desert, farmland. I think imagery has a lot to do with music, it’s part of why I love it so much. You can hear horses, trains, and steamboats imitated in the rhythmic strumming of a guitar, the whistling of a flute, or the pounding of a drum. And because I’ve grown up listening to these things, it feels so familiar and comforting to me. I’m really thankful to have learned to appreciate music at such an early age, and also incredibly lucky that I got to see a great part of the West and Midwest through countless road trips with my parents (and the rest of the country from touring with drum corps the past three years).
I love traveling…I love music…and I love writing about it. That’s why I’m studying ethnomusicology (the next person to ask me what I’m going to do with my degree can suck it). I’m studying it because I like it…if I don’t get a job that pays lots of money, oh well. As long as I can have my music room and a nice backyard, I’ll live out in the middle of nowhere and be happy.

Let me drink from the waters where the mountain streams flood
Let the smell of wildflowers flow free through my blood
Let me sleep in your meadows with the green grassy leaves
Let me walk down the highway with my brother in peace.
Let me die in my footsteps
Before I go down under the ground.

Go out in your country where the land meets the sun
See the craters and the canyons where the waterfalls run
Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Idaho
Let every state in this union seep deep down in your soul.
And you’ll die in your footsteps
Before you go down under the ground.

– Bob Dylan

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