Reflections on PAIG and SMT

by Daniel Barolsky (Beloit College)

At this year’s business meeting for PAIG at SMT/AMS in Vancouver, we ended with the relatively mundane task of discussing and voting on a new set of bylaws. One of the sub-topics that I had expected to be routine was the issue of interest-group membership. Much to my surprise and dismay, there were voices that expressed concern about our openness and proposed hypotheticals that some collection of individuals (especially those from organizations other than SMT) might decide to colonize the interest group. Happily the final decision was to define membership by the listserv, a collection of email addresses to which anyone, regardless of institutional or disciplinary affiliation, can join.

However jocular the suggestion about “colonization” or more serious the proposal to police membership, I couldn’t help reflect, as I left Vancouver, on the larger intellectual, disciplinary, and political context of this conversation. Not five hours after the business meeting, the AMS convened a session on “Race, Ethnicity, and the Profession” that made clear to everyone how the restriction of methodologies did more than merely help define a discipline but, rather, served to shut out individuals and identities. Less than a week before the US election, I couldn’t help but see parallels between the desire to “other” members of  different musical societies (including their subjects and approaches) and the rhetoric of political candidates who espoused building walls to keep out people of certain faiths and ethnicities. And, finally, I reflected on the history of the Performance and Analysis Interest Group, an inclusive and welcoming organization that over a decade ago gave me, a graduate student in musicology who was interested in performers and recordings, a scholarly, intellectual, and professional home at a time when the majority within the AMS and SMT excluded methodologies that addressed the voices of performers and their performances. The question we need to grapple with, as we continue to revise and develop our bylaws and, in particular, our mission statement, is what would restricting our membership protect? What does it really mean to limit ourselves to theorists only?

As I flew home to a polarized and fractious political climate, I also took comfort in the excellent and discipline-bending session organized by PAIG that took place the evening before the business meeting (as well as in the other papers/sessions during the weekend that explored a range of issues pertaining to performance and analysis). In particular I took hope from the comments by the session moderator, Victoria Tzotzkova, who urged the audience, while listening to the presenters (none of whom were exclusively music theorists, some of them not even card-carrying members), to expect new voices, sounds, and perspectives, and to consider in what new and inclusive ways we could imagine music theory to be.