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"Can Musical Conservatism be Progressive?" – CTFM 2nd Annual Conference

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Senate House, University of London

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Over the last twenty-five years, the premises of music analysis, notation, modernism and formalism have been subjected to a broad critique, resulting in an increased emphasis on performance analysis (Cook 2013), pluralist histories (Tomlinson 1993), and an interest in the range of subjective responses to music which cuts across previous divisions between high and low cultures (Solie 1993). This disciplinary conflict has become increasingly politicised, opening a debate on the precise nature of the relationship between specialist knowledge and social class. On the one hand, ‘traditional’ musicological approaches, and the repertories with which they were usually concerned, have been perceived as regressive (Born 2010), with the newer approaches generally considered politically progressive (Bohlman 1993). On the other hand, an opposing critique is now emerging, which interprets the move away from specialist theoretical training as a de-skilling of the musicological profession. This has led to accusations that such a move is complicit, intentionally or not, with the increasing commodification of higher education, and works opportunistically towards (capitalist) economic ends (e.g. Harper-Scott 2012). Viewed from this perspective, traditional approaches – or ‘musical conservatism’ – might paradoxically be construed as politically progressive, effectively reimagining the classic Adornian position for the twenty-first century.

But what is musical conservatism (or indeed musical progressivism), and is it inherently positive or negative? Are certain genres or sub-disciplines within musicology conservative whilst others are progressive? What effect might these assumptions have on the study of music? Is ‘traditional’ musicology, however that might be defined, outmoded? And is there an appropriate response to these questions?

This conference aims to address these questions in light of renewed concerns over the future of music studies in the academy. The greater public scrutiny that academia now attracts has direct ramifications in the allocation of funding and resources, as exemplified by the demands of REF and TEF. There is therefore a pressing need to examine the question of the discipline’s function in these broader socio-political terms, since the direction that musicology takes now will have an impact on the training of students and the research of academics for decades to come.

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Senate House, University of London

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