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foreword Singing in the Dark guthrie p. ramsey jr. The present collection of essays attempts to identify and theorize the various ways in which the idea of blackness has worked as a practice—as a complex of representational strategies in the genre of opera. Taken as a single body of work, they do not present a unified theoretical voice, but like the practice of blackness itself, these essays forward complex ideas about race, humanity, and creativity, some familiar and others newly found and sharp around the edges. As the editors’ introduction indicates, Blackness in Opera seeks to denaturalize some of the conventions that have governed blackness’s presence in opera. What we learn from the diversity of approaches in this collection is that something called an “Africanist” presence represents an enduring and—judging from the historical sweep of this project—notoriously unstable set of assumptions, ploys, signs, and compositional strategies. This collection is staged in a rich, interdisciplinary arena of study that contemplates race as a unit of analysis in expressive culture. Scholars of literature from all destinations in the African diaspora have provided us with powerful theories and ruminations, detailing rich ways to interpret issues of power, identity, and culture in the written word. Art historians of this same Africanist presence have given us new ways to “see” difference, myth, ritual, and all manner of structures of feeling in artworks whose categories range from representational to abstract, conceptual, and performance. And music scholars have attended to blackness with a particularly keen interest in what qualitative sensibilities may or may not have been passed along its often violent and certainly multifarious routes of dispersion, settlement, and stunning transformation and development. My hope for this collection is that it will become a complementary treatise for Samuel A. Floyd’s landmark study ἀ e Power of Black Music (1995). Floyd’s perceptive study, as we know, provides a historical account of how “the presence” x . foreword has informed the development of myriad genres, specifically in the American musical landscape. ἀ e Power of Black Music together with Ronald M. Radano’s Lying Up a Nation (2003) form bookends to a critical space that defines the historical and material grounding of what might be called a black musical nationalism specific to the United States. Blackness in Opera, while casting a wider geographical net perhaps, fills in some of the blanks by taking into account the role that codes from opera might offer the conversation. It has long been established that operatic conventions have reinforced our knowledge about the gendered dimensions of sound organization in Western art music. As this collection instructs, opera’s gender-specific assignment of musical procedure can serve as an important model for understanding how race and other social meanings derived from and contextualized within musical practice. The focus on race and opera, then, particularly the essays on the New World, shows yet again how we—black, white, and others—have been conditioned , as Langston Hughes said, to “sing America” in the dark, in harmony and dissonance. With the publication of Blackness in Opera, the cultural studies turn in black music scholarship expands into new sound worlds, ones previously understudied due to the force and richness of research on blues, jazz, rock and roll, hiphop , and dance forms. Nevertheless, these essays provide further and powerful evidence of the historical processes of “naturalization” that have linked black social history to sound organization. In an important departure from “vernacular” music studies, the composers under consideration here are treated as making conscious artistic decisions with their materials. This consideration lays out a desired avenue to examine constructions of musical blackness without the claptrap of biological essentialism— a wearisome perception that in the past has dogged the realm of vernacular music. What is presented here, rather, is a set of nuanced studies that value creative agency, center social meaning, and plunge headfirst into the sounds of art music, a world in which pool dark waters, vital, deep, and revealing. ...


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MARC Record
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