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The Making of a Social History of Popular Music in Chile: Problems, Methods, and Results

From: Latin American Music Review
Volume 26, Number 2, Fall/Winter 2005
pp. 248-272 | 10.1353/lat.2006.0009

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Latin American Music Review 26.2 (2005) 248-272

Problems, Methods, and Results

Juan Pablo González

Until popular music studies took hold twenty years ago, it was not considered a legitimate field of studies in musicology. Furthermore, the strong art music orientation of conservatories and musicology departments in Latin America did not at all encourage the development of popular music studies. The same phenomenon can be seen with the nation-state, which in many Latin American countries supports the development of conservatories, orchestras, concert seasons, and the research of folk and indigenous music, but rejects any support for popular music, considering it as decadent, commercial, and full of foreign influences.

However, old or pre-industrial popular music, from the late fifteenth to early nineteenth century, did achieve academic prestige due to its strong relation to art music, and not only because of the existence of suites, single dances, and themes to develop, but also because it was created and performed by the art musicians themselves. Also, most Latin American folk music, a music protected by the nation-state, emerged under the influence of nineteenth-century salon music and musical plays. The same quadrilles, waltzes, mazurkas, and polkas, which arrived in scores and on the stage, could be found in the countryside, the streets, and later, the radios of Latin America. While folklorists have considered these phenomena when studying folk music of their countries, musicologists and ethnomusicologists have been more reluctant to investigate the crossovers between sheet music, oral tradition, and mass media.

Since Robert Schumann and his concept of trivialmusik, composers ceased to compose dance music and rather looked to folklore when needing a theme to develop. Therefore, when Guido Adler and the other German scholars of the 1880s founded musicology, urban popular music was, in a way, already outside of the realm of music.

A century later, popular music studies arrived in musicology, first in hands of the so called scholar-fans, who lived the intense experience of the counter-cultural movement of the 1960s and became aware of the role of rock and new song movements in shaping the spirit of the era. The interest in studying a music which has personal meaning also gave scholar-fans the status of inside researchers.

Social History

Musicology joined popular music studies after sociology, history, and cultural studies, entering a rich interdisciplinary field that was of high interest to modern academic research. Musicological training gives musicologists the capacity to work with scholars from various fields, and popular music gives us the opportunity to do this. In spite of having tried to avoid studying history in my graduate studies, I felt particularly close to historians in building a bridge from musicology thanks to my undergraduate background oriented towards music history and analysis. This common historical ground, helped us build an academic alliance between the music and the history departments of the Catholic University of Chile, and helped us to develop, among other projects, a social history of industrial popular music. Historical research legitimized the studies of this music, and in 1996 we expanded musicology to offer courses, receive grants for research, guide theses, create archives, publish books, and develop performance practices in popular music.

There are several approaches to doing historical research in music: aesthetic, artistic, economic, technological, biographical, and social. Aesthetic and artistic approaches have been overshadowed by the emphasis on the cultural and social dimensions of popular music. There is also a tendency to differentiate the musical and the sound, or the electro-acoustical aspects of music, focusing on its sound rather than its musical changes over a period of time. However, both dimensions form part of the same phenomenon, and thus should be considered together.

An artistic approach in popular music history puts an emphasis on the work and its production, performance, and reception. This approach also pays attention to the compositional and performance processes that produce the work, and the changes over time of these processes. Histories of popular music from an artistic perspective may emphasize the origin, development, death and revival of genres, and musical languages and styles. The influence of individuals and social contexts involved in this process should not be forgotten.

The multi-dimensional...



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