- Music and Urban Society in Colonial Latin America edited by Geoffrey Baker and Tess Knighton
As some scholars admit (even if informally), part of the fascination that musicology has with colonial Latin America is the wealth of untapped music sources waiting to be uncovered. Indeed, recent studies and transcriptions consider surviving scores as testimonies of vibrant music cultures in need of study beyond the lens of “Latin exoticism.” It is this fascination with music texts that has made “sound” the basis of inquiry about colonial music culture in an immersive urban environment. Under this view, however, the city acquires a privileged position as a performative site formed by networks of musical activity in different places (e.g., institutions, processional routes, recreational spots, celebrations at private homes), which prompts scholars to consider music not as notated text but as social practice. This is the premise that Geoffrey Baker and Tess Knighton—editors of Music and Urban Society in Colonial Latin America—use to define the colonial urban map as a “resounding city … a harmonious ideal that existed before the physical form of the city” (5). For Baker and Knighton, the “resounding city” is a kin concept to Angel Rama’s notion of the lettered city as a space that arises from two superimposed grids—a physical plane and a symbolic plane that interprets the former as a meaningful and idealized structure of order. For Rama, such a symbolic plane departed from a conception of writing as an instrument of power that men of letters (letrados) used as a means to organize the city’s social environment and to establish a cultural hegemony in the New World. Just as Rama considered [End Page 297] writing, Baker and Knighton regard music an instrument crucial to the discursive construction of the Latin American city.
In this light, the editors set to map the “resounding city” by locating places of music practice outside ecclesiastical institutions, which continue to be important sites of musical study today. As Baker notes, the emphasis on cathedrals has promoted an idea of a colonial music culture that mostly reproduced European musical activity. According to the editors, this notion does not provide a holistic account of urban culture and the position of diverse musics within it—indigenous, African, and European (xviii). More important, Baker considers that this consistent focus on institutions that blocked opportunities for non-Spanish individuals has reduced the role of these social actors to that of permanent underlings in music historiography. The editors therefore aim to redress some of these problems by providing a glimpse of colonial music culture as a sphere of social contact, conflict, and negotiation that, as a network of musical activity, defined the social place of musicians in urban society.
The methodological approach the editors envision is enticing not least because it promises to rub shoulders with colonial social history. However, the book is shy of leaving a mark on this field, as some of the essays do not fully address the proposed conceptual framework. Chapters by Waisman and Gembero-Ustárroz, for example, are interesting contributions in the sense that they address Bolivia (a region still in need of attention), particularly the Jesuit reducciones and the town of El Carmen de Guarayos, respectively. While informative, the reader wishes that these essays would go beyond descriptive narratives of regional “sound” activity, in the case of the latter, or comparative text analysis in relation to notions of locality, in the case of the former. Nevertheless, given the editors’ interest in decentralizing musicological inquiry from “cathedral-centric” views, these studies do bring attention to sources rarely touched by scholars. Such is the case of ordenanzas, descripciones, and relaciones, documents usually found in nonecclesiastical archives. In their chapters, Knighton and Javier Marín López emphasize this, saying that records at such repositories can furnish “evidence for the reconstruction of the religious, social and cultural past” (43). Specifically, Knighton approaches relaciones (and perhaps to some extent descripciones) as documents that “helped form [and...