- Lessons from Archives and Public History for the Race-ing of Queer Music Scholarship
In 2017, as part of the ten-year memorial of the Virginia Tech shootings, the university's Moss Center for the Arts premiered (Be)Longing, a hip hop oratorio by composer Byron Au Yong and poet Aaron Jafferis.1 Performed by community actors, many of whom were still processing the personal circumstances, grief, and trauma caused by the tragedy, the work explores differing views on guns in the United States, the reasons for gun violence, contrasting approaches to reducing gun violence, and the divergent ways that survivors cope in the aftermath of shootings. Many of the stories embedded in this work are based on interviews that Au Yong and Jafferis conducted. To ensure that other perspectives were represented too, the work's creators asked the audience for input. Before the show and during intermission, there were blackboards and baskets in the lobby (see Figure 1). Each contained a prompt, such as "What are you afraid of?" and "Write a 'how' or 'why' question that was raised by what you saw in Act 1," that attendees could answer on a Post-it note or a strip of paper. Selected responses were then incorporated into various songs in the performance. To help the community create safe(r) spaces for more open conversations about the tragedy and the reasons behind it, the Moss Center and the show's creators held postperformance discussions, storytelling workshops, and community-dialogue potlucks and afternoon teas.
I begin with this anecdote because the strategies used by the performances of (Be)Longing—ethnography, community engagement, crowdsourcing, and the effort to foster more open conversations—helped me think through how musicologists and ethnomusicologists might "race" queer music scholarship. Specifically, I argue that to increase research on the musicking of LGBTQIA racial minorities [End Page 129]
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in North America or, more generally, queer people in the Global South, music scholars—particularly researchers who study musical practices after World War II—need to adopt a more activist approach to data collection and to embrace new ways of "creating" research resources. In particular, I hope musicologists and ethnomusicologists will (1) increase partnerships with archivists and oral historians [End Page 130] who are building collections on queer racial minorities; (2) create an ethical method for sharing data that are collected (e.g., interviews, field recordings, raw data for surveys) in a timely manner; and (3) participate in and initiate digital humanities projects that crowdsource information about the musicking of diverse LGBTQIA populations. It is only after we have much more data available that a robust and raced queer music scholarship can develop.2
Diagnosing the Problem
Currently, one of the most important impediments in creating a diverse queer music scholarship is the limitations of traditional methodologies. Musicologists rarely find in archives the materials they need to do research into diverse queer communities. Very often, this is because nonwhite queer musicians are marginalized members of artistic movements. Julius Eastman was a key member of the University of Buffalo and downtown New York new music scenes in the 1970s and early 1980s, but his decision to foreground both his blackness and his homosexuality in his compositions and performances alienated many collaborators and early chroniclers of experimental music.3 As George Lewis wrote, "Black artists were far less in evidence in the Downtown New York music scene than queer ones, and one could never be quite sure when the products of backgrounds similar in most details to Eastman's might suddenly be denigrated (in the exact sense of that term), either openly or cryptically."4 This resulted not only in a downward spiral in his career and life during the 1980s but also in the loss of most of his documents and numerous compositions. Today, even after the Herculean efforts of Mary Jane Leach and other scholars, we have only recovered a small portion of Eastman's output.5 In thinking about how to increase the scholarship on "raced" queer musicking, it is important...