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Examining The Views Of Ethnographic Writers

1075 words - 4 pages

The ethnography of musical performance poses many complex problems to ethnomusicologists. In exploring issues of fieldwork and representation, ethnomusicologist Michelle Kisliuk argues that, “the focus on field ethnography is clearly essential to performance ethnography” (1997, p. 41). Kisliuk outlines three interdependent questions, two of which I wish to examine here. Her first question considers the concept and location of the “field” as used in fieldwork; her second examines the language employed in ethnographic descriptions. The connection of performance ethnography with the performance of writing presents an opportunity to examine the views of ethnographic writers. By applying Kisliuk’s argument to the ethnographic language of Aaron Fox (2004) and Cece Conway(1995) we gain insight into the (field) position(s) of the respective author.
Aaron Fox’s ethnographic language in his study of the sociomusical lives of Lockhart’s working class embraces the metaphors of his informants. Kisliuk’s observed that ethnographers can use of metaphors in descriptive writing in order to effectively communicate the values embodied: “…if we proceed with caution (and practice) we can use poetics—steeped in experience---to convey in writing what otherwise might never come across” (p. 37). Metaphor plays an enormous role in Fox’s work. Analyzing the music of Johnny Cash, for example, Fox weaves together song and social analysis in his writing, “’Folsom’ is about this mythic train that runs through twentieth-century experience, a train the narrator [of the song] hears off in the distance… as he imagines it full of ‘rich folks drinkin’ coffee’ and ‘smokin’ big cigars’…” (2004, p. 310). The mythical train, according to Fox, “…exaggerates and symbolizes all the fantastic American movement and luxury and historical ‘progress’ that has always happened just beyond the horizon of rural working-class existence, but always just within earshot…” (ibid). Fox frames Cash’s song within his experience at Ann’s Other Place, a bar he frequented in the course of field research. Because the owner failed to pay ASCAP or BMI fees she was harassed for violating the laws concerning the performance of commercial music by agents. Many of the bar’s regulars thought the idea of paying to perform a song like Folsom Prison Blues was rather ridiculous owing to mythical status of figures like Cash.
Fox’s alignment of Cash’s song with the opinions of local musicians and patrons demonstrates the connections between music and life. His informants commented that Johnny Cash wouldn’t have objected to their covers of his songs. Just as Cash positioned working-class life in resistance to modernity, Cash became a symbol of resistance for Fox’s informants. By performing “Folsom Prison Blues”, people performed the ideas within the song and extended those ideas to their own lives. Further, Fox frequently moves from his memories of performing to analyses of particular events,...

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