Location

Panel 28: Kearney 314

Start Date

27-10-2012 3:00 PM

End Date

27-10-2012 4:30 PM

Description

The folk artist Pete Seeger has earned widespread acclaim for his music which has touched the lives of millions of fans in America and around the world. His songs, which at first glance are bits of seemingly simple Americana crooned by a banjo picker with a scratchy voice, are in fact packed with social commentaries. Whether they address racial or class inequalities, the tragedy of war, or the problems of American culture from materialism to suburban homogeneity, a protest spirit fills Seeger’s songs. The literature on Seeger to date has been preoccupied with this spirit, presenting Seeger as a politician to readers of his biographies and related materials. They have explored his radical upbringing, his relationship with the Communist Party-USA and his musical campaigns for leftist causes. While the literature satisfies scholars of American social and political history, music scholars are lately frustrated by the lack of attention Seeger’s music has received from the perspective of ethnomusicology. I venture to bridge the gap between Seeger the politician and Seeger the musician by analyzing Seeger the performer.

Inspired by Ethnic Studies scholar Josh Kun’s 2005 book Audiotopia: Music, Race, and America (Berkeley: University of California), I argue that Seeger’s key contribution as an artist is found in his ability to unleash musical audiotopias on his audiences. An “audiotopia” is a term that Kun invented to explain the relationship that music has with a listener. Music, Kun believes, is a “point of contact” (Kun 2). When it enters “the bones and tissues” of a listener’s body, an act of hybridization takes place, in which music, which comes from elsewhere, enters that person’s being and powerfully stimulates the imagination until the listener finds him or herself transported (metaphorically) to a place beyond the here and now (Kun 13; 22 - 23). What follows is a confrontation between the listener’s understanding of his or her own self-identity and the context in which the song is situated. An audiotopia is rather like a “utopia,” a safe, ideal place, but more closely mirrors what Michel Foucault calls a “heterotopia,” or a combined multiplicity of idealized places and spaces where the social, cultural, and geographical boundaries known in reality are morphed into a world in which they can all exist together harmoniously (Kun 23). Because of its audiotopic power, music is particularly well-suited to foster social change. It places its listeners in within a song’s setting and the individual(s) the song may be about, allowing them to share in the lives and experiences of others.

Although Kun mentions Pete Seeger in Audiotopia’s introduction, he goes on to analyze musical audiotopias through exploring racial issues in the twentieth century. I believe that Seeger’s music is particularly well-suited to an audiotopic analysis. As a man committed to cultural heterogeneity, class equality, and social change, in the mid-twentieth century he sang to (often lily white) audiences about the struggles of African Americans in the Deep South, poor mining communities, immigrant lives, and added to these a number of international songs to further widen his audiences’ musical experiences. During the early days of Seeger’s blacklist when the House Un-American Activities Committee prosecuted him for his left-wing associations, unable to secure larger venues, he sang most often to college students and young children, an impressionable population who grew up in the later sixties questioning their realities and believing they could change them. I find that Seeger’s music fostered his concert-goers’ audiotopic experiences through audience participation, Seeger’s often close proximity to his listeners, the content of his lyrics, his frequent choice to sing in languages other than English, and the ways in which his banjo replicated sounds from around the world.

Through musical audiotopias, Seeger the performer introduced his listeners to people and places they may not otherwise have encountered, and this empathy paved the way for greater social change.

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Oct 27th, 3:00 PM Oct 27th, 4:30 PM

A Link in a Chain:’ An Audiotopic Analysis of Pete Seeger, 1955 – 1962

Panel 28: Kearney 314

The folk artist Pete Seeger has earned widespread acclaim for his music which has touched the lives of millions of fans in America and around the world. His songs, which at first glance are bits of seemingly simple Americana crooned by a banjo picker with a scratchy voice, are in fact packed with social commentaries. Whether they address racial or class inequalities, the tragedy of war, or the problems of American culture from materialism to suburban homogeneity, a protest spirit fills Seeger’s songs. The literature on Seeger to date has been preoccupied with this spirit, presenting Seeger as a politician to readers of his biographies and related materials. They have explored his radical upbringing, his relationship with the Communist Party-USA and his musical campaigns for leftist causes. While the literature satisfies scholars of American social and political history, music scholars are lately frustrated by the lack of attention Seeger’s music has received from the perspective of ethnomusicology. I venture to bridge the gap between Seeger the politician and Seeger the musician by analyzing Seeger the performer.

Inspired by Ethnic Studies scholar Josh Kun’s 2005 book Audiotopia: Music, Race, and America (Berkeley: University of California), I argue that Seeger’s key contribution as an artist is found in his ability to unleash musical audiotopias on his audiences. An “audiotopia” is a term that Kun invented to explain the relationship that music has with a listener. Music, Kun believes, is a “point of contact” (Kun 2). When it enters “the bones and tissues” of a listener’s body, an act of hybridization takes place, in which music, which comes from elsewhere, enters that person’s being and powerfully stimulates the imagination until the listener finds him or herself transported (metaphorically) to a place beyond the here and now (Kun 13; 22 - 23). What follows is a confrontation between the listener’s understanding of his or her own self-identity and the context in which the song is situated. An audiotopia is rather like a “utopia,” a safe, ideal place, but more closely mirrors what Michel Foucault calls a “heterotopia,” or a combined multiplicity of idealized places and spaces where the social, cultural, and geographical boundaries known in reality are morphed into a world in which they can all exist together harmoniously (Kun 23). Because of its audiotopic power, music is particularly well-suited to foster social change. It places its listeners in within a song’s setting and the individual(s) the song may be about, allowing them to share in the lives and experiences of others.

Although Kun mentions Pete Seeger in Audiotopia’s introduction, he goes on to analyze musical audiotopias through exploring racial issues in the twentieth century. I believe that Seeger’s music is particularly well-suited to an audiotopic analysis. As a man committed to cultural heterogeneity, class equality, and social change, in the mid-twentieth century he sang to (often lily white) audiences about the struggles of African Americans in the Deep South, poor mining communities, immigrant lives, and added to these a number of international songs to further widen his audiences’ musical experiences. During the early days of Seeger’s blacklist when the House Un-American Activities Committee prosecuted him for his left-wing associations, unable to secure larger venues, he sang most often to college students and young children, an impressionable population who grew up in the later sixties questioning their realities and believing they could change them. I find that Seeger’s music fostered his concert-goers’ audiotopic experiences through audience participation, Seeger’s often close proximity to his listeners, the content of his lyrics, his frequent choice to sing in languages other than English, and the ways in which his banjo replicated sounds from around the world.

Through musical audiotopias, Seeger the performer introduced his listeners to people and places they may not otherwise have encountered, and this empathy paved the way for greater social change.