Ole Miss to add Ethnomusicology Graduate Degree

Published 10:30 am Friday, June 1, 2018

The University of Mississippi department of music is expanding its graduate program this fall, becoming the only university in the state to offer a masters degree in ethnomusicology.

George Dor, professor of music and holder of the McDonnell-Barksdale Chair of Ethnomusicology, is in charge of the ethnomusicology program. Ethnomusicology, Dor said, is a discipline that began in the United States and is the study of the music of different cultures, particularly non-Western ones.

“For a long time, Western art music – the Bachs, Beethovens, Rachmaninoffs – these were the only composers of musicians whose works were studied by music majors,” Dor said. “So in the late 1950s, people realized the world is so blessed with all these rich traditions. Why do we need to focus only on Western, written art music?”

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Ethnomusicologists, Dor said, are people who not only study the music of the African diaspora and East Asian cultures, but also delve into culture itself, much like an anthropologist. Many of the styles of music within the scope of ethnomusicology are not part of the “canon,” Dor said, and are oftentimes rooted in oral tradition.

In a place like Mississippi, which he calls the homeland of music traditions like the blues and its sub-genres, Dor said an ethnomusicology program will thrive.

“People come here to study, and they take it away and write about our music,” he said. “Conducting of research is an important part of any university. Our aim is to train our students to go out and study. The idea is, how do we embolden the awareness of the beauty of ethnomusicology?”

Emphasizing the resources of the region, including the on-campus blues archives and museums in Indianola, Clarksdale and Cleveland, Dor said, is part of what distinguishes the university’s ethnomusicology program, in addition to being part of the fabric of the discipline itself.

In addition to providing a conducive environment for researching the various aspects of ethnomusicology, students in the program will also learn how to transcribe the music they intend to study, as well as translate speech into other languages. Dor also mentioned his hope that, one day, the university would host an ethnomusicology study abroad program in his home country.

Dor said programs like the African Drum and Dance Ensemble, which he directs, will help in understanding what is perhaps the most important aspect of ethnomusicology – the music-making process and its relationship to the people who create it.

“We are not interested in only the product. That’s very important,” he said. “The process of making music, how music can be part of a culture. How a culture can reverberate with the music it creates is part of what we look for.”

In addition to the ethnomusicology program, the music department is also adding musicology and music theory to its graduate degree offerings. For more information, visit http://music.olemiss.edu.