I was one of some two thousand musicologists and music theorists who were in
Aside from newsworthy events of that sort,
Walking by what looked like a nineteenth-century red-brick church (because that’s what it originally was), and never having heard of this building - the Ryman Auditorium - I was surprised to hear loud chords and joyous applause coming from inside. The guard at the door gave me a ticket that I suppose had been given to her by somebody leaving early. The ticket listed the main performer as Ronnie Milsap, a name that sounded faintly familiar to me, though I wasn’t sure whether it belonged to a woman or a man.
I quickly discovered that Milsap is one of the most beloved male country-music artists and the first country superstar to have been born blind. (He has had, across his decades-long career, more number-one songs on the country chart than any performer except George Strait and Conway Twitty.) We all sat in wooden pews, and people were bringing food and drink from the concessions in the lobby into the hall, as if this were a big outdoor festival. The audience loved Milsap’s banter about his career, and they welcomed as old favorites such love-forever-lost songs as “That Girl Who Waits on Tables Used to Wait for Me at Home.”
Quite a contrast to the sessions at the scholarly conference two blocks up the hill: no shouts of love and appreciation from the floor, for one thing! To be fair, though, many of the attendees noted that there was less contentiousness during this year’s sessions than has sometimes occurred in the past. Perhaps the two societies’ program committees chose particularly well: the papers that I attended were on a very high level. But the people in the audience can take some credit, too. The discussion and debate - often plentiful - was generally carried out in a remarkably constructive spirit. Perhaps this is one of the benefits of methodological pluralism: scholars may be beginning to accept that no one approach or interpretive angle necessarily invalidates another.
A particular excitement at any scholarly meeting surrounds the exhibit of new books. The tables for the Boydell and Brewer/University of Rochester Press family of firms received many visitors and many book orders. I edit URP’s Eastman Studies in Music series, so I looked on with particular pleasure - while trying to be inconspicuous! - as visitors to the booth discovered such recent titles as Beethoven’s Century, by Hugh Macdonald, and Variations on the Canon, a book of new essays created in tribute to the great pianist and critic Charles Rosen. (I kept hearing remarks along the lines of “Look at these names: Treitler, Lockwood, Kerman, even Rosen himself…!”) The fact that the many important books published by Toccata Press are now distributed by Boydell further enriched the wares on display.
But the biggest “wows” were heard as people opened the covers of Boydell’s richly illustrated Elliott Carter: A Centennial Portrait in Letters and Documents. Carter turns 100 on 11 December 2008 and continues to compose actively. A wealth of previously unpublished documents, scores, letters and photographs in the archives of the Paul Sacher Foundation (in Basel, Switzerland) enabled the authors - Felix Meyer and Anne Shreffler - to include 90 illustrations of this material, 60 of them in color. The documents are connected by a flowing and thoughtful text: this is one picture book that can be read with pleasure and profit from beginning to end. Sometimes, at the book table, it seemed that people who picked up this inviting book could barely stop themselves from reading on and on.
And maybe that is the scholar’s equivalent of the whoops, cheers, and applause heard at country-music concerts!