Monday, 2 March 2009

Exploring the Many Facets of an Art and Practice, Part One

This year the University of Rochester Press celebrates its first twenty years of innovative publishing. In the first of a two part post, Ralph Locke, Professor of Musicology at the Eastman School of Music (pictured, right), outlines the history of the Eastman Studies in Music series which is one of the jewels in the Rochester crown:

Music is a curious field. Nearly everyone loves some kind of music, and some people love many kinds. But, unlike novels or poems or plays or paintings, musical works cannot easily be represented in words or visual images, the two primary communications systems of the book trade. Furthermore, musical notation—the basic way in which the compositions of the great Western tradition are set down, from Gregorian Chant to composers of today such as Steve Reich—feels opaque to many music lovers, even ones who attend concerts or opera regularly or have, at some point in life, studied an instrument or sung in a chorus.

The net result has been a looming gap, for several centuries now, between the aspects of music that music professionals take for granted and the ways in which music has tended to be written about in books, magazines, and newspapers. This gap provides academic and other niche publishers with an opportunity, one that the Eastman Studies in Music series has attempted to fill for some fifteen years.

It was in the early 1990s that Robert Easton (URP’s first Director) and J├╝rgen Thym (Professor of Musicology and, at the time, the department’s Chair) asked me if I would develop a music series for the nascent Press. I gratefully said yes. I had edited a scholarly journal for a few years, I had published a monograph based on my dissertation (through University of Chicago Press), and I was co-editing a multi-author book (for University of California Press). I thus had some sense of the amount of additional work that editing a book series would probably entail (URP had minimal staff in its early years) and of the likely stumbling blocks.

I was no less aware of the rich possibilities. A healthy university press, I felt, would speak well to the world about the often-hidden merits of the University of Rochester, and a music series—the name, everyone agreed, needed to be Eastman Studies in Music—would raise awareness more specifically about the high-level work that goes on in the Eastman School of Music. I also urged that the call for manuscripts set no constraints on subject matter or methodology. Quality and significance would be paramount. I dreaded the thought of rejecting a project because it dealt with the “wrong” century, genre, or country, because it focused heavily on archival fact-collecting, or because it relied upon one or another current in music analysis or cultural criticism. I was also concerned, at least at the outset, that the Eastman Studies series not publish too many writings by Eastman faculty members, lest it appear to be a kind of vanity press. The series, I felt (and still feel), should simply draw on the expertise of musicologists from Eastman and other universities in order to maintain the highest standards of excellence.

I thus put together an editorial board in which the Eastman folks were slightly outnumbered by members from major research universities, although once the reputation of the Eastman Studies series was secure, I began to feel comfortable having a precisely balanced board.

The first authors to be published in the series were a varied and distinguished lot. Margaret G. Cobb, the doyenne of Debussy studies, contributed an urgently needed revised edition of her famous book The Poetic Debussy. It went on to sell out in hard cover and paperback alike. (Like many URP books, it is now available again, thanks in part to advances made in the technology of on-demand reprinting.) Joscelyn Godwin’s Music and the Occult: French Musical Philosophies, 1750-1950 likewise made it into paperback. So did the first of several Eastman Studies books on organ music: Lawrence Archbold and William Peterson’s French Organ Music from the Revolution to Franck and Widor.

Clearly, we realized, our concept was working. And, just as clearly, we were getting—because of my own scholarly proclivities—an overabundance of titles on French topics. We gradually vanquished that problem, with books on such topics as music publishing in sixteenth-century Venice, fugal theory in the Baroque era, Bach, Wagner, “the pleasure of modernist music” (e.g., Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Ligeti’s music in the film 2001), and numerous aspects of music and musical life in the United States. A distinctly American book, Elliott Carter’s Collected Essays and Lectures, quickly became one of the Press’s all-time best-sellers (in hard cover and paperback) and remains in print today—to the satisfaction, we hope, of the renowned composer, who celebrated his 100th birthday this past December.

To be continued...


Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Boydell and Brewer said...

Many thanks, Joannah. Good to hear you're enjoying the blog.

Best wishes
Michael Richards