Tuesday, 10 March 2009

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

Ralph Locke continues his short history of the Eastman Studies in Music series

Two important batches of music books have appeared outside the Eastman series.Some interesting manuscripts written by performers tended to take a tone that was not scholarly and was even healthfully opinionated.With the eager support of Robert Easton and his successors Sean Culhane, Tim Madigan, and now Suzanne Guiod, I therefore proposed such books as stand-alone items. Again, we seem to have guessed right, as these books sold well. One of them gained particularly glowing reviews—The Percussionist’s Art: Same Bed, Different Dreams, by a remarkable West Coast master of multiple percussion, Steven Schick.

Needless to say, as time went along, the board members and I were not able to resist the offer of important manuscripts from some members of the Eastman faculty. These manuscripts go through the usual full review process, with confidential readings at several stages by specialist scholars at other institutions. Eastman Studies authors who are current or former members of the Music Theory and Musicology departments include Elizabeth West Marvin (co-editor, Concert Music, Rock, and Jazz since 1960), Matthew Brown (Explaining Tonality: Schenkerian Theory and Beyond), David Beach (Aspects of Unity in J. S. Bach’s Partitas and Suites), and Kerala J. Snyder (Dieterich Buxtehude: Organist in Lübeck, revised edition; its CD contains splendid performances by, among others, Eastman Professor of Organ Hans Davidsson).

A book, like a hill, can be alive with the sound of music. The Percussionist’s Art contains, tucked into a little pocket, a thrilling compact disc of many of the pieces that Schick discusses in detail. The Press has similarly provided CDs for Eastman Studies books on such topics as Indonesian music (The Gamelan Digul), the great Chinese erhu player Abing (Musical Creativity in Twentieth-Century China), and, most recently, some forgotten but charming, and socially revealing, operettas (Music in German Immigrant Music Theater: New York City, 1840-1940). One Eastman Studies title contains not one but two CDs: Composing with Japanese Instruments, a practical guide (widely used in its original Japanese version) by the eminent composer Minoru Miki.

At the time of this writing, the Eastman Studies series has released more than sixty titles, and many more are in the pipeline. We are pleased that our books have been so well received in the scholarly world and also by reviewers in the general press.
Particularly heartening was this phrase from a review in Music and Letters of Scott Messing’s two-volume Schubert in the European Imagination: “offers yet more evidence that the University of Rochester Press has become a highly significant player in the field.” The appearance of the series’ fiftieth title—Music Theory and Mathematics—in February 2008 brought welcome attention to the Press as a whole, as has Boydell’s music-book blog which requested this piece from me.

As prices rise and libraries and individuals trim back their book purchases, many Eastman Studies books have been helped by a subvention from the author’s home institution or a scholarly society. No fewer than seven Eastman Studies books dealing in part or whole with music in the United States have received a welcome boost from the Howard Hanson Institute for American Music. The latest Hanson subvention is for a forthcoming two-volume study of the string quartet since 1900, in which American composers John Cage, Elliott Carter, Mel Powell, Milton Babbitt, and Shulamit Ran rightly sit shoulder to shoulder with Debussy, Sibelius, Bartók, Schoenberg, and Shostakovich.

But, regardless of shifts in technology and funding, Eastman Studies aims to remain a major purveyor of serious—and, in many cases, also brightly engaging—discussion of music for both the specialist and the general reader. We do not hesitate to include musical examples and sometimes even provide them in abundance. Still, certain books restrict themselves (wonderfully) to words alone: for example, renowned music critic Paul Griffiths’s exquisitely edited collection of some of his most fascinating reviews and essays, The Substance of Things Heard. I can only thank the boards of the University of Rochester Press and of Boydell and Brewer for sensing the need for high-level books on music and realizing that a series run by a team of scholars could meet that need.

No comments: