Thursday, 26 November 2009

A Philadelphia Story

Ralph P. Locke, editor of Eastman Studies in Music (University of Rochester Press) reported last year on some pretty wild doings in “Music City” (Nashville, Tennessee) when the American Musicological Society came to town. This year the meeting was held in Philadelphia and celebrated the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Society. His report focuses on the awards ceremonies held in the grand ballroom of the Sheraton City Center Hotel.

Scholarly meetings are rarely known for high theatricality. At the American Musicological Society’s annual gathering, though, there is that moment during the Business Meeting when, in front of more than a thousand seated conference attendees, awards are given out for particularly distinguished scholarly works of the past year.

Some awards are defined by the age of the author (“in the early stages of his or her career” or its opposite, which has various affectionate nicknames) or by the format of the scholarly product (book, articles, or conference paper). Others are defined by scholarly area: performance practice (e.g., Baroque ornamentation), Broadway and music theater, gay/ lesbian/ transgendered studies, and so on.

All the awards, though, tend to be announced in an exceptionally dramatic manner: the chair of the respective prize committee (or another member of the committee) reads a citation that describes the winning item, using a succession of phrases that tempt and tease the audience. Only in the final words does the speaker reveal the identity of the winning title and author.

This ritual was beautifully enacted in Philadelphia on 17 November 2009 by Paul Laird, reporting for the Robert M. Stevenson Committee, which singles out each year an unusually distinguished (nobody in the scholarly world ever declares something simply the “best”) scholarly product dealing with Spanish or Latin American music. The book was published by University of Rochester Press in its Eastman Studies in Music series, and had already garnered great praise both pre- and post-publication. The craftily crafted citation went like this:

The Robert M. Stevenson Committee for 2009 considered a number of fine sources for the award for the best piece of scholarship on an Iberian or Latin American topic. We chose a virtuosic study of a single, baffling source in which the author established its provenance; substantially illuminated the manuscript, the city, and the time from which it emanated; effectively contextualized the source’s iconography in a rich web of multinational references; and considered the music in terms of concordances and related repertories, both monophonic and polyphonic. The author began with traditional philological methods and constructed an impressive historical edifice around the source, raising issues concerning a multi-religious and multi-cultural community and finally offering a rich picture of the devotional practices of a confraternity, synthesizing medieval tradition and humanistic modernity. We are pleased to honor with the 2009 Stevenson Prize Lorenzo Candelaria’s The Rosary Cantoral: Ritual and Social Design in a Chantbook from Early Renaissance Toledo (University of Rochester Press, 2008).

Many of us, sitting in the audience, figured out quickly—this is of course part of the fun—just which “virtuosic study of a single, baffling source” was surely being rewarded. The University of Rochester Press and Boydell and Brewer (which distributes URP’s book outside of North America) congratulate Lorenzo Candelaria.

Professor Candelaria is now busy at work on a broader but, in its own way, equally “virtuosic” book: a richly contextualized study of sacred music in Mexico, from the Conquistadores to today. The tantalizing title: Music in Mexican Catholicism. The publisher, we proudly state in our closing sentence is, once again, . . . (drumroll, please!) University of Rochester Press.

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