Saturday, April 13

Q&A: Regents’ Professor Huib Schippers explores culture, society with music evolution

Huib Schippers looks forward in front of a blue background. The UC Regents' Professor of musicology will present the lecture "Sound Futures: Why Some Music Practices Thrive, Many Struggle, and Others Disappear" on Monday. (Courtesy of Huib Schippers)

Correction: The original version of this post incorrectly stated Huib Schippers is a UC Regents’ Professor of musicology. In fact, he is UC Regents' Professor of ethnomusicology.

“Sound Futures: Why Some Music Practices Thrive, Many Struggle, and Others Disappear”

Huib Schippers

Schoenberg Hall

Nov. 7

1:30 p.m.

This post was updated Nov. 8 at 12:39 p.m.

Professor Huib Schippers is traveling through the sonorities of time.

On Monday, the UC Regents’ Professor of ethnomusicology will present the lecture “Sound Futures: Why Some Music Practices Thrive, Many Struggle, and Others Disappear.” Hosted by the Herb Alpert School of Music, the lecture will dive into the cultural patterns of music and its reception by societies and communities around the world and across time.

Dr. Huib Schippers spoke with the Daily Bruin’s Kevin Lin about the central inspirations for the creation of the lecture.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Daily Bruin: How did you get started with the lecture series?

Huib Schippers: Most of my work has been driven by an intense curiosity about how music works. That’s kind of what my lecture is about as well. Because of the work that I’ve been doing – and I’ve been doing quite a lot of international work all over the world talking to musicians from India, from Africa, from indigenous communities, from Latin America, from China I’ve come to realize that music is quite a complicated phenomenon. It’s universal as a phenomenon, but it’s not at all a universal language.

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DB: How might a culture influence a specific music genre? How can this culture influence how popular music at the time resonates with the people listening?

HS: It’s kind of two different things. One thing is the relationship between culture and musical content, and much has been written by ethnomusicologists about that. That’s not what I’m going to be talking about. What I’m mostly going to be talking about is what makes any music practice that is chosen by any community.

One of the interesting conclusions is that the relationship between music sustainability and vitality and musical content is actually very loose. We like to think that the most refined music, or the best music, or the most uplifting music will survive and other musics will disappear, but that’s actually not what we see when we look at, in detail, the history of musics across the world. It has much more to do with the prestige, which leads to popularity.

Interestingly, the link between the musical sound as it comes from the culture and sustainability, is much looser than we always used to think. That’s the fun thing about doing this kind of research. You find out things that are both expected and quite a surprise to all of us as researchers.

DB: How will this lecture series change the perceptions of college students on how they look at music from the time it began, to where it is now and where it would be in the future?

HS: First of all, I think you’re living in an incredibly exciting time. You have access to music like nobody has ever seen before in the history of music. You have access to so many (types of) music. And I think those with musical curiosity are living with this treasure chest of endless amounts of music, both geographically and historically, so we can listen to music up to 100 years ago. It’s more than we can consume and, even more than that, what we can understand.

But it certainly makes you understand humanity more profoundly at a time that humanity is not doing very much to show that it’s a very worthy inhabitant of this planet.

[Related: UCLA PEER Lab to host symposium amplifying voices in musicology research]

DB: For somebody coming to this lecture, what would you want them to experience from this lecture?

HS: I think we all grew up with a lot of preconceptions about music. We think things about music are true because we’ve heard from generations before us or we keep reading them. And one of the things I found in my life of curiosity is that many of these preconceptions sort of stop you from engaging in music in more interesting ways. I’m saying that more people have more access to music than ever before in the history of mankind.

So taking away people’s preconceptions can hopefully open up this sense of curiosity that we can have and the deep joy that comes from finding interesting musics, which we all do in one way or another. But how deep you can make that and how interesting that is is related to everything that happens in the world, like the centers of power with the industry (and) education. I’m hoping to enrich people’s understanding of music as a really central activity in human endeavor.

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