Ted Solís is Professor of Musicology/Ethnomusicology in the School of Music, Arizona State University. He holds an MA in Ethnomusicology from the University of Hawaii-Manoa, and the PhD in Musicology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His field research has included Northern India, Mexico, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. He directs the School of Music’s Latin Marimba band “Marimba Maderas de Comitán” and the Javanese gamelan “Children of the Mud Volcano.” He is the editor of Performing Ethnomusicology: Teaching and Representation in World Musics (University of California Press, 2004); the article “‘You Shake Your Hips Too Much’: Diasporic Values and Hawaii Puerto Rican Dance Culture,” in Ethnomusicology 49(1), 2005; is co-author, with Gerhard Kubik, of “Marimba” in the Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments; and is co-editing the book in progress Ethnomusicological Lives; Growing Up And Into A Profession (University of Illinois Press), the first major “ethnomusicology of ethnomusicologists.”
“Hey, Don’t Sweat ‘Cultural Authenticity’ So Much!”
Where do our allegiances lie, in teaching, e.g., Javanese gamelan—a venerable tradition fraught with ritual, iconic, and performance conventions; or Mexican marimba music, which in its more traditional contexts is largely reproductive rather than improvisational? Should our allegiance be to the tradition, and does that tradition delineate our pedagogical goals? Many ethnomusicologists try to compensate, or often overcompensate, for the perceived artificiality of the university environment by “faithfully” or “hyperfaithfully” reproducing traditions. As an ethnomusicologist with many years’ ensemble teaching experience, I respect that approach, and in the past have often taught in that way; however, I have found more recently that my pedagogic demands and personal predilections trump reproductive “authenticity,” for three reasons. First: “authenticity” is negotiable and context/location-sensitive. Second: we represent these traditions to our students, obliterating the performance and teaching hierarchies inherent in traditional learning. Since we must thus do it all (create the context, teach all the instruments, singing, dancing) we have to compromise. Third: I feel that these compromises lead to fruitful creativity and insights. My own goals are now more oriented toward skill sets and my students’ personal growth (notably getting them to interact, and improvise within an improvisation-friendly environment) than, necessarily, an elusive and illusory reproductive “correctness.” Thus, I often mix and match pedagogies and skill competencies. In seeking improvisational freedom, and to suit my reflexive pedagogical goals, I’ve thrown somewhat non-traditional Pan-Indonesianisms and Pan-Latinisms into the mix in my ensembles.