Interviews with ethnomusicologists

Neil Sorrell interviewed by Carolyn Landau. (1 of 2).

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  • Interviewees

    Sorrell, Neil (speaker, male, interviewee)

  • Interviewers

    Landau, Carolyn (speaker, female, interviewer)

  • Recordist

    Landau, Carolyn (speaker, female

  • Abstract

    Track 1 [02:03:10] [Session one: 15 July 2010] Neil Fabian Iannick Sorrell [NS], born June 1946 in Toulouse, France. Moved to Steyning, a village near Brighton, Sussex, shortly afterwards, where he remained for most of schooling. Description of music in the home: mother, French, played violin; much music in the home. Remembers certain pieces of music that became very meaningful to him. Recounts period at primary school when NS didn’t enjoy music or school. Description of developing an obsession with Beethoven, around age 11, while at aunt’s house in Paris. However, since the school he was attending, in Sussex didn’t offer music, so he moved schools. Attended Steyning Grammar School where one teacher helped NS to learn music theory. Then moved school age 14 where they did teach music; he took O Level and A Level Music and was very focused on the narrow Western Classical model. Decided to apply do read music at university. Discussion of parents’ attitude towards NS’s interest in music. Description of family’s professional interest in languages. Description of his own linguistic abilities. Description of impact of NS’s aunt (mother’s sister) in Paris on NS in his interests in music – through listening to records and going to concerts and the opera. [9:33] Description of life post-school. Was keen to go to Oxford as brother was already studying there; however a teacher at school encouraged him to apply to Cambridge and he was offered a place to read music, which he accepted and took up (1964-7). Didn’t particularly enjoy his experience in Cambridge, however during his second year, he discovered the Asian Music Circle, which met in the house of William (Bill) Coates. Description of his first experience with this group listening to a tape recording of Vilayat Khan and being very affected by the reaction of the Indian people in the room; and how this experience triggered his obsession in Indian music. Mentions other key moments: Rajesh Swari Dattar (who was then lecturing at SOAS) who came to give some lectures at Cambridge; discovering Fox Strangways book. Reflects on lack of interest from music department at Cambridge and how he was encouraged to leave Cambridge and find somewhere to study Indian music. Comments that he never met Laurence Picken whilst an undergraduate student at Cambridge. [16:04] Discussion of term ethnomusicology and how NS had never heard the term in the 1960s whilst in Cambridge and how this term is still resented by some people who work in Indian music. General reflection on his time in Cambridge and scarcity of information on non-Western music or colleagues in this area. 1967: finished in Cambridge. Got a ‘non’ job in Windsor park, which involved student conferences at weekends, to which some students from SOAS came, and NS learned that Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy was teaching Indian music there, so he went to meet him: another turning point; immediately signed up for his MA course in Area Studies (specializing in North Indian music), Spring, 1968; started the course in the Autumn, with minor topics in Indian architecture and painting. Two others studying with Jairazbhoy: Alistair Dick and Viram Jasani. Description of MA teaching in Jairazbhoy’s teaching, who was offered a job in Canada and left the UK after a year; he also encouraged NS to leave the UK and continue studying for a PhD at Wesleyan University. Description of meeting up with Jairazbhoy on a few occasions in the US and since then in the UK. NS Reflects on what a key role Jairazbhoy played in influencing the direction his life took. Reflection on how Jairazbhoy had encouraged NS to take an interest in the discipline of ethnomusicology, but how NS wasn’t interested in doing this at the time, only much later thanks to John Blacking. Reflects that the term ethnomusicology wasn’t used in this early period in the UK and how it was John Blacking was the first to emphasise the term. Reflects how Jairazbhoy’s office was always buzzing with other ethno-musicologists (David Rycroft, Owen Wright, Anthony King) and others such as Patrick Saul of the British Institute of Recorded Sound. NS comments how he spent many hours working on Arnold Bake’s tapes. Mentions Alistair Dick and Lucy Durán (and how NS and Lucy sang with Duke Ellington while at college), who was at King’s College London doing an undergraduate in the Music Department, taking lessons on the sitar and taking the weekly seminars in Indian music with Jairazbhoy. [34:53] Discussion of the important role that Dartington played in the early 1970s, pioneering ethnomusicology – Indian music and Gamelan (Jairazbhoy would go to Dartington one once a week to teach Indian music there and also brought regular visiting musicians). Mentions Jack Dobbs who was overseeing these activities at Dartington. Comments that Dartington was seen as a “Mecca” of world music /ethnomusicology at the time. Comments that Jairazbhoy’s career really took off when he left the UK for the USA and was appointed to UCLA and became President of SEM. Further discussion about Jairazbhoy’s legacy within the UK, including a comment about Lawrence Picken, David Rycroft, Anthony King, Jeremy Montagu. [42:40] Discussion of NS’s time at Wesleyan, supervised by Robert Brown and various others, and also learning Gamelan and other musical traditions. Mentions John Jon Higgins, who had learnt to sing Indian music to a performance standard, which at the time was very unusual, who became NS’s PhD supervisor at a later stage in the programme, by which point NS had returned to the UK, where he finished his PhD (Higgins later was killed in a car accident). Reflects on how bimusicality was established in Wesleyan and how this was less known in the UK at the time. Reflects on how the term ‘World Music’ was coined by Robert (Bob) Brown at Wesleyan and how well established this was at Wesleyan, not distinguished from ethnomusicology. Reflections on difference in World Music and Ethnomusicology teaching in universities in the US and the UK and how there was nothing comparable in the UK, apart from, to a certain extent, Dartington. Describes how NS had 2 years at Wesleyan learning different musical traditions followed by 1 year in India, including 2 months in Indonesia, before returning to the UK in 1972 where he realised he needed to finish his PhD and get a job. Got job at Commonwealth Institute giving talks on India. Description of year’s job at Commonwealth Institute giving talks on India to schools, and then how he got a job at York University. Remarks that job specification included the word ethnomusicology and Wilfrid Mellers, then HoD at York, believed that NS’s appointment was the first ethnomusicology position in a music department in a British University. Description of the development of teaching of Indian music at York, a highlight of which being the visiting professorship of Amjad Ali Khan, established 15 years ago and still ongoing. Mentions various characters who have passed through York: Jim Kippen who began his career as an undergraduate student at York; Francis Silkstone who spent some time at York. Remarks on how NS has never supervised a PhD in Indian music and on how he is better known at York for Gamelan teaching. [1:14:25] Description of how NS got a Gamelan to York after many years of persuasion and with help from the Indonesian Embassy via the Durham Oriental Festivals of 1976, 1979 & 1982. Description of the formation of the English Gamelan Orchestra from 1980-3, including a concert in York, which swayed the department, who agreed for NS to buy one in the early 1980s. York was the first teaching institution to have a Javanese Gamelan (Dartington had obtained a Balinese Gamelan in the late 1970s) and Eric Taylor obtained one for Durham shortly after NS did for York. [1:25:05] Reflections of memories of early meetings of UK Chapter of IFMC, including memory of John Blacking summoning NS to Belfast to do a seminar and to meet him and see what was happening in Belfast, in about 1974, where he also met John Baily. It was here that he first heard about the IFMC; Blacking told him he should attend the conferences, which he did for many years; describes them as having same format as current BFE April conferences. Mentions Jeremy Montagu (who he’d already met via Jairazbhoy) and his wife Gwen who was very involved in the organisation and another lady called Mrs Fox. Remarks how these meetings had a rather ‘Cecil Sharpe House’ atmosphere at this stage and how Blacking was a huge presence; further description of Blacking’s personality and how passionate he was about ethnomusicology. Remembers how he loathed the word ‘ethnomusicology’ and still does and remembers how there was much discussion about the term in the early days and since, but how Blacking was the person who helped NS to stop worrying about the term and enjoy the discipline! Description of how the IFMC gradually changed in character due mainly to Blacking’s influence, as he brought more and more post-graduate students working on African music with him to meetings. Remembers how ‘folk’ was gradually replaced with ‘ethnomusicology’. Mentions main centres at this stage as being Belfast with Blacking and Edinburgh with Peter Cooke. [1:35:48] Discussion of 1978 meeting in Dartington on the state of ethnomusicology in higher education in the UK: NS doesn’t remember attending, however does remember a meeting in a large country house in the countryside somewhere with Wachsmann as keynote speaker. NS remembers fainting while watching one of Blacking’s films involving a circumcision ceremony. Reflects again how he did notice a shift from the folk to the ethnomusicology and became the UK chapter of ICTM before becoming the BFE. Remembers attending the European Seminar in Ethnomusicology (ESEM) in Belfast, which Blacking coordinated. Remembers Ernst Heinz and a few others trying to start up a North Sea Chapter of SEM in the 1980s, but nothing coming of this. Remarks how sad it was that Blacking died just before the BJE and the BFE were founded. Mentions the Scottish and Welsh contingents at the early meetings, but again it was Blacking and Baily who really pushed the group forward. Describes how NS hosted the annual IFMC conference in York in 1979. Some more general reflections on how most music students today will have covered some ethnomusicology and how the term is now seen as a more useful umbrella term. Discussion of the place of ethnomusicology and world music teaching in British universities which NS feels can be perceived as a diluted discipline that has to cover everything outside the West and consequently the pressure placed on ethnomusicologists; a pressure that hasn’t changed over his whole career. Comments that musicologists have become more and more ethnomusicologists in their way of working; mentions Christopher Small and later, Steve Cottrell as being important in this switch. End of track.

  • Description

    Interview with Neil Sorrell (1 of 2). The ethnomusicologist talks about his research. Interviewer: Carolyn Landau.

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